Yes, this week it is all about the greens (verdura). I hesitated in selecting this recipe for the week because I wasn’t sure I could take a picture that would do this dish justice. Really, what kind of picture would I need to make a plate of greens appealing?
This dish was such a big part of my childhood and it comes in many variations. I know the greens are boiled, but it does scream summer for me. Last weekend, some family from Toronto was visiting and my sweet mother sent up a care package of a mixture of leafy greens from her vegetable garden (completely organic by the way). I love visiting Toronto in the summer because I literally go grocery shopping in my mom’s vegetable garden. She’s an advanced gardener with strong farming roots.
For those of you adventurous enough to try it, the recipe will impart an astute Italian cooking secret, flavouring through simplicity. The dish consists of leafy greens with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ undertone, which in this case happens to be fennel leaves. They are added to the water first along with the potatoes even before the water comes to a boil and they will work to flavour the broth and the greens so subtly with an implicit hint of liquorice, both sweet and minty. No one ever guesses correctly, but they detect something.
I apologize in advance for the non-recipe. Welcome to my world. For the most part, I’ve done well putting recipes to my mother’s non-recipes, but I’m leaving this one open for experimentation intentionally. As long as you are using all of the ingredients, you shouldn’t go wrong regardless of the configuration. I generally go with one bunch of chard per person (remember greens shrink), one head of escarole for every two people, one oversized potato per person, and a large bunch of fennel leaves per batch.
When I sat down on Wednesday night to eat this, I just couldn’t stop grinning. It just makes me feel nourished and it is so healthy. I feel that I’m doing my body good and though it is completely psychological (I know), I instantly feel physically and mentally stronger (Popeye-like). The greens and potatoes just work though my favourite part of the dish is the broth. You’ll notice that I overfill my plate with it. I’ve been known to drink it on its own. If I could, I would swim in it. These simple flavours are rounded out by the olive oil, which is the second Italian cooking lesson. A good robust olive oil gets elevated to a main ingredient (not in terms of quantity, but flavour) in such an earthy dish.
Though deceiving, the combination of chard and potatoes is a complete vegetable protein, so it is filling and extremely satisfying. I serve it as a main dish. This is a quick, easy, light weeknight meal.
|Potatoes, cut in 2-inch chunks|
|Fennel leaves, roughly chopped|
|Chard, leaves cut in half|
|Escarole, leaves left whole|
- Fill the largest pot you own two-thirds of the way with water.
- Add potatoes and fennel leaves and bring to a boil.
- Add salt. You should add as much salt as if you were cooking pasta.
- Simmer for approximately 5 minutes until the potatoes are par-boiled.
- Taste the water/broth for salt. Adjust salt accordingly.
- Add the chard and simmer for approximately 3 minutes.
- Add escarole and cook for 3-4 minutes. You’ll know the greens are cooked when the stems of the chard are pliable.
- Remove from heat and strain reserving at least a 1/4 of the liquid.
- Return all contents to the pot with the reserved liquid and add olive oil – I normally work in a couple of turns. Mix well.
- Serve ensuring a good balance of greens, potatoes, and broth.