An Italian Recipe for Overwintered Greens

Greens winter in basket

Kale, chard and red mustard are three hardy greens that overwinter in my kitchen garden and are now putting out fresh, new leaves.  The plants are on their way to producing flower buds; in fact, some buds are already forming on the kale and mustard, but it’s their leaves that interest me in the kitchen right now.

Any of these leaves singly or in combination is delicious wilted slightly and then sautéed in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. They are great as a side dish or as part of the main course on pasta or white beans.

Though I could eat greens prepared this way every night this time of year, I recently remembered a recipe I made years ago. It takes little more time and a few more ingredients but is definitely worth the effort.  It’s from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Splendid Table (1992) and titled Spiced Spinach with Almonds.  In the note introducing the recipe, Kasper writes: “Far more interesting than Italy’s usual sauté of spinach and onion is Emilia-Romagna’s 17thcentury version of the recipe.  In it, spinach cooks with spices, nuts, currants, and cheeses.  Serve the dish just as they did centuries ago as a side dish,or use it as a topping on warm flat bread “and serve it as an antipasto or with drinks.”

Greens winter on island

Greens winter nuts prep

When I first made this recipe years ago, I followed another of Kasper’s suggestions and layered it with slices of polenta, alternating three layers of polenta with two layers of filling, baking at 350 until it was heated through and serving it as a main course.  It’s this combination of sautéed greens and sliced polenta that I repeated a few weeks ago.

The filling was even better than I remembered, perhaps because I used red mustard leaves instead of spinach.  Spinach was good, but spicy red mustard is even better.  I also made two other substitutions to the recipe, using shallots instead of onion and yellow raisins instead of currants, both good.  I’ll make the polenta dish again soon, but in the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy the side dish for dinner with leftovers for lunch.

In a final note at the end of the recipe Kasper adds: “Swiss chard, turnip greens, broccoli rape, beet greens, romaine, escarole, curly endive and young dandelion greens are all excellent prepared this way.” To her list, I’ll add red mustard and kale, both of which blend wonderfully with the spices, almonds, creamy ricotta and the nutty Parmesan, and both of which, along with chard, are in good supply in my kitchen garden.

Greens winter saute in skillet

Spiced Spinach with Almonds

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

 2 pounds fresh spinach, trimmed

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup minced onion

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

5 tablespoons blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons currants

½ cup fresh ricotta cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

 Cooking the Spinach: Rinse the spinach in a sink full of cold water. Lift the leaves right from the water into an 8-quartpot, without shaking off any of the water clinging to them. Set the pot over medium heat, cover, and cook 5 minutes, or until the leaves are wilted but still a bright dark green.  Immediately turn the spinach into a colander.  Briefly run cold water over the spinach to cool it down and stop its cooking. Then squeeze out the excess moisture and coarsely chop.

 Finishing and Serving:  Have a serving bowl warming in a low oven.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté 8 minutes over medium to medium-high heat, or until golden brown.  Stir in the garlic and cook another minute.  Add the spinach, cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds, and currants. Stir while sautéing over medium heat 2 minutes, or until heated through and aromatic.  Stir in the ricotta and heat a few seconds.  Season with salt and pepper.  Turn the spinach mixture into the serving bowl and toss with the Parmesan.  Serve hot.

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