Improvisational Cooking: Greens on the Table

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I am always yapping on about eating more leafy greens, and periodically I like to write about how I put leafy greens on my own table. Here is a low-carb recipe that even greens-phobes tend to like, and leftovers make wonderful lunches and snacks. It is improvisational in nature and you can substitute at will: this is a skeleton recipe and you can flesh it out any way you like.

The basic ingredients are greens, alliums, flavoring leaves, oil, cream, eggs, nuts, seasonings, and cheese. The greens, alliums, and flavoring leaves can be varied endlessly, except that the bulk of the greens should be relatively mild.

First, catch your greens. I carry a white plastic food-grade 3 gallon bucket out into the garden and pick it full, with the greens loosely thrown in and not packed down. Today I picked mostly lambs-quarters leaves, with some late spinach and early chard. If I was working from the farmer’s market or grocery store, I would choose a very large bunch of chard and Tuscan kale, and would tear out the large central midribs. Wash the greens twice. Grab them by handfuls and, on a BIG cutting board, chop them coarsely.

Second, decide on your alliums. Today I picked two big green onions and a couple of very big stalks of green garlic. If you don’t have a garden, a large onion and three cloves of garlic would work. You could use two cloves of garlic and two bundles of onion scapes from the farmer’s market.  Shallots are good in the winter. Don’t use garlic scapes in this recipe, because the texture doesn’t work.  Chop your alliums finely.

Third, consider your flavoring leaves. Think in terms of adding herbal, sharp, aromatic, and sour flavors. Today I picked several large young wine grape leaves for the sharp-sour note, a few leaves of lovage and a handful of parsley for green-herbal tones, and a few sprigs each of thyme and fennel for aromatic notes. Possibilities are endless. If working from the grocery store shelves, I would often choose a small bunch of parsley and some tarragon and thyme. Chop your flavoring leaves finely.

For the oil, I use top-notch extra virgin olive oil.

For the cream, I chose a can of coconut milk because I had one on hand, but heavy cream would do just as well, and if you insist on almond or cashew milk you can use that. You need a cup or a little more of your cream of choice.

For eggs, I use three whole eggs and nine egg yolks. Do be sure to get the best pastured eggs that you can get.

For nuts, I always use about half a cup of pine nuts. If you choose some other nut, chop them coarsely.

For seasonings, I used about a teaspoon each of red pepper and Urfa pepper flakes. I seldom vary this, just because I love this combination with greens. You may prefer freshly grated black pepper.

For the cheese, I nearly always use 6 ounces of finely grated Parmesan and eight ounces of the wonderful Mt. Vikos feta, crumbled.

Having made your choices and prepared your ingredients, preheat the oven to 375 and generously grease a pan about 10 by 14 with olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with some of the Parmesan. Beat the eggs and egg yolks together and salt them a bit.

Heat some olive oil, about a quarter cup, in your largest skillet and sauté the alliums until they are softening. Add the coarsely chopped greens and salt rather generously, and cook turning frequently and carefully as the greens shrink. Cook them 15 minutes or longer, until they taste good when you eat a bite, and then add the flavoring leaves and sauté about two more minutes. Now add the cream. Boil a minute and take them off the heat and let cool 10-15 minutes.

When the greens are just cool enough to handle, stir in the crumbled feta and then the beaten eggs and yolks. Spoon the mixture into the greased cheesed pan, smooth out a bit with a wooden spoon, and sprinkle with the red pepper and Urfa pepper flakes. Then sprinkle on the pine nuts, or whatever nuts you chose.  Top with the rest of the Parmesan (I like to drizzle on a bit more olive oil, too) and bake at 375 until the mixture is firm and a knife tip comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes for me. then, if you like, run under the broiler until the top crisps a bit. Be careful not to burn the nuts. Let it cool a little and serve in generous squares, jam-packed with nutrition. Smaller squares could be used as a finger food.
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