November 2012
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Glorious Greens of Fall

A riot of autumn greens - chard and kale.

Between the withering heat of summer and the icy winds of winter comes the season we normally associate with warm colors –orange,red and gold –and later the browns of stick season.  But for gardeners,these are the seasons to relish and admire vibrant greens bursting from the ground.

Chard,kale,broccoli,parsley,arugula and other cold-loving greens that start with gusto in the spring then limp through the summer with dull,coarse leaves and not much flavor,suddenly become glossy,vivid,with a tender texture and sweet flavors in the fall.  Later,as freezing temperatures take their toll,some older leaves may wither but with protection,the inner leaves will often remain intact well into the winter.

The gorgeousness of green leafy vegetables in autumn would be enough to feed my soul but they also bring deeply satisfying flavors to the table that I love and crave. (The craving no doubt a response to the impressive nutritional benefits that greens offer.)  Am I crazy to admit that I actually prefer the greens of spring and fall to the fruits of summer?  This might explain my obsession with season-extending and focus on coaxing harvests during the shoulder seasons –because greens are what grow best when its cold.

Many people believe that kale and other greens are bitter and unpalatable.  This may be partially due to only having access to greens harvested in summer or grown in hot climates.  But there may also be a general gap in knowledge about how to prepare greens to get the best flavor.  Here are some ideas for savoring the green gifts gardens offer in fall.  Any type of greens or combination can be used for these preparations.

  • Add to soups and stews –Most hardy soups and stews can benefit from a few handfuls of chopped greens.  Once cooked,the greens lose an incredible amount of volume and the flavors will blend into whatever you are cooking.  Add a few minutes before serving if you want the bright green color or add earlier and cook longer if you want the color to recede and the flavors to blend.
  • Saute with garlic –This is probably my favorite way to cook greens.  Wash and chop up any and all greens –8 cups of chopped greens will “melt”down to a cup or two of cooked greens.  Coarsely chop a tablespoon or two of garlic.  Heat a large pan or wok with a tablespoon of oil —medium high,and briefly saute the garlic until tender but not burned. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes if you wish to the garlic plus some salt,then the greens. Mix,cover and cook until wilted. The water on the wet leaves will prevent the greens from burning.  Use as a side dish,or drain and add as a topping to pizza or bruschetta,grating some hard cheese on top.
  • Make kale chips –I just discovered how easy it is to make this addictive snack.  Tear up kale leaves into chip-sized pieces,coat them very lightly with olive oil and salt (plus any other flavoring you might like),lay out on sheets and bake for 12 minutes in a preheated oven at 350 degrees,until crunchy.  Stir once mid-way through baking.  I tried using chard too,and while it crisped-up nicely,it didn’t have much flavor.  Next time I’ll try using some bok choy greens and maybe some flat leaf parsley.

A pile of greens-filled ravioli with sage butter and walnuts.

For a special celebration of greens and the flavors of fall,we always look forward to an annual meal of ravioli with a browned butter sauce seasoned with sage and walnuts.  

FILLING:
  1. Wash and remove stems from 1 1/2 pounds of greens. Cook covered for 5 minutes or until wilted. Drain and squeeze out liquid then chop fine.
  2. Mix greens with 2 minced garlic cloves,1/2 pound ricotta cheese,and 1 cup grated parmesan cheese,and grated nutmeg to taste.
  3. Add one large egg and mix well,seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
PASTA:
I won’t provide detailed instructions on making ravioli –there are plenty of other sites that offer detailed instructions.  Just be sure to use a recipe rich in eggs like this one from Michael Chiarello. If making pasta is too much trouble,you could cook up some strips of lasagne and play with creative ways to combine the filling with pasta –layering,rolling,or mounding,etc.
SAUCE:
  1.  Melt 1/2 cup of butter in a saucepan.
  2. When butter sizzles and foams,add 16-20 sage leaves (whole if small,cut in strips if large).  Cook until butter starts to turn golden brown.
  3. Remove sauce from heat and add 1/3 cup toasted walnuts,chopped coarsely.  

Spoon sauce over freshly cooked pasta and eat immediately.  Delicious!

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