The blooming of farmers’ markets in New York happens a lot later in spring than I want it to. March and April pass, and warm days eventually catch up to the chilly ones. But the stalls remain mostly populated by overwintered leeks and spinach, and last season’s potatoes, onions and apples.
That’s why it’s always a thrill when the first bundles of spring greens finally arrive. I’ll carry them home by the armload, ready to throw them into a pot.
Devouring mounds of spring greens, whether braised, boiled, stewed, sautéed or made into a tonic, is an age-old vernal tradition meant to fortify a body deprived of fresh vegetables after a winter without them.
But even in modern times, there’s still something primal about the bracing sharpness and mineral bite of those first local shoots of chard, watercress and dandelion greens. They’re a welcome change from the workaday supermarket kale and spinach I rely on in winter.
Of all the cooking methods one could use for greens, I like braising best. The fat adds richness to the lean greens, while the liquid — in this case, a mix of stock and wine — makes the leaves silky and soft. You can braise any type of green or combination of greens using the same basic technique. Just watch them as they simmer, adjusting the cooking time as you go. Thicker, more leathery varieties, like collards, broccoli rabe and mustard greens, will need to simmer longer than delicate tatsoi and baby spinach.
For this recipe, I particularly like chard. With stems that are as succulent and flavorful as their ruffled dark leaves, chard is rare among greens, a pleasure to use in its entirety. Here, the sliced stems are sautéed with leeks, adding texture. You can use any variety of chard, but red- and rainbow-stemmed plants are the prettiest.
Usually, a pot of braised greens feels like a side dish. But stirring a package of prepared potato gnocchi into the pot transforms it into a satisfying one-pot meal. As the gnocchi simmer, they release starch into the broth, turning it into glossy sauce. For extra creaminess, you can serve this with dollops of fresh ricotta stirred in at the last minute.