Turnip tops, kale, collards -- spring greens are in season

A mess of wild, spring greens must be slipping into history. Even if a person knows which is pokeweed and which is mustard, the chances of running across any get more and more remote.

Around our very rural neighborhood, what isn't a stand of pine is a well-manicured lawn. Places where until recently raspberries and blueberries spread out have turned into green carpets of pampered grass.

Oh, you can have as much young dandelion as you can dig up with every neighbor's blessing. But the others must be picked up tame at the supermarket.

Fortunately the growers understand our needs for spring greens throughout the year. A check in most supermarkets across the country will reveal that somebody, somewhere, is shipping turnip tops every single month, as well as kale and collards.

The more exotic dandelion, broccoli rab, and rappini miss a month here and there -- but most of these greens are cultivated now, and the supply is very good.

Greens cooked Southern-style might also be slipping into history with all the emphasis on light food barely touched by heat. Years ago they also had the power to spark debate.

I went to a Southern school and lived with 40 other Northerners in an outpost. Like the Americans in Cuernavaca and the British almost everywhere, we refused to assimilate.

Greens became an issue with the Southern cook. Anything leafy in her kitchen was cooked two hours, including spinach. The girl from Bay City, Mich., and the girl from Palisades, N.J., were having fits.

Spinach should be green and perky, they said -- and if given a chance, maybe collards and mustard and turnip greens should be, too.

The final compromise was to split the time, and greens arrived on the table after one hour in the pot.

Both factions behaved gracefully. The cook -- after one week -- went back to doing what she did best, and the girls from Michigan and New Jersey waited until summer vacation for greens cooked the way they wanted them.

The lustier-flavored greens are fair game for any cook who has a taste for adventure. Word trickles through the food pages that some Oriental chefs are substituting kale for seaweed in some recipes.

The following stir-fry recipe can be used for other greens. The pasta with broccoli rab is a pleasant surprise, and the frittata as versatile as only eggs can be.

Stir-Fry Kale with Scallion Sauce 1 pound kale 1 tablespoon white sesame seed 2 tablespoons all-purpose soy sauce 1 tablespoon white vinegar 1 teaspoon sugar 2 scallions, finely minced, including the green leaves 2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, or 1 small dried red chili, crushed

Cut tough stems from each kale leaf, stack leaves and cut crosswise in 1/2 -inch shreds. Set aside.

Toast sesame seed in a dry skillet, watching carefully and stirring often until evenly brown. Scrape into a small bowl and add soy sauce, white vinegar, and sugar. Whisk together and add minced scallion. Set aside.

Heat peanut oil in a wok or large skillet. Add red-pepper flakes or crushed chili, then shredded kale.

Stir fry 2 minutes, or until kale has wilted and turned a dark green. The texture will be springy rather than tender, cooked just long enough to develop flavor.

Remove wok from heat, pour over the scallion sauce, and toss as you would a salad. Serve immediately to 4, as part of a Chinese meal or as a vegetable for broiled meat or chicken.

Linguine with Broccoli di Rabe 1 pound broccoli di rabe, or 1 bunch fresh broccoli 8 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic Hot-pepper flakes 21/2 cups water (about) 1/2 pound linguine, or spaghettini, broken into 2-inch lengths Salt

Peel broccoli stems, disposing of tough leaves and chopping tender leaves. If using broccoli, cut flowerettes into 2-inch lengths and stems into halves or quarters.

In a 10-inch skillet with tight cover, heat olive oil with garlic and hot-pepper flakes. Add broccoli, water, and linguine.

Toss well to combine the ingredients and salt liberally. Cover and cook over moderate heat 10 minutes, checking halfway through to make sure the pasta is not sticking.

Add a little more water if necessary. Makes 6 pasta servings. No cheese is served with this dish.

Frittata with Dandelion Greens 1 pound dandelion greens (substitute spinach if you must) 6 tablespoons olive oil 1 clove garlic, finely minced 6 large eggs 2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese Salt and pepper to taste.

Wash dandelion greens and cut crosswise in 2-inch pieces. Dry gently on paper towels. Break eggs into a small bowl, add cheese and seasonings, and beat until the yolks and whites are mixed.

Heat olive oil in oven-proof frying pan. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add greens and stir until wilted.

Pour egg over greens and cook until almost set. Lift edges of omelet to allow liquid egg to run into hot pan. When quite firm and lightly brown on the bottom, put under preheated broiler to set remaining egg and brown top. (Or live dangerously and flip the omelet in the pan.)

Serve in wedges, hot or cold, to 4 -- or try it as a sandwich filling.

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