From arugula to turnips, fall is the season for beautiful and nutritious cooked greens. Is there someone at your house who hates greens? The 10 ways to cook greens outlined here may convert them! Even if they are not swayed by Sicilian-style polenta with kale or Swiss chard strata, we greens lovers can always use fresh ideas to make fall a little more flavorful.
Alton Brown's 2005 Good Eats episode called Field of Greens includes a killer recipe for Mustard Green Gratin, various versions of which get gobbled up fast at my house. Indeed, mixtures of cooked greens, eggs, milk, cheese and a little flour (which "set" when baked in a 325 degree oven) can be poured into a pie crust to make quiche, or you can stay crustless with a Spanish-style frittata.
A casserole bound together with egg and stale bread, called a strata, is easy and delicious when made with greens. Layer stale bread with chopped wilted greens, caramelized onions and fontina (or another nice melting cheese) in a buttered casserole dish. Pour in a mixture of 3 eggs and 1 cup milk, with a little cheese and bread crumbs on top. Bake until bubbly and set, and you have a great one-dish meal.
Making the most of the soft texture of cooked greens, Italians often enjoy them over polenta. My version of polenta – a half and half mixture of grits and coarsely ground whole cornmeal, cooked in lightly salted water until it stiffens – makes a fabulous bed for a mound of greens, roasted sweet peppers and grated hard cheese.
Medium-sized leaves picked from chard, kale and some types of mustard can be used as wrappers for not-really-cabbage rolls. Make a mixture of rice and meat, or rice and beans, or bulgur and mushrooms (you get the idea), roll it up in trimmed greens leaves, and place the rolls seam side down in a greased baking dish. Cover tightly, bake for about 45 minutes, and serve with a spicy-sweet condiment or mustard.
Speaking of condiments, fruits like apple, pear, raisins or currants make great flavor companions for cooked greens, or you might serve homemade chutneys with your greens. When making warm dressings for wilted salads, use balsamic vinegar to add a touch of sweetness.
When you're short on time, try one-pot pasta or rice. Have a bowl of clean, chopped greens ready to stir into hot pasta or rice just as it gets done. Put on the lid, let it steam a few minutes, and add additional ingredients (like chopped olives or roasted walnuts), maybe some salad dressing, or simply top with feta cheese and maybe some crisp crumbled bacon.
My last tip (please add more in the Comments section below!) is to gob on the garlic. Three big cloves is not too many – you may want 4 or 5 when seasoning a large pot of greens or a casserole. Don't want garlic? Try a half teaspoon of fennel, dill or anise seeds instead. In addition to adding flavor, they tame the aroma of simmering greens, which is greatly appreciated by people who hate them.
Above: Why not mix and match your greens? Chard, turnips, arugula, mizuna and other greens can be chopped and cooked together in endless combinations. Photo by Barbara Pleasant.