As my garden grows and local market stands overflow with spring greens, I have been diving deeper into one of my two assigned food trends: bitter greens. For those who may not have read previously, I am on a yearlong journey with Sargento Cheese, developing recipes and exploring the food trends that were developed by Chef Rick Bayless. (For background information and to read about the top 10 trends, click here.) The intent is to learn more about ingredients that may not be as familiar to us and push our boundaries just a bit. In this case, I have occasionally stepped beyond my regular use of kale and spinach to incorporate more bitter options such as dandelion and turnip greens. At the same time, I also hope to implement this trend in a way that is user friendly. So, I issue the reminder that good old spinach and kale are always great options for their availability, healthfulness, and taste. Although if you take the opportunity to try a new type of green, you may actually enjoy it…or at least be proud that you were adventurous enough to try!
One of our local farmers is kind enough to allow people to taste test the produce at his farm stand, and this has been quite helpful to me. On the most bitter scale, I would include greens such as dandelion and mustard greens. Arugula, broccoli rabe, collard, turnip, and beet greens are somewhere in the mid range. Kale, chard, and spinach are at the low end of the bitter scale and can be almost sweet in the spring and fall when the nights are cool. Farmers here claim that many vegetables–from spinach to brussel sprouts–are best after the first frost, and I agree.
I took to baking greens recently with a recipe for Baked Swiss Chard with Peppers and Feta. The heat of the oven mellows any bitterness and provides a delicious introduction for someone who may not have ventured beyond more commonly consumed greens such as romaine and baby spinach. Moreover, cheese happens to fit in quite nicely with the earthy flavor of these vitamin-packed veggies. After trying a version of this recipe with feta, my mind went immediately to Sargento’s blue cheese. I am a big fan of blue cheese and, after sampling Sargento’s blue cheese crumbles while visiting the company headquarters outside of Milwaukee, I promptly requested this item at my local grocery store. In block form, blue cheese is rather soft and can be messy and difficult to effectively crumble by hand. To counteract this, most pre-crumbled varieties contain anti-caking agents and preservatives. Not Sargento’s blue cheese. And I couldn’t believe how much better the taste was as a result. When baked in this recipe, the cheese melts and coats the greens, providing an appealing sharpness and saltiness that flavors the vegetables perfectly.
Yields 4-6 servings.
- 1 bunch dark leafy greens or a mix of several varieties (about 8 ounces), rinsed and well drained
- 1 medium onion, chopped or sliced (separated into pieces)
- 8 ounces mushrooms, quartered or halved, depending on size (I like baby bellas but button work well, too)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use (plus a little extra for greasing the pan)
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and thickly sliced or chopped
- 1 slightly rounded 1/2 cup (about 2 1/2 ounces ) Sargento crumbled blue cheese
- Freshly ground pepper to taste (I use about 1/4 teaspoon)
- Optional: chopped, toasted walnuts or pine nuts for garnish (about 1/4 cup walnuts, 2-3 tablespoons pine nuts)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with sides with olive oil.
Separate the stems from the leaves of the greens and chop both, keeping piles separate. I like to chop the stems into bite-size pieces (discarding any that appear too fibrous or if you simply prefer not to use them) and the leaves into pieces 2-3 inches long and across. You don’t want the leaf pieces to be too small as they will shrink a bit when baked.
Toss the stems, sliced onions, and mushrooms in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with pepper to taste, and spread onto the prepared baking sheet. (I completely omit salt in this recipe as the blue cheese offers tremendous flavor; if you prefer more, you may always salt at the end.)
Bake in the preheated oven until the stems have softened and the onion and mushrooms are starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir around a little.
Meanwhile, in the bowl you used to toss the first round of veggies, toss the leaves of the greens and the sliced pepper with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a few more grinds of the pepper mill. Sprinkle the leaves and peppers over the stem mixture, then scatter the blue cheese over top.
Return to the oven, and bake until the leaves are beginning to crisp slightly, about 20 minutes. You may broil for a minute or so at the end to add an extra hint of crispiness to the leaves and a touch of golden brown to the blue cheese. Just watch very closely so as not to burn.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the optional walnuts or pine nuts, if desired.
Baked bitter greens, fresh out of the oven. Roasting the mushrooms and onions first creates depth of flavor and a welcome heartiness to the dish. The blue cheese topping imparts incredible flavor that pairs perfectly with the earthy mushrooms as well as the onions, peppers and greens.