Predictions. What is it about them that the human race simply cannot resist?? Nostradamus made a career out of making them. Generations of scarf-swathed women in heavy black eyeliner with cards or crystal balls or tea-leaves have made a good living out of them (or got condemned to death on account of being a witch – not a great career move!). The entire betting industry rests upon our belief that we can make accurate predictions – as does much of the global financial market. The hot topic of discussion this year has been the ancient Maya civilisation’s alleged prediction that the world will end this year on 21 December (no need to bother with sending out Christmas cards, then), not forgetting that 2011 saw two predicted and unrealised World Endings. In fact, for a race so totally obsessed with making predictions, we seem to be phenomenally bad at it.
Take or example my lovely friend C. who is currently visiting us from South Africa. She turned forty earlier this month and, clearly far more organised than me, she had already had her 40th birthday wine bought and cellared for a few years. Looking at her and her friends’ drinking habits at the time, she predicted that buying a few magnums of one of South Africa’s flagship full-bodied red wines (Kanonkop Paul Sauer) would be just the ticket and that they would all get pleasantly merry on this wine at her 40th. What she did not predict was that by the time her 40th birthday rolled around, her friends would be either pregnant, nursing, teetotal, health freaks or suffering from gout or such delightfully middle-aged complaints. ”Nobody drinks red wine any more! Who saw that coming?” she wailed in despair. So, not wanting to open these pricey magnums unnecessarily, she managed to rally enough support to finish nearly one bottle… and the rest remain cellared. For her 50th, she has already bought some Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, hoping that by then at least some of her friends can be persuaded to drink pale red wine.
As the song says, it goes to show you never can tell. For example, I would never have predicted in 1997 that I would meet the man I was to marry within a year (after many years of kissing all manner of frogs!!). And in 1998, having met him, I predicted a career in academia for myself and possibly a move for us both to Cape Town where we would live in a tiny but stylish cottage on Ocean View Drive in Sea Point. What I did not predict was our departure two years later for the UK and the fact that we sort of forgot to go home. I could never have predicted that said man would have me graduate from eating sickly-sweet korma curry to considerably hotter green Thai curries and chipotle-flavoured dishes. Or that I would overcome my long-term dislike of beetroot and raw tomatoes, or that I would become an enthusiastic consumer of green leafy vegetables.
To be fair, when I was growing up, South Africa was not exactly a hotbed of exotic vegetables. Green leafy vegetables meant white cabbage (OK, so not exactly green, but at least a brassica!) or spinach. Or at least what was sold to us as spinach, but that upon subsequent reasearch turned out to be Swiss chard! And when I first arrived in the UK, my views on the matter did not initially change much. Cabbage was great when eaten raw in coleslaw, and spinach was good because you could make creamed spinach which did not taste too vegetabley at all. But no way was I loading up my plate with piles of limp, unidentified green leaves! And besides, who knew what to do with kale, cavolo nero or collard greens? And what the hell were “spring greens” anyway, resembling nothing more than a loose collection of the leaves from the outside of a cauliflower – the ones I would normally discard!
Aaah, how wrong I was. I think the thin edge of the wedge was savoy cabbage, because I had at least heard of it and it had the familiar element of “cabbage” in its name. But from savoy cabbage it was not a million miles to curly kale – and all of these leaves have now become trusted friends and frequent guest stars on my dinner table. The particular cultivar group to which spring greens belong is called Brassica Oleracea Acephala, or the “headless” Brassicas, to which kale and collard greens also belong. The name refers to the fact that none of these plants form compact “heads” of leaves in the way that cabbage or Brussels sprouts to, but rather a loose collection of leaves. This loose arrangement of leaves means that each leaf gets full exposure to the sun and elements, which results in greener, coarser leaves than a cabbage. The tough leaves and strong taste are off-putting to some people, but the benefits are that the leaves are particularly rich in Vitamin C, folic acid, iron and dietary fibre.
Although I sometimes simply steam them and add butter and salt afterwards, on this occasion I made them a little indulgent with the addition of blue cheese and cream… and I predict that you are going to love it!
SPRING GREENS WITH BLUE CHEESE (serves 2-3)
4 cups of spring greens, sliced
25-50g Gorgonzola or similar blue cheese (depending on how cheesy you like it)
4 Tbsp double cream
salt and black pepper to taste
Wash the spring greens thoroughly and slice them into 1cm strips. Keep the thicker pieces of stem and centre spine to one side. Bring a small pot of water to the boil and place a steamer over it. Place the pieces of stem and spine in the steamer, covered, for about 2 minutes on their own before adding the leaves. Steam for about 5 minutes in total, until the leaves and stems are wilted and softening but not soggy.
In the meanwhile, warm a large bowl. Remove the greens from the steamer to the warmed bowl. Crumble the blue cheese over the greens, add the cream and stir to mix until the cheese has all melted.
Check for seasoning and add salt and black pepper to taste – go easy on the salt as the cheese itself is salty. Serve hot.
Did you miss our our super-successful Tuscany Plate to Page workshop last October? Well, registrations are open for Plate to Page Somerset due to be held in the UK in Spring 2012! Have a look at the programme, details about accommodation, and if it looks like something you’d like to attend, register here - but hurry: places are limited to 12. It would be great to see you there!