Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Fool for Kale

Odd Toddler and I picked up our second weekly CSA share on Friday, and I practically swooned when I saw the size of the box and the generous quantities of greens we received. Again, we had one unrecognizable item that I had to email the guy at the farm about, clearly reminding me (yet again) of just how little I actually know. This week’s harvest: tiny arugula, spring shallots, green garlic, radicchio, juntar cilantro, red Russian kale, Swiss chard, romaine, and a leaf lettuce.

Two weeks into this little project, the radicchio is still kicking my butt. It’s a beautiful head of greens, but extremely bitter and therefore slightly difficult to work with. The first week, I followed the advice of Jason from the farm, and sautéed it lightly with a little bit of olive oil, and served it with lemon juice and sea salt. Still too bitter. This week I tried a Giada de Laurentiis recipe in which the radicchio was cooked with cannelini beans in a little bit of broth, and then topped with a pan-fried fillet of tilapia and drizzled with lemon vinaigrette. Not a good idea.

I had tried the Giada recipe previously, but since I’d been unable to find radicchio at the time, I had substituted spinach and The Carnivore and I loved the recipe. This time, since I actually had radicchio on hand, grown locally and organically, I was excited to try the recipe again, this time in its entirety. But a number of things went wrong with the whole plan. First, and I’m feeling a little ignorant for not realizing this sooner, but tilapia is brought in from WAY afar. This isn’t the kind of fish that is being caught off the coast of Georgia, or even Florida. Ecuador and Chile were the locations listed on the labels, thus seemingly negating the positive effects of my very fuel-efficient radicchio. And then of course, we can’t overlook the fact that neither the Carnivore nor I even enjoyed the final product (which I thought tasted a little like dirt).

Current score: radicchio 2, Sarah 0. I’m gonna really have to put some muscle into this next week if we get more of this mean green in our next share box.

With the notable exception of the evil, scheming radicchio, we’ve found it relatively easy to work our entire share box into our weekly meals. Nothing has turned bad in the crisper before we’ve had a chance to eat it, and we haven’t run out of greens before the next box was ready to be picked up. Truly, it’s the best possible scenario. And the surprise hit of the greens season has been the kale. Using the lettuces is easy – I eat salads nearly every day; if not for lunch, then as a side dish with dinner. Fresh herbs and aromatics are always easy to work into whatever we’re already having, and easy greens like Swiss chard can be lightly steamed or sautéed and go well with any entrée.

But the kale had me slightly stumped at first since I was striving hard to not serve different greens, each cooked the same way as the one before it, every night for the three weeks of this particular harvest. I wanted variety in our menu, while working within the constraints of what was in season at the time (and doing my best to also eat within some fairly arbitrary geographical limits that I’ve set upon myself). We enjoyed the Kale and White Bean Soup last week, but I certainly didn’t want to serve the same thing again this week with our new bag of kale. So I cocked my head just so and stared at my cookbook shelves for a few minutes, finally noticing my copy of Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven.

See, I have a LOT of cookbooks, although I’m of the mind that one can never have too many, and it can actually get a bit daunting to find just the right one when I’m trying to find just the right recipe for a given ingredient (in this case, kale). I’m not sure when or from where the Vegetable Heaven cookbook came into my life, but I think I’ve had it for at least a fair number of years, and I do know this was the first time I’d even used it. A little shameful, to be sure, and I can’t believe this was the first time I’d really spent some time reading it. It’s fascinating. And I’ve now marked a few recipes that I want to try as soon as some other vegetable seasons begin. For now though, after doing an index search for kale, I ran across a recipe for Bitter Greens with Sweet Onions and Tart Cheese.

That’s just singing my song. I love onions. I love greens. And pregnancy rules be scorned loudly, I love feta cheese and refuse to completely give it up. Since the feta would be heated in this recipe, it seemed logical that any errant scary bacteria would be killed anyhow. And besides, for pregnancy books to say its okay to have an alcoholic drink every now and then, but that you can NEVER have feta seems like a bit of sacrilege. That’s for another blog though. I have some rather vehement opinions on this. As a matter of fact, if you’ll pardon a tangent here, I have a lot of siblings, some of whom have obviously suffered from fetal alcohol effects. None of them are suffering from the overuse of feta by their birth mothers.

