In January, our thoughts turn to the sturdy greens of winter, chards, kales, beet greens, turnip greens, collards greens, dandelion greens, chicories, spinach, cress and more. Although most of these greens are grown year-round in Sonoma County, many taste better — sweeter and more crisp — after they've been kissed by a good frost.
Their winter appeal is further heightened because they are not eclipsed by summer's harvest and because they are considered so good for us. In January, everybody seems to be talking about getting healthier. Greens go a long way toward helping us achieve that goal.
When you have good greens — and you know where to get them, at a farmers market or farm stand — you don't have to do a lot to them. One of my favorite ways to prepare spinach, for example, is to rinse it in cool water, toss the wet leaves into a wok and cook for about 90 seconds, until the spinach just wilts. Add a squeeze of lemon and a little salt and that's it, c'est fini. For something more elaborate, I add a bit of butter or olive oil and press a clove or two of garlic into the wilted spinach.
Chard, kale and collards require more time on the heat but still lend themselves to simple preparations, should that be your inclination. They also welcome cured meats, from pancetta and bacon to ham and ham hocks, as well as hot sauce, vinegar and a bit of something sweet.
Steve Garner, co-host of the once and, we hope, future "Good Food Hour," gave me this recipe when I was working on my book "Salt & Pepper," which was published in 1999. I love the vivid accuracy with which he describes how he rolls, cuts and cooks the collards; the description has the authenticity of someone who really knows his greens. Garner's credentials — he's from Louisville, Kentucky — are impeccable.
Steve Garner's Collard Greens with Ham Hocks & Maple Syrup
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 pounds collard greens, rinsed, stems removed and discarded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons peanut oil, plus more as needed
3 to 4 ounces smoked ham-hock meat, minced
— Kosher salt
? cup homemade chicken broth or stock
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
— Black pepper in a mill
— Red pepper flakes or Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Set the collards on a clean work surface. Stack several together, roll them up like a cigar and cut them into ?-inch thick strips.
Heat the olive oil and peanut oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat, add the meat and saute, stirring all the while, for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add a handful of greens, use a wooden spoon to push them down into the pot and saute until they wilt; repeat, adding a handful of greens at a time and cooking until they wilt before making the next addition. Season with a generous pinch of salt, add the stock and when it begins to boil, reduce the heat as low as possible.
Cover and simmer until the greens are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Check now and then to be certain that the liquid has not evaporated; if the pan gets dry before the greens are tender, add a little more broth or stock.