Gnocchi, leeks, soupy greens: What else do you need?
By Melissa Clark
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 raab 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.
Serve bowls of these soupy greens and gnocchi on cool spring nights. They make a fine bridge between cozy winter stews and snappy salads, perfect until summer arrives.
And to Drink …
For this springlike dish centered on braised chard and gnocchi, I am thinking of the white wines that most remind me of spring. A good, dry silvaner from Alsace or Germany would be delicious. So would grüner veltliner from Austria. You could try a dry riesling or a Chablis as well. Any number of Italian whites would go beautifully with this dish. I’m thinking of a verdicchio from Le Marche, or maybe a Gavi from the Piedmont region. Soave, fiano, vermentino, you name it, it will satisfy. If all you have around is a sauvignon blanc, fear not: That, too, will pair well. I personally would not choose a red, but if you feel strongly, try a Valpolicella Classico or a vibrant barbera.
— ERIC ASIMOV
One-pot braised chard with gnocchi, peas and leeks
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 45 minutes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 leeks, white and light green parts, sliced thinly into half-moons
1 pound chard, preferably rainbow or red (about 2 bunches), stems thinly sliced and leaves coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced or finely grated
2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
Kosher salt and black pepper
3/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 pound potato gnocchi (fresh, frozen or shelf-stable all work)
2 cups peas, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 cup torn parsley leaves and tender stems, for serving
Grated Parmesan, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving
Fresh ricotta, for serving (optional)
Red-pepper flakes, for serving (optional)
1. In a 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add leeks and chard stems, and cook until tender and lightly brown, 7 to 10 minutes.
2. Stir in garlic, thyme and a large pinch of salt and black pepper, and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add wine, scraping up the brown bits at bottom of pot, and let the wine reduce by half, 2 to 4 minutes. Pour in stock and 3/4 teaspoon salt, and bring to a simmer.
3. Stir in gnocchi and chard leaves. Cook, partly covered, for 15 minutes, until the chard is soft. Add peas and tarragon, and continue to cook, partly covered, until gnocchi are cooked through, another 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if needed.
4. To serve, top with parsley, a generous shower of Parmesan and a big squeeze of lemon. If you like, you can also add a dollop of ricotta and some red-pepper flakes.