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Go for the greens

(ran NP edition)

We're just a few weeks into the new year _ about the time that resolve begins to dissolve, especially for those who have pledged to change their diet. Now is a good time to take a look at your goals and get realistic.

For instance, if you've pledged to "eat healthy" or "lose weight," you're going to need to set smaller, more specific goals, such as "eat smaller portions" and "eat green," as in green vegetables.

No matter what eating plan you are trying to follow, eating more fruits and vegetables is likely a part of it. In fact, a good resolution is to eat five servings of fruits and veggies each day. But I want to focus on green veggies today because they are acceptable on most diets (even low-carb plans) and because many in the green family suffer from bad reputations (usually because of bad preparation).

You know that green vegetables are good for you, of course. You've heard they are rich in nutrients (especially vitamins A and C) and fiber. But to many, asparagus is slimy; broccoli tastes like dirt; spinach is limp; and salad greens are merely something to chew along with the tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, radishes and dressing. Right?

Well sure, if you've never had broiled asparagus, roasted broccoli or properly prepared spinach. There are a number of preparations for green vegetables that are so simple and delicious you'll want something green every day.

Start with asparagus. This quick method also happens to be the best way to enjoy asparagus, in my opinion. Preheat the oven broiler. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Break off the tough ends of the asparagus spears and place on the baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil. Roll the spears around a bit to make sure they are coated in the oil. Broil for about 4 minutes, until the spears are softened and the crowns begin to brown. (Give the pan a shake at the 2-minute mark.) Once they are done, sprinkle with kosher salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

You'll want this at least once a week.

Move on to broccoli. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the baking sheet as above. Cut the broccoli into florets, drizzle with olive oil, turning the florets to make sure they are lightly coated. Roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the edges of the florets begin to brown. (If you'd like, mix the broccoli with cauliflower.) Sprinkle with salt to taste and enjoy. No messy, heavy cheese sauce required.

Spinach, I admit, can be tricky. It's excellent raw, of course, as a part of salad mix. And it mixes well into a number of other dishes, from dip to meatballs. But one moment too long in the steamer or saute pan, and it's slime city as a side dish. Try this method. De-stem and rinse a bunch of spinach. With the water still clinging, put the spinach in a deep saute pan. Cover and cook over high heat for 1 minute. Turn the heat off but leave the lid on for another minute. It's ready to serve. You may want to sprinkle with salt or lemon juice or drizzle lightly with olive oil (or do all three).

Essentially the same method can be used to braise a mixture of greens, including kale, chard, escarole, frisee, spinach and radicchio. Georgeanne Brennan, author of Great Greens (Chronicle Books, $19.95), recommends working with 2 pounds of young, tender greens. (More mature greens will work, too, but you should remove the ribs.) Separate the leaves from the heads if necessary and put them in a bowl of cold water.

Heat a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat and put the greens, undried and dripping with water, in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 2 minutes. Uncover the pan. The greens should be wilting, and there should be liquid in the pan. If not, add { cup water. Cover and continue to cook until the greens are thoroughly wilted but still bright and colorful, about 6 minutes. Pour off any liquid and add 1{ tablespoons olive oil, one clove of garlic grated or minced and salt to taste. Increase heat to medium-high, stirring to coat the greens with the oil. Cook off excess liquid and then add the juice of one lemon, which will sizzle. Transfer greens to serving dish and serve immediately.

There are a number of other ways to enjoy greens, of course.

Arugula mixes well into pasta dishes. Many greens, such as endive, cabbage and even spinach, are nice as gratins. Mixing lettuces and greens gives salads more variety. And you can always stuff chicken breasts or pork tenderloins with greens. (See the accompanying recipe, also from Brennan's Great Greens.)

Pork Tenderloin Stuffed

With Chard and Mushrooms

1 to 2 pork tenderloins, about 1{ pounds total, butterflied and pounded to about }-inch thickness

1{ teaspoons salt, divided

{ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided

2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 shallot, minced

2 ounces cleaned and roughly chopped shiitake or morel mushrooms (about 1 cup)

1 bunch chard

2 cups water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub the pork tenderloin(s) on both sides with { teaspoon salt and \ teaspoon of pepper. Lay the tenderloin out flat, butterflied side up, and set aside.

In a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the shallot and saute until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, { teaspoon salt and \ teaspoon pepper. Saute until the mushrooms are soft and release their juices, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a medium bowl. Set the skillet over high heat, stirring until any juices are evaporated. Do not clean the skillet.

Using a sharp knife, cut along the edges of the wide midrib of the chard leaves and remove them. Discard the ribs. In a saucepan, over high heat, bring the water to a boil and add { teaspoon salt. Add the chard and cook for 1 to 2 minutes and then drain in a colander. When the chard is cool enough to handle, chop it and squeeze out excess liquid. Add the chard to the bowl with the mushrooms and stir to combine. Spread the mixture along of the tenderloin in an even layer. Working from the edge with the filling, roll the tenderloin toward the unfilled edge. Using kitchen string, tie the rolled tenderloin at 2-inch intervals.

Set the skillet over medium-high heat and melt the butter with 1 teaspoon olive oil. When the butter foams, add the tenderloin and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Pour in the wine and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast until the pork is firm to the touch and the juices run clear, about 40 minutes. (Internal temperature should be 150 degrees.) Transfer pork to a cutting board and let stand for 5 minutes, then cut crosswise into {-inch-thick rounds.

Arrange on a platter and drizzle with pan juices to serve.

Makes four servings.

Preparation time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 40 minutes.

Per serving: 386 calories (43 percent of calories from fat), 37g protein, 12g carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 17g fat, 118mg cholesterol, 906mg sodium.

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