Monday, September 14, 2009

shiny boots of leather

Oh, I can only imagine how thrilled you must be that I'm going to blog about beets and lima beans this week.  But look, there is a weird divide in much of American culture, between meat and vegetables.  They're not enemies, for heaven's sake.  Eating animals shouldn't mean not eating plants.  We non-vegetarians are supposed to be more inclusive than that.

Creamed beet greens and stems

I'm a big fan of greens.  95% of the time, I make them southern-style -- cooked for a long, long time (sometimes days) in rich pork stock.  This is a dish from the other 5%.  You probably don't think of milk and cream as having a season, and that's reasonable -- because for most of us, most of the time, the milk and cream we buy ... doesn't.  However, if you have access to cream from an actual dairy -- you know, sold in glass bottles and everything, milked from cows down the road -- the peak of the season was a couple months ago, and what the cows are producing now (while they're still grazing and eating grass, not just winter feed) is still noticeably better and richer stuff.  So as counterintuitive as it seems, the warmer months are a good time to cook with cream.

There's a long tradition of serving creamed spinach in steakhouses, and a number of methods for making it.  Most home recipes seem to use roux, or to cook the spinach down in the cream; mine does neither.  You can do this with any young green -- beets, collards, Marlboro freshmen (that's a Vermont joke, y'all), whatever -- but be careful with the older ones, because the greens won't actually cook very long.  Also, keep in mind that greens cook down a lot -- I used the greens of three beets for one serving, along with the diced stems of one.

The main thing about this method is that you want to cook the cream and the greens separately, and then combine them, so that you don't have greens cooking forever while the cream reduces, and you don't have greens sitting in a pool of cream on your plate.  Within that, do what you like.  Nutmeg is the traditional flavoring; I used a little red chile powder instead.  Ginger is a common pairing with beet, and French four-spice would work well.

Cook the cream by reducing it in a pan, with your seasonings, until very very reduced -- I mean, some of the fat should start to separate out.  It doesn't matter if you start with heavy cream, light cream, half and half, whatever.

Blanch the greens by dropping into boiling water for a minute, dropping into ice water, and then squeezing very hard (squeeze small handfuls at a time) to mostly dry them out, before chopping up small.

You can do both of those steps way in advance.  A couple days if you like.  When you're ready to serve, heat a little butter in a pan until starting to brown -- add the diced beet stems if you're using them, or a little onion or garlic or what have you -- then add the greens and the cream, and stir until heated through.  Salt sufficiently.  You should end up with something both rich and fresh-tasting.  Tada.

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