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!
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.