By Matthew Thompson, "The Glory of Greens,"March/April 2012
Now is the time when markets are hit by the green wave of spring. Suddenly, produce aisles are brimming with fresh arugula—a jumble of graceful scrollwork edges—rich green collards, blushing red radicchio and the pale-green mop-top of frisée. Nowhere are these fresh greens more awe-inspiring than in the produce aisle of Eataly, Manhattan's new Italian mega-grocery. Bountiful displays of over 35 varieties of leafy greens all vie for attention in what has to be one of the most tricked-out veggie aisles in the country.
The brainchild of chef Oscar Farinetti—who co-owns it with his partners Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich—Eataly boasts over 50,000 square feet of food under one roof interspersed with a gaggle of restaurants, including one—Le Verdure—devoted to vegetables. At Le Verdure, head chef Kiah Lotus is constantly working on new ways to highlight the best greens of the season. And according to Lotus, shoppers are always wondering about them. "They want to cook greens, but aren't sure how to make them delicious. They want to know if they have to cook them for a long time or just sauté them? Usually, it's much simpler than people think."
To answer these sorts of questions, Batali and a co-worker came up with the idea of a vegetable butcher: a counter in the produce section, attached to Le Verdure, where a chef will cut and clean your vegetables for free, dispensing sage advice on how to use them. "I hope it encourages customers to be creative in their produce purchases," says Batali. "Hopefully the vegetable butcher will broaden home cooks' repertoires, save time and make cooking vegetables more appealing." That's a sentiment that vegetable butcher Alicia Walter shares: "It's this great idea of performance art/selling vegetables," she says. "We get so many questions. People are afraid of trying new things."
With help from Lotus and Walter, we've laid out easy-to-follow instructions for cleaning, prepping and storing greens. Best of all, we've assembled a delicious array of recipes, from Eataly's founders themselves. Try Le Verdure's hearty Tuscan soup or Lidia Bastianich's simple yet stunning pasta with sauteed greens. Whatever you pick, you'll probably find it much simpler than you'd expected… and, chances are, much tastier as well.
A: "Fill a bowl, a salad spinner or just-cleaned sink with water, add your greens and agitate the water," says vegetable butcher Alicia Walter. "Soak them for a few minutes." Use a salad spinner to dry them; blot excess water with towels.
A: "It's simple," says Walter. "Hold the tough stem in one hand, grab the leaf with the other and pull." The leaf should separate from the stem, no problem. Discard the stems or use according to your recipe.
A: Moisture is the enemy of greens. So wrap in towels before placing in an airtight container. Or, as Chef Kiah Lotus suggests, store them in a salad spinner. "Any residual moisture drips to the bottom and doesn't touch the greens."
A: This cut, called a "chiffonade," works great for any green or leaf. Walter explains: "Stack the leaves facing the same way and roll them into a tight log. Then slice across the log from there."