December 11, 2010

Vitamin Greens

It’s a funny name for a vegetable—redundant (aren’t all greens full of vitamins?) and potentially even off-putting (is the fact that they contain vitamins really all they have going for them?).  Vitamins greens really are one of the sweetest greens and in person are nowhere near as intimidating as they sound.  Also known as Vitaminna, the thick, leafy green, according to sparse online resources, is a member of the Chinese cabbage family, related to bok choy, and chock-full of Vitamin A.


What’s more, it’s delicious.  This assessment comes from a girl who is a fan of such greens as chard, kale, and dandelion, but I promise you that it’s the truth.  Vitamin greens are one of if not the sweetest winter green I have tasted to date.  They’re sweeter even than chard and leave none of the chalky mouth-feel that it sometimes does.
I had never even heard of vitamin greens until last month, when I saw them mentioned in the weekly 14th & U Farmers’ Market e-newsletter.  I have an ever-expanding love for greens and knew that I had to try them.  They did not disappoint.  They’re sweet and bright with just enough bite to bring them down to earth.
Over the next couple of weeks, in addition to the several bunches that we bought  for immediate consumption, we also blanched and froze some for use during the winter.  We haven’t broken into them yet, since one of the downtown farmer’s markets had fresh greens just last week.  I am looking forward to adding the frozen greens to soups and stir fry.
Since we couldn’t find anything about how to cook vitamin greens, we improvised.  The first time, I removed the stalks before cooking, but we learned at the market the next weekend that we could cook the stalks right along with the leaves. 
That being said, if you want to reserve the stalks for another use, they’re great raw (sliced in salad or dipped in dressing).  They’re also excellent in a cheddar-red-onion-vitamin-green-stalk omelet.   (A concoction born of necessity: a near-empty refrigerator after almost a week away for Thanksgiving.)  The omelet was so good that we made it a second time (with goat cheese instead of cheddar and the addition of thyme). 
The below recipe is a quick, simple way to eat your greens. (And I honestly couldn’t believe how delicious they were!)
Sautéed Vitamin Greens
printable recipe button 2
Serves 4.
1 bunch vitamin greens (washed, trimmed, and roughly chopped)
1/2 red onion (sliced)
1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
salt and pepper
In a wide Dutch oven or  deep sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and a pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent and just begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes.  Add vitamin greens and toss until the greens begin to wilt.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until greens reach desired tenderness, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
We had them with prosciutto-wrapped pork chops.  There’s an excellent recipe here.
December 3, 2010

lo spritz all’Aperol

After a recent blog entry by David Lebovitz, I felt compelled to finally complete my own post about the spritz (pronounced “spreetz” in Italian).  A half-completed version has been sitting in my drafts folder since August.  Thank you to Mr. Lebovitz for inspiring me to finish it!

There is much debate in Italy, specifically between the cities of Venice and Padua, over the origins of the spritz as well as the correct way to make it.  My allegiances lie with Venice.  Aperol may have been invented in Padua, but the tradition of the spritz originated in Venice long before (or so I have on good authority).

For me lo spritz and la Venezia are inextricably bound.  It happened many years ago in a typical Venetian bacaro, in a room of dark wooden walls and tables, surrounded by the sounds of young Italians gathering after work.  I tasted my first spritz.  It was just my kind of cocktail: a hint of sweetness – not too sweet – and slightly sparkly with a variety of different flavors working together for an engaging but not-too-complicated effect.  It’s the kind of drink that’s fun to taste yet easy to just enjoy.  We took our evening spritz in the traditional mode – the apertivo mixed perfectly and served with finger foods (like potato chips and nuts) to tide us over until dinner.  I felt drawn by the sense of community around me and lucky to take part in one of the city’s many local customs.  I was hooked.

In my opinion, it’s very important that the spritz be made with Aperol, not Campari.  The latter is just too bitter for my tastes.  And I’m not even a sweet cocktail kind of girl.  Aperol is the perfect combination of bright and nutty flavors with just a touch of sweetness.  The liqueur is an infusion of orange peel and a variety of herbs and spices (and contains 11 percent alcohol).

Until recently, living in the U.S. posed a great problem to making the perfect spritz.  About 5 years ago, a liquor store in New York City started selling Aperol.  To my knowledge, it was the first stateside.  A couple of years later, I discovered a few more in various cities.  In DC, every time I passed a new liquor store, I would inquire about Aperol.  I usually got blank stares and always a “no.”  This past August, the seemingly impossible happened.  At a store near Dupont Circle, I found it.  Shortly thereafter, I happened upon a “store locator” on the Aperol website.  Apparently it’s all over the country now.

I was finally able to introduce to Brian my favorite apertivo, and we enjoyed one on the rooftop as often as possible.  In fact, when we first had a spritz during our trip to Italy, Brian said it reminded him of home.

lo spritz all’Aperol (the Aperol spritz)

printable recipe button 2

makes one cocktail
2 oz. Aperol
2 oz. prosecco (I’ve found that Cava also works well.)
1 - 2 oz. club soda or seltzer
green olive
a few ice cubes
In a glass combine first three ingredients over ice.  Stir to combine and garnish with an olive.*
*This is an important difference between the true spritz all’Aperol and the American version, which calls for an orange wedge.  Not only is the citrus garnish not traditional, but in my opinion, it’s redundant and too obvious a pairing: an orange wedge with an orange-based liqueur.  The olive is the ideal compliment to the citrus-y nuttiness of the Aperol.
A Venetian tip:  If using an whole (unpitted) olive, bite a small piece off before dropping it in the drink (your own, not your guests’).  The olive will absorb some of the Aperol, and you‘ll get a nice little treat at the end!
Cin cin.