One of my favorite things about Farmers Markets is “discovering” a food I have not come across before. Yesterday’s find was purple collard greens. They were from DeNoble’s Farm and I just had to have them!
Though they may not taste different than their green brethren, their color is deeply satisfying. This evening, I untwisted the rubberband wound around their short stems and spread them across the countertop. Deep purple mingled with emerald green, contrasting and complimenting in rich dew-dotted jewel tones. A small yet substantial bundle, each leaf barely larger than my open hand. They were admirable. I rinsed them, more out of habit than necessity (they were an absolutely clean, tidy bunch), discarded the stem, and sliced the leaves into ribbons.
The night prior, I returned from a day cooking samples at the Hillsdale Farmers Market for exotic mushroom vendor Springwater Farm to a house strongly perfumed of pork. Intoxicating and overwhelming as I came in from the cold, fresh outdoor air, I at once swooned, and felt stifled by the scent. There was a big pot of beans and ham hock (“orca” beans from Draper Girls Farm, ham hock from Edelweiss Delicatessen), dotted with carrot and melting onion, and pork cracklins from the ham hock crisping in the oven. I handed over a loaf of Giana’s wood oven baked ciabatta bread (that I got at the Tastebud booth), and it went into the oven to warm as the rice finished. Though I finished off two helpings of rich, salty pork in a sea of perfectly tender beans, sopped up with the better part of a crusty loaf of bread, the bountiful pot would bestow us with a curtain call performance the following evening.
So, the main course standing by, I had a little time to make-new for the leftovers. Sometimes, a little sprucing up does wonders for a re-do. The addition of a fresh green, maybe some biscuits, or cornbread. It’s the time you would have spent on dinner anyway, and it’s an excellent way to stretch a meal if you’re left with an amount that’s almost enough.
2nd day dinner:
Beans Simmered with Ham Hock & served with Rice
Cracklin Corn Bread with Dried Corn
I attribute the quick cooking time these collards took to their size, the cold weather (frosty temperatures sweeten and tenderize collard greens), and the ribbons that I cut the leaves into (increased surface area allows the greens to cook more quickly). I used a little pork fat from the cracklin-rendering, but butter or good flavored olive oil work as well. I like a generous, but not overwhelming, amount of fat for cooking collards – it gives the collards a silkiness that permeates the assertive leaves.
Clean the collards and remove the stems. Do not dry the water clinging to the leaves – this will aid in the cooking process. Cut into ribbons if desired. Coat the bottom of a heavy-bottomed deep-sided sauté pan (sautoir) with a generous amount of the fat of your choosing. Heat the pan over a medium flame. When the oil is hot enough that the greens will be met with an enthusiastic sizzle, add them to the pan all at once. Stir, season with salt (and pepper or a bit of chile flake or a lightly crushed garlic clove if desired), cover, and cook over medium to medium-low heat, stirring and checking every so often, until tender. I needed to add a little water as the greens cooked, when the moisture had cooked away and they began to stick, and was surprised to find them tender, sweet, and done to my liking in just 15 minutes. Older, bigger, or tougher greens will require more cooking, more pot likker, and a more gentle simmer. My little bunch of greens was enough for 2.
Cracklin Corn Bread with Dried Corn
It was after countless batches of corn bread that I finally found one that suits me and my family. A “Northerner’s” cornbread, it is usually made with yellow corn meal (though a good grainy white cornmeal works just as well), and a little sugar (Southern corn bread recipes often omit sugar). I love to add crisp bacon crumbles or even better – cracklins, if I have the luxury, and softened dried corn (that I “put up” during corn season). I found this recipe in Bernard Clayton, Jr.’s The Complete Book of Breads, and tweaked it slightly. The original recipe calls for the room temperature butter to be beaten with a fork into the milk and eggs. Frankly, I’m puzzled as to how to beat softened butter into milk and eggs, so rather than risk it my first go at the recipe, I just cut the butter into the dry ingredients, as one would for a pie crust. The result is a moist, tender, delicate cornbread with a wonderful crumb. So now, I just go with it! Also, I bake the bread in a cast iron skillet instead of a baking dish. This gives the bottom a delightfully crisp, browned crust, and the bread a good rise and even bake.
3 Tbsp. dried corn (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal (Ayers Creek Amish Butter Corn Meal or Roy’s Calais Flint Corn Meal work splendidly)
1/4 cup cold butter (1/2 stick), cut into small pieces
1 cup milk
1/3 cup chopped crisp bacon or cracklins
Lightly grease a 9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the corn in a small bowl or a mug. Add enough very hot or boiling water to just cover and set aside to hydrate while you mix the batter.
In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the cornmeal.
Cut the butter into the dry ingredients, as you would for pie dough, so that the resulting butter bits are small but visible “pearls”. Beat together the milk and eggs. Add the liquid into the batter, stirring with a wooden spoon just long enough to incorporate the ingredients. Do not overstir. Drain the corn (reserving the hydrating liquid for rice or soup if you wish). Gently blend the corn and the cracklins into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared skillet. Let rest 10 minutes.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake or the cornbread will be dry. Cut and serve immediately with ample butter.