March 10, 2010

Greens: making the bitter sweet

— Now that the farmers' markets are in full bloom -- our eyes drinking in the colorful panorama of fruits and vegetables, all nourishment for body and soul -- it's nice to know that choosing fresh and local is easily within reach.

Even though the rain has stunted some of the harvest and pushed back the arrival of heat-loving peppers and tomatoes, the greens are still hanging in there. A visit to a farmers' market is sure to include at least one bunch of leafy green goodness. The question is, what to do with it when you get it home?

It's my guess that the seductive lure of the more bitter leafy greens fades quickly once they are stored in the vegetable box. So you bought them because, well, they are good for you and you should. But then the reality of cooking them sets in, and after a period of avoidance, they're consigned to an undignified end on the compost pile.

This recipe, while it calls for broccoli raab, is perfect for most hearty greens, such as kale, swiss chard, turnip greens and beet greens. Blanching them and then sauteing them with the sausage first sweetens them a little and then evaporates the water that would make a pizza soggy.

Pizza is a perfect way to use up little bits of farmers' market glory that didn't find their way into the originally intended recipe. Small bits of cheese, one or two strips of bacon crumbled, roasted vegetables from a previous dinner, grilled chicken breast ... almost anything is fair game.

Indulge yourself in a little creativity while satisfying the part of you that likes to use up everything in the refrigerator. And then sit with your family and give thanks to the farmer who did the impossible and grew vegetables in more rain than our state has seen since 1902.

SAUSAGE, BROCCOLI RAAB AND ROSEMARY PIZZA

Many people find broccoli raab too bitter, but when it's blanched, the bitterness leaches out somewhat and it becomes more acceptable to most people's palates, especially when balanced by the rich, salty taste of the sausage. It's a popular Italian vegetable, and given that it's high in all vitamins and minerals related to leafy green vegetables, it's worth a try. If you don't have time to make the dough, you can substitute white or whole wheat dough from the grocery store, found in the deli or prepared-foods section refrigerated and ready to roll out.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage, spicy if you prefer, cut into 1/2 inch chunks

10 ounces broccoli raab, chopped, about 5 cups or 1 bunch

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

Pizza dough for 4 to 6, recipe below

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place pizza stone into the oven on the top shelf. If you do not have a pizza stone, use a baking sheet with the bottom side facing up. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until it begins to brown on the outside. When the sausage is done and the water is boiling, add the broccoli raab to the pot of water. Blanch for 1 minute, and with a large slotted spoon or flat strainer, remove the broccoli raab from the water, allowing the water to drain well. (Reserve the water for the tomatoes with pickled red onion and basil recipe below.) Transfer to the pan with the sausage. Add the rosemary, salt and pepper and mix well. (If you are using a different green, be sure to saute the greens long enough to remove most of the water.)

Dust the counter with flour, and roll your pizza dough out to a little less than the diameter or width of the pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven. Lift the dough from the counter briefly and dust the counter with corn meal. Drizzle the dough with olive oil and spread the sausage and broccoli raab over the dough. With a quick, assertive motion, insert a pizza peel underneath the dough and transfer immediately to the stone in the oven, removing the peel with the same quick motion in reverse.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown on the bottom.

Serves 4 to 6.

PIZZA DOUGH

If you double this recipe, you can use the second batch to make focaccia or a loaf of crusty Italian bread for another meal.

3/4 tablespoon dry yeast, or one package

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup warm water

1 tablespoon olive oil

Cornmeal for dusting

Combine the yeast, salt and flour in a large bowl. Stir in all the remaining ingredients, reserving ¼ cup water. Add more water if needed. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes by hand or 3 to 4 minutes with a dough hook. Oil the bowl and the top of the dough, cover and set aside in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled (about 1 hour).

Makes dough for 1 large pizza.

TOMATOES WITH PICKLED RED ONIONS AND BASIL

If you have any leftover pickled onions, save them for tossing in a salad or slathering on a burger.

3 cups thinly sliced red onion, about 1 large

1 cup thinly sliced yellow pepper, about 1/2 pepper

2 teaspoons garlic, about 2 cloves

1 teaspoon minced rosemary

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

3 large tomatoes

1/4 cup lightly packed basil, finely sliced

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the red onions for 45 seconds to 1 minute and remove with a large slotted spoon to a small bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the tomatoes and let sit for 1 hour. When ready to serve, core and slice the tomatoes and arrange on a platter. Spoon the pickled onions over the tomatoes and sprinkle with basil.

Makes 3 cups.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of ''At Home, At Sea,'' a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family's windjammer. She can be reached at:

recipes@athomeatsea.com

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