Verdure al Peperoncino

March 17th, 2011

With a January Primo Piatto, a February Secondo, we round out the meal with March’s contorno. The method below is most commonly prepared with chicory, but adapts well to any of the bitter greens. We suggest any of the chard varieties for this recipe, which can be prepared in advance. It doesn’t suffer from being served cold, either!

Verdure al Peperoncino

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches (see below– 6-8 cups, uncooked) of Chard. “Swiss” (white veins and stems) is traditional, but red or rainbow Chard work equally well.
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with the back of a knife
  • 2 tbs (approx) olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a bit of crushed hot pepper, or one small dried Italian peperoncino (optional)

Directions

Prepare the chard as follows: Wash the leaves thoroughly in cold water and cut the stalks off close to where the leafy part branches off, and discard. Cut each broad leaf in half along the vein, and then cut each half into large pieces, approximately two inches by two inches.
Place chard in a 4-6 quart saucepan (or small stock pot) with a bit of water in the bottom, enough to keep the leaves from sticking – no more than 1 cup. Cook, over medium heat, for about 10 minutes or until the chard is wilted and has lost about 1/2 of its volume.  Drain the chard in a colander, pressing with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula to squeeze out as much water as possible.

Transfer the chard to a cutting board and chop coarsely.

Heat the olive oil and garlic gently in the bottom of the discarded stockpot/sauce-pan, until the garlic is just slightly colored, being careful not to burn– 2-3 minutes. Return the drained and chopped chard to the pan and coat thoroughly with the olive oil. Season to taste with salt peperoncino (which you can omit if desired), and let cook on a very low heat for 10 to 15 more minutes, uncovered. This allows the flavor to develop and additional water to evaporate.

This dish can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator, which will allow the flavors to develop further. Discard the garlic prior to eating or storing.

In Italy, many dark green leafy vegetables – including spinach, chicory, and turnip greens – are prepared in this fashion, especially in the winter. Most Umbrian grocery stores sell balls of pre-cooked leafy greens in their deli sections, ready to be taken home for additional seasoning as described above. Traditionally, when prepared at home, the pre-cooked leaves are allowed to cool and squeezed by hand to remove excess moisture, then stored for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Regarding the use of peperoncino: a number of Umbrian dishes use a very slight amount of peperoncino to add zest and flavor, often in place of black pepper.