Greetings from Chicago, friends! It’s sunny and parchment paper-crisp this morning, real hot cocoa and hat-and-gloves weather. I’m realizing it’s been quite awhile since I’ve been in the cold (not what passes for cold in San Francisco but honest-to-goodness 32 degree weather), so in honor of my weekend in the Windy City and next week’s Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I’d share a favorite cold-weather dish.
If you’re hosting Turkey Day this year, or preparing a side dish to share, allow me to throw in a hearty endorsement for this recipe. They’re beloved in my house and a comforting, special-treat kind of dish, well-suited to the holiday table. Prepare the greens a day ahead and reheat on the stove, a plus when oven space is at a premium.
With all the pounds of stuffing, the acres of potatoes and mountains of cranberry muffins that decorate the Thanksgiving banquet, I always end of craving some green. I’ll want something that tastes of health and the earth, something sturdy and vegetal and enriching. But this is a holiday, after all, so we can’t go too ascetic, lest your relatives start casting aspersions about your devolution into a Commie-hippie-health nut since moving to California. (Okay, that’s pretty far from the realm of possibility with my family, but you get the idea.) Instead, the wholesome, flinty flavors of wilted greens (you can practically taste the folate and vitamin C) get dressed in a silky, aromatic béchamel and decorated with crisp, salty bits of pancetta. A final splash of cider vinegar adds a bright chime of acidity. It’s a comforting, balanced dish that recalls both a oak-paneled steakhouse’s creamed spinach and the long-simmered greens of the South.
Think warm thoughts for me, my dears, as I head out to explore Chicago. Wishing you all a cozy start to the holiday season!
Creamed Winter Greens
adapted from Gourmet magazine, 2008
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
- 2 C whole milk
- pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
- 1/4 C shallot, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
- 6 black peppercorns
- 3 1/2 lbs mixed winter greens (I use collards, lacinto kale and mustard greens)
- 6 ounces pancetta, diced
- 1 C yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
- 1 Tbsp cider vinegar, or to taste
- 1/2 C cream (optional; I find the béchamel is enough)
- salt and pepper
Over medium heat, melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the flour, whisking for one minute. Add the milk in a stream, whisking, and then add the shallot, nutmeg, peppercorns and bay leaf. Continue whisking and bring to a boil (mind the heat so you don’t scorch the milk). Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, about 5 minutes. Strain the béchamel into a medium bowl through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids. Cover the surface of the sauce with parchment or plastic (to prevent a skin from forming on top).
Wash the greens well to remove any grit. (Pat dry, but a little water clinging to the leaves will help them steam.) Cut out the tough inner ribs and stems and discard. Stack the leaves and coarsely chop. (I cut them a little larger, into roughly 3″x 2″ rectangles, but that’s a matter of preference.)
In a heavy pot or dutch oven, cook the diced pancetta over medium heat until it renders out the fat and goes crisp. With a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate to drain. You should have a fair amount of fat left in the pan (if not, add a few pats of butter). Cook the onion, stirring until softened, about three minutes.
Increase the heat to medium-high, then stir in the greens a handful at a time, allowing each addition wilt until adding the next. When the greens are mellow and wilted, add the béchamel, garlic, red-pepper flakes, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, cream (if using) and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce coats the greens and they’re very tender, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the pancetta, vinegar, and salt and pepper to your taste. Serve warm.
Note: the béchamel and the greens can be prepared, separately, a day ahead. Combine the two and proceed with the recipe as written.