The yard outside our house was lush with miniature daisies, butter cups and enough edible greens to keep a large family happy for weeks. Zia Vittoria stopped me as I hung out the laundry and wanted to know when Jack was going to cut the grass. Since it was the first sunny day in a long week of grey, I guessed today! About and hour later, Zia Vittoria appeared at my door with a huge cardboard box filled with greens – complete with globs of dirt on the roots. Midgie – cucini oggi! Che fa, I thought, not today, I have a bunch of stuff to do today. I don’t want to clean stinking greens today. Did I say that? No, my mommy taught me better. I said thank you, pulled a chair out side, grabbed a knife, a large bowl and started cutting off root balls.
Truth – I didn’t have a clue as to what I was cleaning. Somethings looked like the dandelions of my youths. With my grandmother we would forage the lawns and fields around the house for dandelions. Dandelions were a staple, made into salad, sautéed with onions and even made into an evil tasting wine. Other greens looked like some kind of lettuce and just plain weeds.
Luckily, Nella, the local florist appeared. I asked her what I was cutting and if we could really eat it all. She looked at me like I was insanely stupid and said yes. Then she patiently pointed out the scarola (endive family), cardio (cardoon – which I never heard of in English) and cicoria (chicory). All edible, all rich in healthy minerals and vitamins. Now I had no choice but to stop complaining about all the work I wasn’t getting too and become one with the harvest from the lawn. OHMMMMMMM or is that LAAAAAWWWWN?
As I was shaking off the dirt, I remembered a young obnoxious mom who yelled at me years ago for telling her pre-schooler you could eat dandelions. I had been picking the young greens out of our front lawn – now lawn is a misnomer. It was a field of green stuff. Lawn seeds, fertilizer – all that suburban anal lawn stuff – never made to my family’s Flagtown home. For generations the green stuff was cut – whatever it was. Anyway, this cute little tyke asked me what I was doing. When I told her and she asked me why. I told her we eat the dandelions in salad. I thought her mother was going to have a heart attack – or kill me. She told her daughter it was a lie and then told me that if her daughter got sick from eating the greens from her lawn it was my fault. I calmly asked her why she put murderous chemicals on her lawn? What kind of mother lets her kids and dogs frolic on fields of chemicals?
Back to my more recent greens. The greens reminded me of my grandmother, the family subsistence farm and my own roots. Suddenly, the challenge of making something wonderful from the greens became the day’s calling. First step – triple wash them. I filled the sink with cold water and dumped the greens in. Then I slowly stirred and picked out sticks, dead leaves and little critters. Next the scolamacorone and a draining. I cleaned the mud out of the deep sink and filled it with fresh water. I broke up the leaves and tossed the hard veins before I put the greens in bath number two. Muddy water swirled about the mixed greens. Drain and rewash – cripes triple wash isn’t going to do it. Five baths later, the water ran clean and all bugs were swimming down the drain.
Jack looked at the mountain of greens and remarked there were only two of us. Great we will eat them today, tomorrow and the next day. Day 1 the simple recipe. Fry up a ton of cubed pancetta and onions, toss in ripped green blend, put on a lid and watch it shrink. Quick toss, a hint of red pepper flakes and a healthy lunch is done.
Day 2 the still simple recipe. The next morning I partially cooked the dried white beans that I had left soaking the night before. A quick trip to Marcelleria Perugini yielded fresh sausage and his incredible dried spicy sausages. This greens, beans and sausage soup was equally easy to toss together. All good things begin with thick slices of garlic, onions and fresh sausage sautéed. Next came a pitcher full of water – and I hate to admit this but I love these – two porcini mushroom cubes. We tossed in local mushrooms sliced and diced. Next greens and beans entered the pot. Simmer until hungry.
Grazie mille Zia Vittoria for the greens. Grazie mille nonna for teaching us to forage for food and not put creepy chemicals anywhere on our property.