Monday, May 11, 2015

Pesto. Do it with collards.

Collard green pesto flatbreads with boudin, peppers and tomato. © Ryan Schierling
Before I become a victim to my own verbosity, let me to cut to the chase – please try this pesto. It’s delicious. It’s nutritious. It’s economical. And, if not more versatile than traditional basil pesto, it certainly is more accessible

We’re comfortable with greens, but those most used in our repertoire have traditionally been spinach, kale, mustard and beet. Collards are more regional to our home here in Texas and until now we have been unremarkably straightforward in our use of them. You know… chopped, cooked greens with some onion, a splash of lemon or vinegar and seasoning.

Compared to other greens, collards have a thick and sturdy, almost leathery leaf on a hearty stalk. They take longer to cook than other greens and have a robust flavor to match. Quite frankly, they have been a bit of trick to incorporate into our menu plans. We’ve struggled awkwardly with new regional produce in the past. Last Fall we finally realized the delicious miracle that is roasted okra, and a vegetable I have had a disastrous relationship with previously is now one I’m looking forward to coming back into season. Breakthroughs such as these are defining moments in our personal food story, and this Spring we had that surprising moment with collard greens.

It started with a Saturday morning perusal of my Instagram feed. An artful image of large collard leaves and some thick-sliced ham scrolled onto my screen. Not exactly my thing, so far, but the maker of that image was Maggie Perkins and I always enjoy the “in-progress” photos of her impromptu creations as a farmer’s market demonstration chef each weekend. The caption that day is what caught my eye, “Good morning from the market! I’m whipping up a collard green pesto to top flatbread pizzas…”
Oh, blessed inspiration! With collards in the fridge, and the pressing guilt of their potential demise to the compost heap, this idea was dinner salvation. I make homemade pizzas and flatbread with some regularity, so this part was easy. When I gave the internet a quick scan for additional collard pesto tips, green olives entered the mix. We usually have a can of California green olives on hand, and it sounded like a fabulous inclusion. Satisfied that I could assemble something delicious from the disparate methods I’d found and what we had on hand, I simply winged it and found the formula that suited me. 

Replicated and refined over the last few months, this recipe is already destined for regular rotation in our home when collards are in season. Is that always in Texas? It's a great way to prep and keep the greens for a few days of use, and the uses are as versatile as your imagination. We’re still taken with it as a topping for flatbread, though, especially with a simple top of pepper and tomato and (optionally) its regional soulmate boudin sausage.

Some brief notes about the method to my madness, as we’ve tested a variation or two since the original: One, using pecans is a no-brainer. It’s a total Texas thing for a naturally perfect fit, right? Secondly, take what liberties you will, but I recommend blanching the collard greens (two minutes will do) – otherwise you risk a decidedly grassy flavor from your pesto. Third, sample it and adjust to your taste – it’s always better that way.

Collard and Green Olive Pesto

5-6 large collard greens (one bunch), deveined, rinsed and rough-cut
20-25 California green olives (or green olives with pimentos)
1/2-1/3 cup lightly toasted pecans
4 cloves garlic
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup microplane grated)
Salt and black pepper to taste

Blanch collard greens in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain into colander and rinse with cold water. Add first five ingredients to food processor. Once thoroughly mixed/minced, begin adding the olive oil in a thin stream while mixing. Add Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste, mixing thoroughly. Consistency should be nicely spreadable.

Collard Pesto Pizzas

Single pizza dough – (See recipe on this post.)
Collard and Green Olive Pesto – (See recipe above.)
1-2 orange bell pepper(s), thinly sliced
1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, sliced
8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
Boudin, removed from casing
Red pepper flakes

Prepare pizza dough and pesto as directed.

Hand shape and portions of dough and spread out on parchment paper lined sheet pan. Prick dough with a fork and par-bake for 5-7 minutes in 400º F oven.

Dress flatbread generously with collard pesto, sliced orange bell pepper, tomatoes, a light dusting of mozzarella cheese, and boudin (optional). Give it dusting of red pepper flakes.

Bake flatbreads directly on rack for about 7 minutes, or until golden and the bottom sounds crisp when tapped.

NOTE:  Maggie later posted her pesto recipe on her blog Notes from Maggie’s Farm. We were delighted with her use of aged Gouda, which acts surprisingly similar to Parmesan in pesto. (Please don’t try it with one of those processed Gouda products, though.) You can read her post here.  

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