Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wild Greens Crostata

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It’s that time of year, my friends. And I’m not talking about crocus, daffodils, and tulips. I’m not even talking about artichokes, asparagus and ramps. No, it’s that time of year when you find old Italians (and not so old ones) stooped over along the roadside picking wild greens known as winter cress or mustard greens. You can find more details about the plant and another recipe for them here.

They’re something that evokes my childhood days, when my parents would head out with us kids in tow, to clip and gather these greens that taste similar to broccoli rape, but more bitter. (Lest I get any comments about it, it’s correct to call it broccoli rape or broccoli rabe, raab, rapini or even Chinese broccoli, but it’s not related to broccoli.)

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I was reminded of them on my recent trip to Santa Barbara, where the hillsides along the road were blanketed with them.

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It’s a real tease though for you food foragers out there, for once they start sprouting their pretty yellow flowers, you can forget it – they’re too tough and way too bitter to eat.

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But for those of you in the Northeast U.S., the time is now – and the window to harvest them is short  – maybe another week or so. I ran out yesterday and filled a couple of grocery bags full. They’re growing in a fallow field nearby, but I’ve spotted them in dozens of places. Start looking DOWN (and don’t pick them where pesticides have been sprayed). They don’t take long to pick, but it is tedious to clean them, blanch them, drain them and prepare them for the freezer.

April 2011 073 It’s worth the trouble though. First of all, who doesn’t like free food? Besides, they’re super delicious and you can tell from their mineral-y taste, that they’re good for you. The best thing is that you’ll have them tucked away for those winter nights when you don’t have to run to the grocery store for a vegetable. I finished last year’s stash just last night, and they had special meaning for me since they were picked by my husband’s hands last spring. I drove out to the same fields yesterday, and commemorated what would have been our 41st wedding anniversary by gathering the greens that he loved so well. 

Making the crostata takes very little time, especially if you use a pre-made pie shell, which I recommend as a time-saver if you’ve got a heap of mustard greens to pick through and clean. Just roll out the dough, add the filling:

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Crimp the sides and brush with olive oil, or a beaten egg:

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Bake it for 45 minutes or so, and sit down to a slice for dinner, or cut it into small pieces as an hors d’ouevre:

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Wild Greens Crostata

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  • one cup cooked and chopped wild mustard greens (you could use spinach, swiss chard or kale if you can’t find the mustard greens)
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 16 ounces ricotta cheese (2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • small handful of chopped parsley
  • salt, pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

If you’ve blanched the greens and stored them in the freezer, thaw them and squeeze out the moisture as much as possible. Chop roughly. If they're fresh greens, cook in boiling water for five minutes. Drain and submerge them into cold water to stop the cooling. Drain again, then squeeze out as moisture as possible.

Spread the pie crust on a cookie sheet or pizza pan. Saute the scallions until limp, add the garlic clove and cook until soft. Place the scallions and garlic in a bowl and add the greens, ricotta, parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix everything together and spread on the pie crust. Bring the outside edges toward the center, crimping as you go along. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 45 – 50 minutes or until golden brown.


  1. This is right up my alley!
    I love this crostata.

  2. Looks amazing, like all your food, Linda. But I would surely pick a poisonous green rather than rabe! Hope you are trucking along...let's do Indian again.

  3. I love such greens! That crostata is splendid. Wonderful!



  4. Linda,
    Amazing looking. I love the peppery taste of cress. This goes to the top of the "to make" recipe stack.

  5. I remember my relatives getting excited about collecting dandelion greens on the grounds of a local college before pesticides and dogs were allowed, it was their hidden gold mine.
    I love the special meaning behind your beautiful crostata Linda.

  6. Rapini always evokes Rapunzel for me - and the husband in the witch's garden stealing the prized greens for his pregnant wife. Our foraging for greens is limited - too much spraying for mosquitoes goes on here so am just a wee bit jealous. But greens it is - and will be made this week. I am especially fond of the love that went into this crostada.

  7. I remember my father picking greens, dandelion especially! I always thought it odd when I was a child, now I wish he was here to pick greens with him! The crostata is lovely!

  8. Wow, beautiful pictures and the crostata looks delicious with the healthy greens and ricotta. Perfect meal. Hope you are having a great week :-)

  9. Lovely photos ... perfect meal :)

  10. I wish I could pluck my own wild greens! Alas, Manhattan isn't so good for that. But I will definitely check out some markets to see if they have any. I must try this crostata since it looks so delicious.

  11. We used to get folks foraging in the fields below our house in Rome all the time. Funny, I never tried it... well, I didn't know how to spot the edible greens out there. I guess my culinary education was lacking!

  12. this looks like a healthy delicious crostata ... a complete meal by itself... perfect for a spring picnic if I may add...

  13. La crostata è una meraviglia solo a guardarla, dev'essere di un buono! Un abbraccio e buonissima giornata

  14. I always admire foragers. It's a skill I haven't developed. When I try to forage, I never find anything (you should see my annual fruitless ramp hunt - made me so happy to see them at Whole Foods one day. It looks like your results were well worth it. I love a good tart!

  15. This is wonderful, Linda. Especially poignant, and touching, since you commemorated your anniversary. I was thinking about collecting some dandelions if they are ready in my yard, but I know I spied some of those wild mustard greens in the garden! I am a forager by nature, too. This would be sublime to make.

  16. I come from a country of foragers and miss the tradition! I would be afraid to go foraging in the metro area where I live or elsewhere. Your tart looks great!

  17. Love savory crostata, looks perfect!

  18. gorgeous!! I could so see myself using spinach or arugula. Haven't eaten mustard greens or kale before...maybe a combo of everything would be a good way to start.

  19. A lovely crostata and tribute to your husband. Those greens remind me of my grandfather, who did the same as you and your husband. My mom's side of the family called them cavoloceddi (not sure of the spelling), which is Sicilian dialect. My entire childhood I knew the greens that grew on the side of the road as cavoloceddi, and didn't know an English one for them.

  20. This is funny (and, thankfully, timely) as I recently brought home a bunch of greens for some recipe I somehow lost in the process. So I was wondering what to do with it all. And here you come to save the day.

    I love the looks of this fine Crostata, and you, for sharing it!

  21. Your crostata is a flavor powerhouse. The mustard's are just starting to bloom here and the baby nettles are at there prime. We've had western bitter cress for a while now and they are a nice peppery addition to our salads. Fiddleheads will also be available within the next few weeks. I can't wait. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  22. Linda this looks just fabulous!
    I know everyone here would love it!
    Thank you for the recipe!

  23. Beautiful crostata Linda...and all the more special for its contents. Thank you for sharing this...it is special.

  24. There is nothing wild growing near me that I'd think suitable to eat, but I'd love to try this recipe with Swiss chard from the supermarket!