Forget nose-to-tail cooking for a minute, and instead contemplate the idea of root-to-leaf. The principle is the same: using as much of the product as possible, to avoid waste and to show respect. But in this case, the product comes out of the ground.
Ever since I returned from my back-to-the-land year in Maine, I’ve taken up the root-to-leaf cause when I can. (When I can’t, I depend on Compost Cab to deal with my kitchen waste.)
Because I’m a greens lover, the stems of Swiss chard, kale, collards and the like present an opportunity to practice what I preach. Sweet green chard (I buy it from Tree and Leaf Farm at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market) comes with particularly wide stems whose shape and texture remind me of celery, so it seems natural to treat them that way: I chop them up and saute them with garlic and onion before adding the leaves.
After I had a meal at Estadio in Logan Circle that included sherry-braised kale, I couldn’t get the idea of a Spanish-style treatment of greens out of my head. So I decided to use the stems as part of my take on sofrito, that mixture of aromatic vegetables that exists in different versions in Mediterranean and Latin cuisines. To keep things Spanish, I added not just sherry vinegar and the requisite-for-good-reason smoked paprika to the stems, garlic and onion, but almonds as well. And to save on all that chopping, I pulsed the combination into a chunky paste in the food processor before transferring it to a skillet.
The result is one of my favorite treatments of greens in a while. The stems and almonds give a welcome punch of texture to the tender leaves, but it’s not exactly a meal. For that, I quickly puree white beans, spread them on toast and spoon the greens on top. The crowning touch: a poached egg. If it weren’t too messy to pick up, I’d call it a sandwich; names aside, the mess is nothing that a knife and fork can’t handle.
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