There is no food I love better than bitter greens. The way I love them best is in combination with a cooked up dried legume , garlic and maybe onion too, hot pepper, vinegar or lemon, and , if there are no vegetarians to feed that day, a bit of pork. Any number of variations are possible with this basic idea in mind.
Broccoli rabe, or rapini, is perhaps my favorite bitter green, and I adore it with a passion that is embarrassing. However, in my view, all the vegetables we classically call "greens" have an element of bitterness, possibly the reason that so many children, with their hypersensitive palates, refuse to eat their spinach. It seems to me that the creamy blandness of the beans, the sourness of the vinegar, the richness of the oil or pork, and the heat of peppers create a perfect balance with the bitterness of greens. Certainly I have seen alot of adults who do not eat everything put in front of them, polish this off pretty thoroughly. I think it's heavenly.
I make my versions with any number of greens- rapini, beet greens, collards,chard, mustard greens, broccolini, radicchio, endive, escarole, and on and on. I also use vatious legumes- cannelini beans and chickpeas are the standards, but I have used dried favas, dried chestnuts, and my ubiquitous
Dove Creek Pintos. This concoction is best if made from the dried bean, from scratch, but it is also very good with canned beans.
This is the basic concept, which you can easily vary:
You will need a large bunch of greens
2 cups of cooked dried beans, prepared ahead, or canned, rinsed
balsamic or sherry vinegar or a lemon
fistfull of chopped pancetta or bacon (optional)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 red onion(optional)
1 chopped jalapeno or a pinch of red pepper flakes or a dried hot pepper of choice
First, you must parboil your greens in boiling water. If you take a little time when you are putting away your recently purchased produce to do this, as suggested by Paula Wolfert and recommended to me by my daughter, a/k/a redfox, you will be glad you did, because this will make them last longer in storage, and easier to cook on short notice or inspiration. You can wash and trim them, and just give them a minute in rapidly boiling water. Dry them with a towel, wrap in some paper towels and stick them in a bag in the fridge.
If you have not done this ahead (and it is certainly not an invariable practice with me), you can start your preparations with this process. Once you have parboiled and dried your greens, chop them coarsely.
Heat some olive oil slowly in a saute pan, and add your cloves of garlic, smashed; your onion, thinly sliced, your bacon or pancetta and your hot pepper. Cook until the pancetta is crisp (or, if you are not using meat, until the onion is transparent and soft) and remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon, draining it on some paper towels. If you used a whole dried pepper, remove it now too. Add the beans and chopped greens, and cook until the greens have reached desired tenderness. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar, or fresh lemon juice, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. If you are going for Iberian flavors, a little smoked spanish paprika wouldn't be bad.Put in a serving bowl, and sprinkle with the bacon or pancetta, if using.
I have also used the fattier frozen remnants of my enormous new years country ham in this dish, to good effect. It occurs to me, as I write this, that another vegetable often rejected by the young is the fabulous brussels sprout. Many adults also loathe this worthy vegetable, and it does indeed have a bitter aspect. I'll bet that sliced brussels sprouts would be great done this way too, and plan to try this idea as soon as some sprouts turn up in my farmbox. Since sprouts and chestnuts are a classic mix, dried chestnuts might be a good companion to try, even though it is not properly a legume at all, but, of course, a nut. Nonetheless, it seems more like a bean than does the peanut, which actually is a legume. Go figure.
So simple, so sweet. Bitter greens and beans are as good at room temperature as they are hot. They thus make a wonderful addition to an antipasto platter, and can be fixed ahead, for convenience. They reheat well, an make a terrific complimentary side dish for rich foods, from creamy tians to potatos anna, to duck. Without duplicating the beans, you can make plain bitter greens this way and serve them with cassoulet or other beany casseroles. This week I used the lovely chard from my farm basket, and dried great northern beans . You can also throw some mustard seed in with the garlic and onion, if you want to go wild.