that time i made collards

my friend elizabeth ann knows how to grow things. not just flowers, but cool things like pumpkins and watermelons and collards. last saturday morning in the midst of my crazed yard sale/deal hunting, i stopped at her collard field to not only purchase fresh collards, but pick them myself. i was in the field, wearing my chacos and feeling pretty good about myself when this smug lady watched me for a moment,  tipped her head to one side and said (while chuckling to herself), "aw, honey, you ain't never been in a garden in your life, have you?" ummm...YES thankyouverymuch. manicured ones. with flowers and topiaries. and does the garden section at lowes count? because if so, then definitely yes. i was a little indignant - i was doing just fine picking my collards and tried not to act annoyed. 

anyway, two days later, i attempted to cook them. apparently they can be very tricky, so i enlisted the help of this delicious recipe. i modified it a bit, though, so here's what you'll need:

pasta with greens and tomato sauce via eating well

1 pound collard greens (~12 cups) stripped from stems, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup chopped bacon
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (i used yellow)
2 cloves garlic, minced (i think i did three?)
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
28 ounces of diced red tomatoes, not drained
1/4 cup water
8 ounces medium pasta shells
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
freshly grated parmesan cheese (the recipe recommended parmigiano-reggiano. which cost $9. yeah, no.)

the first thing i learned? you don't actually eat the stems. so i got to work stripping. the collards, that is. 

even though i know that elizabeth doesn't treat her collards with anything unfriendly, i washed them anyway to avoid eating dirt or bugs. then i spun them dry in my handy salad spinner. 

in the midst of stripping and washing, i got to work cooking the bacon, one of my least favorite activities. it's messy and greasy and i always inevitably burn myself. i generally prefer the microwavable kind, but i figured for this recipe, i'd go for the real deal. and by real deal, i mean the 40% less fat version.  

the stripped stems. aren't they pretty? collards are lovely. 

a pound-ish of washed collards later, i started chopping. in case you're interested, that's a lot of collards uncooked. i was running out of counter space. 

then it was time to cook the collards in two cups of boiling salted water. the recipe said to cook them for approximately 10-12 minutes. i know cooking collards for the right amount of time is key - under or overcooked, they don't taste good. hopefully i cooked them correctly? i was pretty unsure of myself here - i used a timer and kept tasting them. when i thought they tasted decent, i stopped. i also had to add water twice to keep them from burning, so i'll use more than two cups next time. 

while they were cooking, i chopped the onion and garlic...

...and the bacon. i actually got annoyed with my dull cheap knife and just went at the bacon with kitchen shears. very effective. i wasn't sure how much bacon would yield 3/4 cup chopped, so i went ahead and just cooked the entire package. i would say i ended up using 2/3 of it for this recipe. the rest was great for snacking and blt sandwiches. 

once the collards were finished and cooked down to a manageable amount, i drained them in a colander and immediately rinsed them with cold water. once cool, i pressed the excess moisture from them with a towel and set them aside. 

in a large skillet (in retrospect, i probably would have gone for either a larger skillet than this one or something deeper, like a wok), i added oil and heated over medium heat. then i added onion and cooked until soft, approximately 3-5 minutes. then i added garlic and crushed red pepper. (note: i was thinking 1/8 teaspoon red pepper didn't seem like enough spiciness. it was actually pretty on-target. maybe a hair more would have been good, but i'm glad i didn't get excited and render it inedible. i'm also glad i made the last minute decision to not buy the fire-roasted diced tomatoes. i think it would have overpowered the taste of the collards. i usually prefer my pasta sauce spicy, but this recipe was definitely written to compliment collards' unique flavor.)

then i added the bacon, tomatoes, and water and brought to a simmer, mashing the tomatoes with a potato masher as they cooked. i reduced heat to medium-low and simmered uncovered until thickened, approximately 20 minutes.  (note: i didn't consider the fact that i would be adding the collards and cooked it until it had thickened a bit more than i should have. next time i'll keep it saucier.)

while the sauce cooked, i cooked the pasta in salted water until tender. i drained, but reserved 1/4 cup of the pasta water. i then added the collards and cooking water to the sauce. (the recipe suggested adding the pasta to the sauce as well and letting it absorb the taste, but i refrained in hopes of fresher leftovers and because my pan was moments from overflowing by this point. but i think it would have been good.) then i was supposed to season with salt and pepper and add shredded cheese, but as i'm typing this i realize i got so excited about eating i omitted these last little steps. oops. 

ta-da! the most exceptional meal i've had in a while. and yes, i eat at my coffee table like a single loser. but i'm a single loser that can cook, so hopefully that makes me a bit less sad. the verdict? this recipe was delicious. i loved the flavor of the collards with the bacon and onions - it was really rich and complex. i do have one complaint, however. from the collard prep, to the bacon to the sauce to the pasta, it was insanely messy and labor-intensive for one meal. i think i used like five pans and my kitchen looked like a tornado had come through it. not fun for someone without a dishwasher.  it did make great leftovers and i think it was worth it, but next time i'll probably do some of the prep a little more ahead of time. 

so, now i'm officially a southern cook with successfully prepared collards under my belt. dear annoying garden lady: yes, my nails are painted and i wear make-up. i can still pick and cook collards without your disparaging little comments, mmmkay? thanks.

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