Alan Tangren, Ask the Forager: It’s easy doing greens |

Alan Tangren, Ask the Forager: It’s easy doing greens

Alan Tangren
John Hart/ | The Union

Dear Alan: The cooking greens I see in the market these days look so fresh and healthy. I’d love some ideas on how to use them.

Cooking greens — like kale, Swiss chard and mustard — are all in season at a welcome time in winter when the choice of fresh, local vegetables may seem meager.

Besides being loaded with nutritional value, these greens have an earthy, mineral taste that compliments long-cooked meats and poultry.

But they also carry enough flavor punch to star on their own on a plate of pasta.

Kale and mustard greens are members of the big cabbage family along with broccoli and Brussels sprouts, all of which grow best in the cooler months of the year.

Kale develops maximum flavor and color after periods of cold weather and can stand the lowest winter temperatures we typically get in the Foothills.

Swiss chard belongs to the same species as garden beets, which is not surprising when you closely examine a bunch of chard at the market.

The large ruffled leaves of red chard are borne on thick, brilliant “beet red” stems.

Stems of other varieties may be pure white, gold, pink, orange, yellow or fuchsia. There is even a two-toned variety called Peppermint.

Whatever kinds of greens you choose, preparation is easy and cooking can be quick.

At the market, choose greens that have good, dense color and no signs of wilting or bruising.

They can be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for several days. When you are ready to use, give them a good rinse in cold water.

For kale and mustard, you should remove any big, tough stems and midribs.

Cut the leaves into wide ribbons or give them a very coarse chop.

Heat some olive oil in a big sauté pan, add the leaves and let them wilt, turning them in the pan.

Season with a pinch of salt and add a clove or two of chopped garlic.

Cover the pan and let the greens simmer until tender. This may take from several minutes to 15 minutes or so.

When the greens are done, remove the cover and allow any water remaining in the pan to evaporate.

Remove from heat and splash on a tablespoon or two of vinegar. Drizzle with a little olive oil to serve.

You can toss the warm greens with pasta, adding more olive oil and a healthy sprinkling of fresh-grated Parmesan.

For a dressy appetizer, wrap small bundles of cooled, cooked greens in thin slices of prosciutto.

Because the wide stems of Swiss chard have a delicate flavor of their own, I like to cook them separately from the leaves and then recombine them for serving.

Here is a recipe for chard that we served at a recent Chef’s Table dinner at Tess’.

Braised Swiss Chard

Serves 3 or 4

1 large bunch Swiss chard

3 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 Tablespoons minced shallot or green onion

Pinch of salt

1 clove minced garlic

1 Tablespoon good quality wine vinegar

Fresh ground black pepper

Rinse chard in cold water. Trim off the stem ends and cut out the central ribs. Cut leafy parts into pieces about 2 inches square and set aside.

Cut the ribs lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips and then crosswise into 1-inch pieces.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.

Add the minced shallot and cook for two or three minutes without browning. Add the chard stems and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook for several more minutes. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer until tender, adding water if need to prevent scorching. Remove the cooked stems to a plate and set aside.

Rinse out the pan and wipe dry. Place over medium high heat and add 1 Tablespoon olive oil. When the oil is hot add the chard leaves in batches as the ones in the pan wilt down, turning to cook evenly.

When all the leaves are in the pan, add a pinch of salt and the minced garlic.

Give the leaves one more turn, reduce the heat, cover and let simmer until tender.

To serve, return the stems to the pan with the leaves, toss with the vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle with a little more oil for serving.

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