I am a long-time fan of slow-cooked greens with smoked pork and cornbread. It is a mainstay of american home-cooking, and can be one substantial, stick to your ribs inducement to heavy labor. Or, in the alternative, it is an excellent lead-in to a big old, afghan-covered long winter's afternoon nap. Despite its southern origin, it is not really a hot weather dish at my house.
I have a personal craving for dark bitter greens which is sometimes so intense that I think it must signal a nutritional deficiency of some kind. So when the collards showed up in the CSA farmbox this week, there was no question that I was going to be eating them. All. Up. This is a dish simultaneously so utterly simple and so baroquely fusionesque that describing it as if it had "origins" is entirely ridiculous. Naturally, I can't resist. However, basically, it is a room temperature salad.
Checking epicurious in the hopes of finding a recipe for collards that seemed summery, I came upon the main recipe, which is a Brazilian method for cooking ribbon-cut collards very quickly in the fat rendered from a couple of chopped slices of bacon. In need of my cornbread to go with, I came upon the remains of some polenta with parmesan from last night, which I had spread in a cakepan and refrigerated. This got cut up into cubes, which were browned and tossed in.
The result is a chewy room temperature Brazilian/Italian/Pittsburgh hillbilly salad, which made a very satisfying summer lunch. This is how you make it- enough for 2 people. I made it in my wok, because it is a good pan for cooking down food of serious volume. You have plenty of room to stir it around. A big saute pan would be fine, too.
1/2 lb collard greens
2 slices bacon
polenta, spread in a pan, chilled until firm, and cut into 1/2" cubes
pinch red pepper flakes
spray olive oil
Cut the bacon into small pieces, and cook in a large pan until crisp. Meanwhile, prepare the collards. Cut both sides from the tough center stem and bottom stem of each leaf. Stack the leaves in a tidy pile and cut in half cross-wise. Roll each half into as tight a roll as you can, cut into thin ribbons and put in a bowl.
Preheat your broiler, and spray the polenta cubes with olive oil spray, or toss in a little olive oil. Place them in a single layer on a foil-lined pan, and broil until crispy and browned, keeping a close eye on them. It is best to brown them quickly, so the center will not get tough...but as they are small, they could burn easily-be careful!
Once the bacon is crisp, add all the greens to the pan with a bit of salt, some pepper, and the red pepper flakes. Stir them until wilted, toss in the polenta cubes, and serve. Or, let it cool down a bit first. This is very chewy, you could cook it longer if that's totally not your thing, but I think it would lose quite a bit of its character. And I am not a person who generally goes for seriously al dente veg. Obviously, you could also cook some onions in the bacon fat, or add red wine vinegar, or raisins. but I like the plain article, and , of course, it is very, very easy.
The polenta cubes may seem like a bit of a pain- and they would be if you fixed them specially. But if you just make some nice soft polenta to go with your dinner the night before, and do a bit extra- the next day the collards thing is easy-peasy, as Jamie Oliver might say.