Friday, March 6, 2009

How Green Is Your Dinner?

There are many things that I will not do for my health until such time, if ever, as I am pressed completely to the wall. For example, I will never completely give up pasta. Some people feel this type of strong commitment to chocolate. For me, it's pasta. I will limit my portions, I will try each generation of whole grain pastas and I'll cook it al dente to lesson the amount of starch and, therefore, decrease the speed at which it is converted to sugar in my body (this one sounded reasonable when I read it, but boy, does it sound completely desperate now). But, I don't think l will ever be able to completely excise it from my diet. And if I eliminated it from my family's, there'd likely be a mutiny.

Eating extra vegetables at every meal is one way I've found to cut back on the pasta. Dark, leafy greens seem to do the trick really well. They are packed with good vitamins, calcium, anti-oxidants and fiber, and when cooked well, taste great. They taste great with pasta and grains as well as beans. And the best part is that it's so easy to prepare them.

So, kale. I love kale. My family tolerates kale. But they eat it! Kale was another vegetable I had never eaten before last winter and now serve regularly. Often, I just saute it in a large non stick frying pan in a little bit of olive oil, with minced garlic and crushed red pepper. Pretty much the same way I've done spinach over the years. Kale retains a little more body than spinach and doesn't get as mushy when sauteed, which I really like. I'll provide the recipe below. Recently, I threw some leftover kale, as well as the tougher ribs I'd cut from the kale leaves the day prior, into a beef and barley soup that was cooking away on my stove. It was delicious and there was not a word during dinner. Just a lot of noisy slurping.

I do, however, use spinach in just about everything else I can think of. If it seems to go with a winter soup, I throw some in just before serving. Sometimes, I buy the big bags of spinach at Costco and then it's a spinach week around here. Sauteed. Swirled into soups. Spinach salad. With pasta. I prefer baby spinach when I'm buying at the grocery store this time of year. It cooks more quickly, and there's usually no trimming of tougher stems required.

After mastering spinach and kale, I turned to chard. Turns out, my husband likes the mix of chard and spinach as a sauteed side dish. Chard comes in a red tinged form, too, which can be fun on the plate. Chard is a little milder and softer than kale.

Broccoli rabe intimidated me. Is it broccolini? Is it kale? How to cook it? Trader Joe's used to sell it already cut up in salad like bags, so when I came across this Giada De Laurentiis pasta recipe, I decided to try it. The trick is to boil the broccoli rabe briefly before cooking it further in a skillet. Takes out some of the bitterness. Sadly, the Oz-like brains behind Trader Joe's have decided to no longer carry that item, so I have had to start cutting my own rabe.

I noticed just yesterday, however, right in my neighborhood Safeway, an entire rack of precut and bagged greens: mustard, kale, chard and collard. No excuse not to try them any longer.

Sauteed Greens (works with spinach, kale, chard, or a mixture of them)
(serves 4)

1 bunch kale, chard or spinach, or bag of precut greens
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
pinch dried crushed red pepper
kosher or sea salt

If using a bunch of kale or chard, cut the tender leaves away from the tougher, spiny stems. You can save the stems for a soup or other longer cooking stew if you like. I try to do that if possible, but sometimes they are wasted. Cut up the leaves into smaller pieces, the size you like for salads.

Wash the greens in cool water, and spin dry lightly, leaving just a touch of water on the leaves.

Heat a tablespoon or so of extra virgn olive oil in a large non-stick skillet on medium heat. If you prefer, you can use a mister or olive oil spray. Add the minced garlic and let it soften just briefly. You do not want it to brown.

After about a minute, put a large handful of the greens into the pan and stir frequently from the bottom. As the greens soften, add the rest of the greens by handfuls until all of the greens have softened. If the pan seems dry during the process, add a 1/4 cup of water or stock. Once the greens have softened and darkened, add a pinch of kosher or sea salt and a pinch of crushed red pepper.

You can serve this as a side dish with a pasta dish, or most meat or chicken dishes. I like it over brown rice or quinoa.

Orecchiette With Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
(adapted from Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian)

(serves 4 with leftovers, unless you have a teenaged son )

We love this dish with broccoli rabe as well as with kale or chard. With kale or chard, you don't have to boil the greens first.

2 bunches broccoli rabe (or 1 large bunch chard or kale)
16 ounces dried orecchiette pasta or other small shape like penne or farfalle (for this dish we go traditional and use white pasta. Feel free to try whole wheat or rice pasta if it suits your diet better)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound Italian chicken or turkey sausage, casings removed (if you like it very spicy, use spicy Italian sausage, if you like it less spicy, use mild sausage)
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of dried crushed red pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional) - use a real Parmigiano Reggiano, please. no green cans!!!
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

-Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and cook until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Strain the broccoli rabe out of the pot and set aside in a bowl, leaving the pot ready for cooking the pasta.
-Cook the pasta in the same pot of water, stirring occasionally, until tender, but al dente, or firm to the bite. Reserve one cup of the pasta cooking liquid and then drain the pasta.
-Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the larger pieces with the back of a spoon, until the sausage is brown and juices form, about 8 minutes. Spoon most of the resulting liquid out of the pan and discard. Add the other tablespoon of olive oil, the minced garlic and the crushed red pepper to the pan and cook about 1 minute. Add the broccoli rabe and toss to coat. Cook until greens are soft and tender. Add the pasta and enough of the reserved cooking liquid, 1/4 cup at a time, to moisten. Stir the Parmesan cheese, if using, and the black pepper into the pasta mixture. Serve.


  1. 1. I've found seasoning cooked chard with balsamic vinegar after (or at teh end of) cooking in olive oil is very, very yummy--I never measure, so you'd have to do it to taste...if balsamic is to your taste. It might be good on the kale, too.

    2. I juice Kale, along with chard or romaine or other greens, apples and lemons for an extremely healthy green lemonade....Recipe comes from Natalia Rose's Raw Food Detox Diet book. I neither detoxed nor dieted nor gone entirely raw...but have found some good recipes and useful information in that book.

  2. I'm going to try the balsamic next time!

  3. Hey--WEndy, see if you can set up your comments section so that I can sign on to receive notice of any follow up comments....and let me know how the balsamic works out...if it works out!