Friday, March 30, 2012

Field of Greens

Readers of this blog (or fellow foragers) may recognize the wild greens growing in the field above. I've written about them (with recipes) here and here. It's something any self-respecting Italian knows about. My parents taught us to forage for them when we were kids, and they have a flavor similar to broccoli rape. But they're even better -- and they're free for the taking!!
Typically, these greens grow sparsely in fields and along roadsides and it takes a while to find enough to make a meal. But there's a bonanza growing in a field near me,  as my late husband discovered a few years ago at this time of year. They're ready for the picking right now -- a couple of weeks earlier than usual -- so I hightailed it out there and came home with three bags full to put in the freezer.  Here's what they look like close up:
 Search the fields and along roads near where you live for these greens called Winter Cress, also referred to as wild mustard greens. Pick the ones that have tight buds, not the ones with the yellow flowers. When they're in full bloom, they provide beautiful landscapes (especially in Italy and along the Southern California coastline), but they're bitter and tough once the flowers emerge. 

You can saute them in a little olive oil to retain all the nutrients, or you can blanch them first, then drain them, and proceed to saute them in a little olive oil, garlic and red pepper. The blanching takes away some of the bitter flavor but still leaves a lot of vitamins. In order to store them in the freezer, blanching is necessary. I boil water in a couple of giant canning pots, and I place a huge bunch into each pot, stirring it around for a couple of minutes. Drain the greens into a colander, then quickly transfer the greens to a bowl of cold water to bring down the temperature. Squeeze the greens to remove excess water, making little bunches to put into plastic bags. Repeat the process, refreshing the boiling after using it twice, otherwise you won't get the harshest bitterness out of the greens. (Trust me, they'll still have some bitterness even with the blanching.)
Place the greens in plastic freezer bags, in portions of two, four or whatever you like. Then store in the deep freeze and you'll have them all winter long.
I still had a few bags from last spring, so I defrosted them and made this for dinner a few nights ago - beans and greens - perfect for any day, but especially for a Friday during Lent. Take note of the fork in the dish - it's more than 40 years old and is the work of my grandfather. I have a couple of them that he "shaped" at my house when he would come to visit. He had a penchant for bending the tines of forks, maybe to get more in his mouth. But you know what? I have found them to be extremely useful in smashing beans and other foods, and stirring items in a saute pan. Go Grandpop! 

Here's the recipe:

Beans And Greens

printable recipe here

1 can cannellini beans- about a 13-ounce can (or whatever kind of beans you like)

1 bunch of wild greens

1/4 cup minced onion or shallot

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

salt, to taste

a few shakes of red pepper

water, as needed

If the greens have been frozen, thaw them. If they're fresh, blanch for a couple of minutes and drain. Or use them without blanching if you like your greens really bitter. Then pour some of the olive oil in a pan and saute the onions until limp. Add the garlic and soften them too. Toss in the beans and smash them partially with a fork. Add the greens to the beans, the salt, the red pepper and a little water to help everything blend together. Taste for seasoning, then cook for a few minutes to meld the flavors together. Serve with crusty bread. Wine optional.

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  1. WOW! Henry had better start looking for these on the side of the road! I love this post.

  2. Delicious and so healthy! A fantastic combo.



  3. healthy dish for this period,lovely photos Linda, have a good weekend...

  4. I recall from literature and life how eating raggedy plants was a sure sign of poverty. What the well-off have been missing!

  5. We don't collect wild greens anymore like our grandparents did. Here in Australia I wouldn't know what to pick. But I do recall my husband grandmother telling of when they arrived from Italy they didn't have much money and would collect wild greens for a meal.
    On a side note, that bitterness is what is so good for you. Here in Austalia we grow a bitter salad green which is so healthy for you.
    Linda, I wish you a happy and blessed Easter!

  6. There is so much out there to discover if we only new what we were looking for and took the time to do so. I wish I knew more about wild greens.

  7. I don't know that I've ever seen winter cress growing nearby and will have to look for it next time I'm out for a walk. Loved your post, Linda, and am happy to know your method for freezing little greens like this. I wonder how kale would be as a substitute.

  8. Beans and greens has to be one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. I, too, want to know more about wild greens. My greens are my own kale and spinach, though.

  9. Wow, you scored big time! I love your simple and oh so comforting meal, and such a beautiful way to eat it with the fork your grandfather made! Loved this post Linda xox

  10. Dear Linda, beautiful photos!! Your beans and greens sound like something I know I would very much enjoy! BLessings for a beautiful weekend my dear, your friend, Catherine xo

  11. You are so lucky to have this wonderful source of wild mustard greens, Linda. They look very nutritious cooked with beans.

    Lots of the vineyards in Napa Valley grow mustard greens between the rows of vines. I'd love to see that sometime as it looks beautiful in photos.

  12. I better to start paying attention to the field around our neighborhood. Thanks for sharing Linda!

  13. Hi Linda - along the Southern Cal coast too, I was just there a few minutes ago, literally. See instagrm photo:
    I will keep an eye out for them. Terrific post.

  14. Dear Linda, Yes, this post brought memories. My mom used to cook these greens. They are healthy and delicious. Thank you for the good memories.
    The dish looks so inviting. Blessings my dearest. Catherine xoxo

  15. Linda: brilliant! both the part of picking wild greens and the part of freezing them in small portions. And we seem to be on the same page about how well they marry with beans!

  16. These greens sound wonderful and I love what you were able to do with them. We have something here called bitter cress. It has a very small herb-like leaf and it grows wild in forested ares. It makes a wonderful addition to salad. I think its wonderful that you keep tradition alive. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  17. I remember my grandparents making beans and greens when I was kid. They didn't forage themselves, but they did have neighbors who did. Beautiful photos of you bounty in nature.

  18. Now, I have to find out if these greens grow here. They look delicious, and what a great meal with the beans!

  19. So, I am thinking I should print out your photos and go walking! Combined with greens, I am in forage-heaven. Love the fork. Your grandfather was on to something!

  20. Very timely post as we've had an early start to Spring and it's best to pick these greens before they are too bitter. Love the healthy salad with beans...keep'em coming.

  21. Wow, looks like a great and simple meal. Although, I think if I picked anything on the side of the road, I'd probably pick the wrong stuff! :)

  22. I'm sorry to say no one ever taught me the fine art of picking wild greens. :=(( You see, we were city people… So when we were living outside Rome surrounded by fields, I never dared to try, even though it was a pretty common site to see folks bending down here and there and foraging for wild chicory and other delights.