Greens Are Good

I guess regular readers should know by now that I like greens.

I’ve written about gai lan, choi sum, bok choi, collards, kale and pea shoots. What else can I possibly have to say on the subject?

I mean, we all know that the green leafies are good for us, supplying large amounts of folate, iron, and vitamins A and C. They are also good sources of dietary fiber. They are in season in the cold months of the year.

What is not to love about them?

Well, I guess some people don’t know how to cook them, or they don’t like them cooked southern Applachian style, or they just think they don’t like them because their mammas cooked them weird, but I am here to say you don’t have to cook them to death like we hillbillies do.

You don’t even have to have them as a side dish.

You can turn them into a fabulous vegetarian pasta sauce that is super quick and easy to prepare, is low in calories and tastes really good.

You can make the sauce infinitely malleable, too–by adding or subtracting ingredients until you are satisfied. I added about a half cup of homemade marinara sauce to it because I wanted to, but you don’t have to. You could leave the tomato bits out entirely. You can add any number of the following ingredients, (chile peppers, artichoke hearts, rinsed capers, red bell peppers, zucchini, fresh mushrooms, other greens such as kale, turnip or chard,) and change the character of the sauce as much as you like, or you can leave it as written. You can even add meat to it, in the form of anchovy paste, to really punch up the flavor, or you could add sausage, but that would go against my original intent, which was to make myself a mess of vegetables to eat because I didnt’ want meat.

But, I bet that the sausage would taste good. Bacon probably would, too, but again, that goes against my desire for a mess of greens in my bowl, and so I think you should try it close to the way it is written, first.

Anyway, here it is–a quick, hearty vegetarian dish good for a winter night when you just cannot face meat.

Green Goddess Pasta Sauce


2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
4 fat cloves garlic, sliced thinly
dried herbs of your choice–I used thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano and marjoram
1/4 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water until soft, squeezed out, stemmed and sliced thinly (keep soaking liquid)
handful dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water until soft, squeezed out and minced (keep soaking liquid)
handful pitted kalamata olives, drained and sliced
1/8 cup red wine
1 pound collard greens, washed and dried, stems removed and cut into 1/2″ wide ribbons
1/2 cup homemade or good quality jarred marinara (I make big batches of it and freeze it for winter)


Heat oil in a large saute pan. Add onions and cook, stirring, until deep golden. Add garlic and cook until very fragrant, stirring all the while. Add herbs, salt and pepper, mushrooms and olives. Keep stirring and cooking until the olives release some juice. Add about 1/4 cup of mushroom soaking liquid and the wine, and the collards.

Allow wine to boil off and cook collards, stirring until they wilt and turn bright green.

Add sauce, and stir until well combined, and hot.

Serve over al dente pasta with freshly shredded parmesan cheese if you like.


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  1. So um… what’s your recipe for marinara? 😉

    Comment by Bastlynn — February 4, 2006 #

  2. I never wrote it down, Bastlynn, so here goes:

    Slice an onion thinly, and mince about five cloves of garlic. Have ready 1/4 of a red bell pepper that has been diced finely

    Put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a big, heavy-bottomed pot, heat it up and add the onions. Cook on medium heat until they are golden, add the garlic and pepper and cook, stirring, until the garlic is golden and fragrant. Add about a teaspoon of dried oregano, a half teaspoon dried thyme, a pinch of dried powdered rosemary, and a teaspoon of dried basil. And a bay leaf or two. Then, pour in about a half cup of red wine. Not cooking wine with salt, mind you–red wine.

    Now–if you have fresh tomatoes that are ripe and in season, you add about 5-8 pounds of fresh ripe tomatoes that have been cored, peeled and seeded, then chopped roughly. You turn the heat down onto low, and you simmer it until it cooks down into a sauce. If it dries out too much, you add some more wine–it won’t hurt anything. (Plum tomatoes are best, but regular garden tomatoes work fine, too–they just have more water to cook out, so they take longer.) Stir it now and again, and once it starts thickening up a lot, you can cover it to let very little steam escape.

    If it is not tomato season (and don’t even use those tomatoes from the grocery store in any event–they make insipid sauce), then use a couple of the big cans of diced tomatos (with the juice), and maybe a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste. You cook it down the same as the fresh tomatoes.

    Some people add sugar. I never do. If you cook it down long enough on low enough heat the sugars that are naturally in the tomatoes and onions will come forth and be apparent in the flavor.

    It will cook down a lot. You will have surprisingly little left. That is okay–it will taste great.

    Then, at the end, if you have fresh basil and or oregano, you can chop it up and put it in to finish it off. Salt to taste, too.

