We had a party of seven drop in for dinner last night. Fortunately, they brought their own park roast. We cleaned the potatoes out of the pantry, tossed together a salad with croutons and I happened to remember there was a bed of mustard greens about to go to seed out in the garden.
This is red mustard--one of my favorite varieties, with striking color and deeply veined leaves--and if you can believe it, it was planted last September 13. It overwintered beautifully and has done nothing but grow bigger and more vibrant these last few months, making a striking display in the garden and adding its peppery flavor to an occasional salad.
But as mustards and their kin are wont to do, they will begin elongating along the stems when the time comes in preparation for making seeds. When that happens, they are done and it is time to eat them or get ready to watch them flower. I have picked the leaves off flowering mustards. They are not bad, but the flavor and texture begins to go south.
So as guests arrived I was bent over the mustard bed, yanking plants out of the ground, shaking off the dirt, clipping off the roots with a pair of scissors. I dumped the whole lot--about three gallons, I think--in the kitchen sink and filled it with cold water. Then I cut up an onion and began sauteing it with some extra-virgin olive oil in our biggest iron skillet.
Shake some of the water off the greens and roughly chop them. It doesn't matter if you include some stem. When the onion softens, begin adding greens to the skillet and season them with salt. They will make quite a pile, so I would add some, then return to my chopping and add some more, turning them with the onions as they cooked down, seasoning with more olive oil, some cider vinegar and salt as needed.
When all of the greens are in the skillet, they will be braising and steaming in the water they brought with them from the sink. Place a lid over the skillet for a few minutes to hasten the cooking. Then remove the lid and let some of the liquid cook off.
When the greens are perfectly tender, taste for salt and add some balsamic vinegar. We pulled out our best balsamic for this--30 years old, syrupy and sweet, a lovely contrast with the mild bite of the greens. Drizzle the greens with more olive oil to make them smile.
I'm sure there are other ways to cook greens. But this one is simple and surely will remind you how good they can taste, a gift from last year.