It’s that time of year, my friends. And I’m not talking about crocus, daffodils, and tulips. I’m not even talking about artichokes, asparagus and ramps. No, it’s that time of year when you find old Italians (and not so old ones) stooped over along the roadside picking wild greens known as winter cress or mustard greens. You can find more details about the plant and another recipe for them here.
They’re something that evokes my childhood days, when my parents would head out with us kids in tow, to clip and gather these greens that taste similar to broccoli rape, but more bitter. (Lest I get any comments about it, it’s correct to call it broccoli rape or broccoli rabe, raab, rapini or even Chinese broccoli, but it’s not related to broccoli.)
I was reminded of them on my recent trip to Santa Barbara, where the hillsides along the road were blanketed with them.
It’s a real tease though for you food foragers out there, for once they start sprouting their pretty yellow flowers, you can forget it – they’re too tough and way too bitter to eat.
But for those of you in the Northeast U.S., the time is now – and the window to harvest them is short – maybe another week or so. I ran out yesterday and filled a couple of grocery bags full. They’re growing in a fallow field nearby, but I’ve spotted them in dozens of places. Start looking DOWN (and don’t pick them where pesticides have been sprayed). They don’t take long to pick, but it is tedious to clean them, blanch them, drain them and prepare them for the freezer.
It’s worth the trouble though. First of all, who doesn’t like free food? Besides, they’re super delicious and you can tell from their mineral-y taste, that they’re good for you. The best thing is that you’ll have them tucked away for those winter nights when you don’t have to run to the grocery store for a vegetable. I finished last year’s stash just last night, and they had special meaning for me since they were picked by my husband’s hands last spring. I drove out to the same fields yesterday, and commemorated what would have been our 41st wedding anniversary by gathering the greens that he loved so well.
Making the crostata takes very little time, especially if you use a pre-made pie shell, which I recommend as a time-saver if you’ve got a heap of mustard greens to pick through and clean. Just roll out the dough, add the filling:
Crimp the sides and brush with olive oil, or a beaten egg:
Bake it for 45 minutes or so, and sit down to a slice for dinner, or cut it into small pieces as an hors d’ouevre:
Wild Greens Crostata
- one cup cooked and chopped wild mustard greens (you could use spinach, swiss chard or kale if you can’t find the mustard greens)
- 3 scallions, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 T. olive oil
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese (2 cups)
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- small handful of chopped parsley
- salt, pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
If you’ve blanched the greens and stored them in the freezer, thaw them and squeeze out the moisture as much as possible. Chop roughly. If they're fresh greens, cook in boiling water for five minutes. Drain and submerge them into cold water to stop the cooling. Drain again, then squeeze out as moisture as possible.
Spread the pie crust on a cookie sheet or pizza pan. Saute the scallions until limp, add the garlic clove and cook until soft. Place the scallions and garlic in a bowl and add the greens, ricotta, parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix everything together and spread on the pie crust. Bring the outside edges toward the center, crimping as you go along. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 45 – 50 minutes or until golden brown.