Garden State of Mind
Photographs and Styling by MICHELLE GIORLA
I am not quite sure when or how it happened. It wasn’t an epiphany. There was no burning bush of Brussels sprouts that brought me to this radical viewpoint—well radical for me, devout apostle of the flesh—but: vegetables aren’t evil. In fact, they are quite enjoyable. Even the green ones. From Sam I Am to every five-year-old who’s ever eaten in a restaurant, green food has a problematic reputation. Some people won’t even try things based on color. That is a silly approach to food and life to judge things so superficially. The world of green vegetables varies greatly in texture and flavor and opens the flavor palette for both chefs and diners. Green vegetables add contrast and counterbalance to steaks, roasts, and most center-of-the-plate items.
Spinach greens are very versatile. Lightly sautéed in a pasta with shrimp or scallops, and they add a mineral bitter contrast to the salty ocean sweetness of shellfish. Creamed spinach is a classic steak accompaniment. Blanched and puréed and added to risotto, it provides depth of flavor and a color blast to stimulate the palate visually. Fresh spinach is available in two common types: baby, which has soft leaves and stems and is perfect to use as purchased. The mature spinach has a bolder flavor and chewier texture, and the stems need to be picked and discarded. When preparing adult spinach, rinse well, as it can be sandy and gritty. Cooking spinach does have its drawbacks. A pound of raw spinach after being blanched, squeezed dry, and chopped yields roughly a metric thimbleful. For all the work it entails, buy frozen chopped spinach.
An alternative is to wilt fresh greens in butter or oil with garlic and/or shallots. Start with high heat and toss the greens well to coat. Remove from heat and let carryover cooking finish the job. This technique preserves flavor and nutritional value. It works well with beet greens, Swiss chard, and mustard greens.
One of the culinary world’s most recent trends has been the rise of the Brussels sprout. These tiny members of the cabbage family, once despised by children everywhere, have become a legitimate culinary rock star, proving mothers and grandmothers were right when they implored “try it—you’ll like it.” The hidden truth is Brussel sprouts, while in the cabbage family, are not baby cabbages; rather they are the bud that grows on a thick fibrous stalk.
One reason for the rise of the sprout is that it has been specifically crossbred to remove some of its innate bitterness. (If only this technique could be used as successfully on some people, producing a kinder, sweeter, gentler flavor profile.) Another reason for their popularity is that chefs and cooks have stopped boiling the heck out of them. Boiling green vegetables is the worst cooking method for several reasons. Boiling leaches out flavor and most of the nutritional benefits of green vegetables. Roasting, grilling, or baking are high-heat cooking methods which caramelize the natural sugars in vegetables, accentuating their sweetness.
I would be remiss when discussing green leafy vegetables if I didn’t mention lettuces or salad greens. My personal favorites for salads are arugula and Bibb lettuce. Arugula has a slight peppery bite. Pairing it with slightly sweet vinegars like balsamic, sherry, or champagne and soft milder cheeses like chèvre or buffalo mozzarella creates a home-run dining experience. Bibb is on the other end of the flavor spectrum, with a soft clover, sweet grass flavor. Choice pairings with Bibb lettuce include citrus flavors like oranges, rich avocado, and sweet and sharp notes of a honey cilantro dressing.
Welcome the return of spring to your kitchen with these recipes: Roasted Brussels Sprout Nachos; Arugula Salad with Roasted Beets, Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese; Creamed Spinach; Spinach Risotto; and Orange, Avocado, and Bibb Salad.
- 2 lbs. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
- 2 shallots, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup white wine
- 4 oz butter
- ¼ cup flour
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup grated manchego cheese
- ¼ cup grated Swiss cheese
- ¼ cup grated white cheddar
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- Kosher salt to taste
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups milk or chicken broth
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add shallots and garlic; sweat until soft. Add flour and stir well with a wooden spoon to form roux. Add wine and stir; add milk/stock and whisk to remove lumps. Simmer, then add cream. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens.
Whisk in cheese: cheddar, then Swiss, then Manchego, then Parmesan. Let each cheese become fully incorporated before adding next. Add seasoning. In a separate pan, warm spinach, add sauce a little at a time until you achieve a texture and flavor to your liking.
Roasted Beet and Arugula Salad
- 2 each red beets
- 2 each gold beets
Rub cleaned beets with oil and salt, then wrap in foil and roast at 325 for 45 minutes. Cool, peel, and slice the beets.
- ¼ cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
- 4 oz goat cheese
- Baby arugula washed and dried
Toss all ingredients; serve with green goddess vinaigrette.
Brussels Sprouts Nachos
- 1 lb. sprouts
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Split and core sprouts and separate the leaves. Toss with oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 375 for 25 minutes. Leaves should be caramelized to lightly crispy, not burnt.
- ¼ cup diced tomatoes
- ¼ cup blue cheese crumbles
- 3 oz crispy chopped bacon
- 4 oz creamy garlic dressing from a squeeze bottle
- 1 oz hot honey
Toss sprouts with diced tomatoes, bacon, and cheese. Plate, and then drizzle with dressing and honey. Enjoy.
- 2 cups frozen spinach, thawed, drained, and puréed
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 8 cloves garlic mixed
- 7 cups warm chicken or vegetable broth
- 6 oz butter chopped
- 4 oz grated Pocatello cheese
- ¼ cup cream
- 3 tbsp olive oil
Heat oil in a thick-bottom pan. Add rice, coat and lightly toast. Add garlic. Add broth over medium heat, just enough to cover rice. Cook, stirring well. Continue until broth is used and rice is tender to the bite.
Reduce heat and stir in butter a little at a time, waiting until it is incorporated until adding more. Repeat the process with cheese. Fold in spinach. Add cream if a richer texture is desired.
Orange, Avocado, and Bibb Salad
- 2 heads Bibb lettuce
- 2 oranges, segmented
- 2 avocados
Separate the Bibb leaves and stack on a plate. Garnish with oranges and avocado. Drizzle with Honey Cilantro Vinaigrette.
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 Tbsp honey
- 2 cups canola oil
- 1 jalapeno, cut and seeded
- Juice of 2 limes
- Salt to taste
- 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro
Process all items but oil in a blender. Drizzle in the oil slowly until mixture emulsifies, and season with salt. Drizzle over salad and enjoy. ■