Regardless of where I stand on the liquor versus cheese issue, the recipe seemed like a winner. Vidalia onions are obviously local enough for me (same state) and are in season right now, along with the kale. So I threw all caution to the wind on Saturday night and served the Bitter Greens with Sweet Onions and Tart Cheese for dinner, atop brown rice cooked in vegetable broth, with a wee bit of butter and a little bit of salt. Let’s face it, brown rice doesn’t have a lot of taste to begin with, and could use the added boost. I planned the greens dish for my entrée, but was a little concerned about the meal being too, um, vegetarian for The Carnivore (and I wanted to hedge my bets in case the recipe was disappointing in any way) so I surreptitiously suggested it would be a good night for him to fix a small piece of meat to go with his dinner. Just in case, you know.

As it turned out, the recipe, along with the rice, was filling enough to be the main dish for two, and was incredibly, wonderfully delicious. As a matter of fact, even the leftovers were fabulous for lunch for the next day. And The Carnivore, from whom I had hidden the title of the cookbook I was using, loved the dish as much as I did. I think kale will be supplanting collards as our favorite green.


BITTER GREENS WITH SWEET ONIONS AND TART CHEESE (from Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven, serves two as a main dish or four to six as a side dish)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 4 cups sliced Vidalia onion (or other sweet onion)
  • Salt to taste
  • 12 cups (approx. 12 oz.) fresh greens, coarsely chopped, large stems removed (this sounds like a lot, but it cooks down considerably)
  • 1/2 lb feta cheese, crumbled
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the onion and salt lightly. Saute over high heat for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat to medium, cover, and let the onion cook until tender and caramelized (about 10 more minutes).
  2. Add the greens in batches, sprinkling lightly with salt after each addition. If the pan fills up before all the greens have been used, cover the pot and allow the greens to wilt for a minute or two before adding more.
  3. When all the greens have wilted, stir in the feta, and cook for another couple of minutes. Add pepper and additional salt to taste.
  4. Serve over brown rice cooked in vegetable broth.


Amelia said...


When we lived in Italy our favorite way to have Raddichio was marinated a bit then grilled with meat. Lay it in a salad dressing (I use Good Seasons made with Olive Oil and Balsamico- but I'm lazy) for a good 30 minutes to an hour then put it on the grill. You can also soak it in ice cold saltwater first to pull out some of the bitter like you would with eggplant.


Nicole (SummersComing) said...

Hey Sarah, I'm a avid follower of your mom's blog, and love to see when you post as well. I'm "delurking" to ask you what you can tell me about rutabaga? I branched out from my usual garden choices and planted some rutabaga. Any recipes or tips?

Sarah Beam said...

Hi Nicole, I don't know diddlysquat about rutabaga (besides what I've read in magazines), but now that you've brought it up, I'm going to search some out and see what I can do with it. Will report back soon...

Nicole (SummersComing) said...

Thanks Sarah. I looked quickly online. I read that it is most like a turnip, and can be eaten mashed with butter, salt, and pepper. Blah.

I am wondering if this is something you may find in one of your boxes?

Sarah Beam said...

Hi Nicole, I am sure this will be in one of my boxes this summer. I'm finding all sorts of adventurous veggies there. Vegetarian cookbooks might be your best choice for out-of-the-norm ingredients (especially books by Alice Waters and Mollie Katzen). In "Vegetarian Planet," by Didi Emmons, I found this:

Peel a rutabaga, then cut it into thin slices. Mix with a spoonful of olive oil, 2 or 3 cloves of sliced garlic, and 1/2 cup of salted water in a skillet. Simmer until rutabaga is tender.

Sounds worth a shot, at least.