Winter greens have been frequent guests in my home as of late thanks to our wonderful CSA box. I’ve been loving, absolutely loving Southern style greens. First you fry up some strips of bacon till crisp. 3-4 strips for the greens, and 3-4 for passersby. Remove to a paper towel, but leave the wonderful drippings behind to warm and soften a dark mass of chard, kale, or mustard greens. Once it heats up and hunkers down, add a small amount of broth, maybe 1/3 cup, and cover to steam for about five more minutes until tender. Uncover and finish with a pinch of salt, fresh ground black pepper, and a shake or two of cider vinegar to taste. Crumble bacon on top, serve, and eat more than your share.
If you want to make a meal of Southern greens, (and why wouldn’t you) soften a diced onion and carrot in some olive oil before you add the green goods. Add some diced ham to the mix, broth and steam, and season in the usual salt pepper and cider vinegar fashion.
Although lovely, if you’ve been making Southern style greens all winter, you begin to dream of summer stone fruit, fresh herbs, tiny sweet strawberries, and pesto! We still have some months, but I’m dream-ing of a win-ter pesto / just like the ones I used to know / where the basil glistens / and olive oil listens / to hear snowdrifts of Parmesan-o. Oh!
Basil is a mid summer night’s dream, but winter greens are here now. Why not a winter greens pesto? I experimented with this concept for the first time last weekend, and at first taste wasn’t sure it was successful. It was nice and lemony, but still a little bitter. I kind of liked it despite the bitterness, so I spooned it into a plastic container and threw it in the cooler. We were headed out of town to see some beloved family visiting from Boston. They are great cooks so if anything, I figured they could give me notes. Luckily, just chilling out for a few hours was all the pesto needed. (Don’t we all) The flavors mellowed and married well. The end result, while not overly attractive, tasted fabulous. We dug into it with tortilla chips, but I think it would be great in any pesto-like application. I’m thinking pasta, pork chops, chicken, a garlic pesto bread, sandwich spread, and so on. And on.
This recipe is pretty much identical to how I make summertime pesto. You can substitute a large bunch of basil and half a bunch of Italian parsley for the chard, and there you go. You’ll notice I use almonds instead of pine nuts. I could pretend it’s because I’m going for local ingredients, having grown up in the midst of almond orchards, but really I’m just not a big fan of the taste or price of pine nuts. I don’t add garlic to my pesto either. I really like the fresh taste of pesto without garlic, but it would taste great if you wanted to add that too. You can use just about any hard cheese like Parmesano Reggiano, Romano, Asiago, as long as it’s not the powdery stuff in a shaker. Fresh makes a huge difference in taste, and hard cheese keeps very well wrapped tight in a freezer bag in the freezer, so no worries about using it up right away.
1 large bunch of fresh chard, stems removed, then roughly chopped
1/3 – ½ cup good olive oil
1/3 – ½ cup fresh grated hard cheese (quality blends also work well, I love Quattro Formaggio from TJs-Parmesan, Asiago, Fontina, & Provolone)
juice from about 2/3 lemon
1/3 cup toasted almond slices
¼ teaspoon salt
3-4 grinds of fresh black pepper
1) Put everything in a food processor. Start with the lesser amounts of ingredients listed. Blend until nice and smooth. Taste! If it’s a little flat, add a little lemon juice to brighten. If it’s not blending easily, add a bit more olive oil. Blend and taste again. It should be a little lemony, and still a little bitter when you are done. Don’t worry, it just needs to chill and allow the flavors to marry. Time makes all the difference in the world.
2) Scrape every last drop into a bowl and cover. Refrigerate for a couple hours before serving.
3) Serve cold as a dip with tortilla chips and fresh veggies. Warm it up with some curly noodles. Spoon it over pan-fried pork chops, grilled chicken, spread on sandwiches, or just about anything really.