    I make scads of this in the summer when there are so many tomatoes, farmers are practically paying you to take them away by the bagful. Then, I put it up in pint and quart freezer bags and freeze them, and use them all winter.

    It tastes way better than jarred sauce.

    You can do anything with it. Saute some mushrooms, onions, olives, then pour in your thawed marinara. Boom. Mushroom olive sauce. Brown some sausage and saute chile peppers and onions and sweet peppers, add some marinara with some more red wine, let it simmer down–boom! Spicy sausage pepper sauce.

    Saute some eggplant, zucchini and summer squash with a few more onions and some garlic. Put in the marinara, cook down–boom! Ratatouille.

    Homemade marinara is like money in the bank.

    Comment by Barbara — February 4, 2006 #

  3. And here I already have roomates who give me the hairy eyeball when I announce with delight: “More chicken stock for the freezer!” 😉 I think the local tomato supply is going to take a beating next year.

    Comment by Bastlynn — February 4, 2006 #

  4. I would like to try this, I love greens but I’m on a low-cholesterol diet and can’t have them in the traditional southern way. This recipe sounds divine except for one thing, I absolutely hate olives. Would removing them from the recipe create a big hole in the flavor? If so is there something I could substitute or just leave it out all together?

    Comment by Brandi — February 4, 2006 #

  5. Well, you could put about a wuarter teaspoon of anchovy paste in–just a tiny squirt. It will not make it taste fishy at all, and it will add richness to the dish. You can also add more mushrooms. Rinsed capers can also be used instead.

    If you use the anchovy paste, put it in with the marinara. If you use mushrooms, put them in the with the other mushrooms and if you use capers, put them in at the time you would put in olives.

    Comment by Barbara — February 4, 2006 #

  6. Thanks I’m going to make this this weekend. I think I’ll try the capers.

    Comment by Brandi — February 6, 2006 #

  7. Please let me know if you like the recipe–I am interested to know how the capers taste.

    Comment by Barbara — February 7, 2006 #

  8. Having only had collards fried with fatback and doused with vinegar and never having eaten capers before this recipe made me nervous the closer it came to serving it to my guests.

    The nervousness was unfounded — my guests oohed, ahhed, and had seconds. I added an extra 1/8 cup of the mushroom liquid and an extra 1/8 cup of red wine. I believe I let it cook too hard early on and lost some of the juice. I served it on multi-grain penne and my guests topped it with a small amount of feta at serving time.

    Comment by Brandi — February 13, 2006 #

  9. Oh, Brandi–I am glad that everyone liked it! Thanks for coming back to report on how the recipe went–I always like to know how my dishes work in other cook’s kitchens.

    And I am glad that the capers worked, too.

    The added liquid is a good idea–and is one of those “to taste” sorts of things–if you cook the dish more quickly than I did, of course it needs a dab more liquid. That is only sensible–and I am glad that you knew to do that rather than tried to slavishly follow the recipe to the letter.

    Recipes are not holy writ–they are guidelines!

    Thank you again for trying the recipe, and coming back to tell me about it. You made my day!

    Comment by Barbara — February 13, 2006 #

  10. It was absolutely my pleasure. And yes, no recipe is set in stone — I used your marinara recipe but added some crushed red pepper to give it the heat punch I like so much.

    I want to try several of the Asian dishes you have here but the ingredients are impossible to find so for now (read: until I can find an Asian market) I’m going to try some of your more continental fare. I believe the Cowgirl Pintoes will be on the menu this weekend. I’m still debating on the cornbread — I may just use traditional we’ll see when the weekend rolls around.

    Also, the Green Goddess is quite tasty as a leftover.

    Comment by Brandi — February 13, 2006 #

  11. The cowgirl pintos are a great dish. You can drain them, mash them up, and then heat up plenty of olive oil, saute onions and garlic until soft and fragrant and dump in your roughly mashed beans (I mash them by hand with a potato masher), and cook, stirring and mushing it around until they go soft and and unctous.

    Much better and healthier for you than refrieds from a can!

    If you want, I can suggest a few mail order places for Asian ingredients….

    And yeah–the Green Goddess is great leftover. Cold or warmed back up–it just tastes nicer the next day.

    Comment by Barbara — February 14, 2006 #

  12. Mail order suggestions would be wonderful. I’m so glad I found your blog — just at a time where I’m committing myself to cook more and eat healthier.

    Comment by Brandi — February 14, 2006 #

  13. Brandi-try the CMC Company for spices, soy sauces, coconut milk, and shao hsing wine–they are great. I have ordered from them before:

    For fresh Thai produce–lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, chiles and the like, I have ordered from Thai Grocer:

    Comment by Barbara — February 15, 2006 #

  14. Thanks again!

    Comment by Brandi — February 16, 2006 #

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