I am a big fan of my annual greens garden. Greens are easy. They come early in the season. Reward-to-risk ratio is high. This year, I direct seeded a mix of lettuces, kale, and mustard greens into a bed close to the kitchen. They come up fast and thick, and by the time we got back from our honeymoon in Maine (!), it was time to start harvesting.
The best part about lettuces and leafy greens is that the immature plant is just a miniature version of the same thing that you eat. Unlike, say, a tomato blossom, which is the less exciting (for eating, at least) precursor to a tomato, tiny kale is just as edible as big kale. So as we thin out the seedlings in the garden, we eat.
A basketful of baby greens is a good starting point for dinner with the help of a few pantry staples. This one uses a couple cans of cannellini beans (of course you could cook dried ones and use those, too, person-with-more-foresight-than-I), the bag of breadcrumbs I keep in the freezer, and a can of anchovy filets. The hardest part is that you have to get two prep dishes dirty: a skillet for the meal, and another one or a baking sheet for toasting breadcrumbs. But really, all things considered, this is eminently doable on a weeknight. Especially if your weeknight includes a bottle of white wine.
A word about anchovies: I like anchovies a lot in certain applications, but don’t think that they play well with everything. So as a temperate anchovy lover, believe me when I say that this is good use for them. They’re mashed up with garlic in a dressing that you use on both the breadcrumbs and on the beans and greens themselves. In combination with other assertive ingredients, anchovies do their best to add complexity without much fishiness. If you don’t love them, this might be your gateway drug.
Skillet beans & greens with anchovy breadcrumbs
Yes, you can make this without the anchovies. But it’s not the same.
Serves 4 as a side dish; 2 generously as a main dish.
- 2 8-ounce cans of cannellini beans, or beans of your choice, or dried and cooked bean equivalent
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed, peeled, and finely chopped
- 4 anchovy filets, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons, separated
- 1 cup breadcrumbs from a day old loaf of bread
- 1 cup grated firm or hard, slightly funky, aged cheese of your choice, such as manchego, gruyere, or pecorino romano
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Juice of one half a lemon
- 4 cups baby leafy greens, or chopped mature kale, mustards, collards, or other leafy greens
- If using canned beans, rinse them well in a colander and let drain. Similarly, use a colander to drain cooking liquid away from cooked dried beans.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix together garlic, anchovies, and 1/2 cup olive oil. Toss breadcrumbs with a few tablespoons of the garlic-anchovy oil to coat. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and few grinds of black pepper, and add half of the cheese. Toss again to mix.
- Spread the breadcrumbs in a skillet or on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dark golden.
- Add several teaspoons lemon juice to the remaining garlic-anchovy oil. Taste for seasoning and acidity, and add salt and pepper or more lemon juice to taste.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed pan with remaining two tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the beans, spread them out into a single layer, and allow to cook without moving for several minutes. They should sizzle. You want the beans to brown slightly but not char.
- After 3 or 4 minutes, use a spatula to flip the beans and stir them around a little, about one more minute. You just want to brown the beans and heat them through. Do not over cook, or your beans will turn to mush.
- Add the greens and stir to mix evenly with the greens. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to rest for a few minutes as the greens wilt a bit more. Add the garlic-anchovy-lemon dressing and toss. Top with breadcrumbs and remaining cheese.
- Serve immediately.