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The appeal of winter greens

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


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