I have the worst case of spring fever ever. I wish I could say I was pining for it, but the truth is I need to get on with some serious green cooking.
If you’re still hung over from the recent Paddy’s Day celebration, that’s not the kind of green I’m talking about. Think chlorophyll … think light … think veg. But don’t think tasteless, watery or boring, because I wouldn’t accept that and you shouldn’t either.
The reason endive in our grocery stores often looks dry and limp is that there aren’t many of us buying it. I know you didn’t grow up eating these beautiful, pale green, slightly bitter, but delicious cones — neither did I. If they’re looking a little worse for their journey, as they usually do here, then this is the recipe to bring them, and you, back to life this time of year.
I have only ever seen a couple of varieties of endive here, but go with whatever you can get and this recipe will work great. Try them with broiled or poached salmon and you will put this recipe into your favourites file right now. Count on serving 4 to 6.
8 heads green endive, brown leaves removed
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 cup each white wine and chicken broth (or all chicken broth)
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Cut endive in half lengthwise. Rinse in cold water and dry thoroughly. Melt butter in a frying pan over medium-high and sprinkle the sugar into the pan evenly. Place endive heads, cut sides down, on top of butter and don’t touch them until they are golden brown. Flip and repeat on their backs — watch carefully to make sure they don’t burn and, if they are browning too quickly, reduce the heat. Flip once more and add wine, chicken broth and thyme to the pan. Cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until fork tender. Remove from pan and set aside. Stir lemon juice, rind, pepper and parsley into remaining liquid — add a little water if pan is dry — and bring to a boil. Pour over endive — and whatever you’re serving it with. The sauce should be salty enough from the butter and broth, but feel free to sprinkle a little coarse salt over top if necessary.
Green Greens and Ham
Forget the eggs. The best side dish with ham is greens. These I did grow up eating, although more often Swiss chard, beet tops or turnip greens than mustard greens or collards. I’m not sure it’s possible to pack any more nutrients into these, so you can feel self-righteous simply by keeping the serving size of meat within reason. By the way, if you’ve seen smoked turkey legs in the store, this is the very best way, at least for my money, that you can prepare them, so feel free to substitute for the ham. I can’t tell you how many this will serve because you can stretch it to fill as many stomachs as may sit at your table. But don’t be afraid of leftovers, because they are delicious. Although this recipe works with any greens, reduce the cooking time for more tender varieties such as chard.
1 medium bone-in ham
1 bulb garlic, cloves peeled but left whole
1 onion, quartered
1 large stalk celery
3 or 4 whole jalapeno peppers (optional)
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 large bunches collard greens
2 tbsp. melted butter
2 tsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce, or to taste
Trim away most of the skin and fat and place ham in a Dutch oven. Cover with cold water and add garlic, onion, celery, jalapenos and black pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer about 2 hours. To prepare the collards for cooking, wash them thoroughly and discard the biggest, toughest stalks. Cut out the smaller stalks and chop them coarsely. Roll up the leaves and cut them into strips — chiffonade style. Fish out and discard garlic, onion, celery and jalapenos and add greens and chopped stalks to the pot. If you like, add a turnip, peeled and sliced, and a couple of carrots to the pot as well. Cover and bring back to a simmer. Cook 45 minutes. Remove ham and set aside. Strain out the greens and any other vegetables you added — reserving the liquor for the best pea soup ever. Add butter, vinegar and hot sauce to the greens mixture and serve with sliced ham. This makes such a satisfying plate you won’t need potatoes, but if you can’t imagine ham without the white side, then feel free.
Baked Fennel with Balsamic Glaze
If you haven’t tried fennel because it looks so intimidating, or if you’re nervous because the description says it has an anise or licorice flavour, this is the recipe that will convert you. As a side, this amount will serve 4 to 6, but if it’s the star, count on eating a whole bulb yourself.
2 or 3 medium fennel bulbs
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. melted butter
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. each sugar and lemon juice
Trim away stalks and fronds — the feathery leaves make a nice garnish for this dish or a herby green hit for another. Remove any brown leaves and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Cut away the central core as you would if you were preparing cabbage and slice the bulbs into 1/4-inch slices. Toss with olive oil, butter, salt, and pepper and place in a single layer on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 F for about 5 minutes, or until the edges are starting to colour. Flip and bake another few minutes — you don’t want them completely wilted or soft, just golden around the cut edges. In the meantime, place vinegar, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and reduce until you have about 1 tbsp. Drizzle fennel with balsamic glaze and serve right away.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.