Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A simple mess of greens for dinner

One of my favorite things to eat for a quick dinner is a dish of tender greens, sauteed in olive oil with garlic,anchovies and a bit of hot pepper, and served with grated cheese over garlic toast. That is basically the recipe right there,  but some of you may want more explanation.    There seems to be a trend towards radical simplification of the names of dishes in many restaurants, and I thought I would try it out, so here goes:


  • 1 bunch greens, 3/4 pound - one pound (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, more if you are not watching your weight or believe in the Mediterranean diet
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, peeled, one kept whole to rub the bread and the rest and sliced thin (think Goodfella's prison cooking here)
  • 1-6 fillets anchovy  (do not think about omitting, but use according to your taste;  4-5 seems right to me)
  • hot pepper (optional, see below)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bread (see below)
  • grated cheese to taste, about 1/4 cup, either Parmesan, Romano or ricotta salata
  • optionally, some fresh whole milk ricotta and/or an egg fried in oil so the white is a bit crisp 
  1. Wash the greens well to remove any grit or other foreign matter.  This is best dones in a sink or large bowl in several changes of water.  Dump the greens in, fill with water, lift them out and repeat until no dirt is left behind.  It will go quicker if you cut off the base of the stems where the leaves come together and sand collects.  You don't have to dry the greens, just cut the stems from the leaves and set them aside to drain.
  2. Prepare the bread if necessary (see below).
  3. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat.  Add garlic cloves (and whole pepper pod if using) and saute until soft but not brown, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the anchovies, and the crushed pepper is using.  Crush the anchovies with a spoon while they are a paste until they are mostly dissolved.  Add some freshly ground black pepper if you want.
  5. Add stems and saute about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the leaves and saute until wilted and almost tender.  This will vary with the greens used but took about 5 minutes with tender broccoli rabe.  If the dish seems dry, add a bit of water to the pan, about 1/4 cup, and heat until simmering. Taste for salt and pepper and correct seasoning, remembering that the cheese is salty too.
  7. Put the bread in a bowl, top with the greens, and top with the cheese.
  8. For a slightly more filling dish, smear the bread with some good fresh ricotta.  This is also good topped with a fried egg, wether or not you use the ricotta.
  9. Serves one for dinner, a few more as a side.  It is great with a glass of full-bodied red wine, nothing fancy.
The greens:  most recently, I used over-wintered broccoli rabe from the farmers market.  This was sweet and not at all fibrous and worth seeking out.  Other nice alternatives, when they are available would be lamb's quarters, spinach or very young mustard greens.  Older broccoli rabe would also be fine, but would need to be cooked longer, and if you don't like the bitterness, blanched first.

Hot Pepper:  This depends very much on your mood and taste.  If you want some of the pepper flavor but no heat, use a whole dried red chili pod (I use the kind you get in Indian groceries, not a chile arbol).  Saute it with the garlic and remove before serving.  For medium heat, add some Aleppo pepper with the anchovies, or for more heat, a large pinch of crushed red pepper.   

Bread: The ideal bread here is a frissell, particularly black-pepper frissell, which is a slice of a dense Italian loaf baked until hard and dry.  I get mine from Terranova Bakery on 187th St. in the Bronx.  If you don't have access to a good Italian grocery or baker, Any coarse loaf would do, though I prefer whole-grain breads here, as long as they are not sweetened.  Most recently, I used a piece of whole wheat ciabatta and it was great.  Toast a slice until it is light brown, and then dry it out in a slow 225 degree oven until it is dry, about 15-20 minutes.  If you start with old stale bread you just need to toast it.  Rub the bread with a peeled garlic clove. 

Pasta:  These greens are also good over pasta.  See a recent blog post from the NY Times for a variation with kale.  

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