I understand the United States is having one of those big sports moments when football fans come together to eat their favorite foods and see who will become champion. I believe it’s tradition that football and crunchy snacks go together. Why? That’s a question too big for an answer. Unfortunately, and especially when children are involved, the temptation is to get that satisfying crunch from chips, or some other form of convenience (i.e.: junk) food.
I admit I have been known to hover too eagerly over the potato chip bowl at children’s birthday parties and other events. But I like it when there’s a platter of something perhaps a little more wholesome available as an alternative or just in addition to all the other food.
So what if you like football, you like crunchy snacks, but you don’t really want junk food?
My offering for something that goes crunch but still elicits a satisfying mmmmm is bruschetta with greens! Don’t run away, I’m serious. You’ll like it. I promise. And it’s easy.
You cook some leafy greens or broccoli until they are a little on the mushy side. The crunch is not in the vegetables, you want them soft. Squeeze the water out of them and chop them roughly. In a pan gently warm some chopped garlic and a generous pinch of dried chilies or some chopped fresh chili in olive oil. Add the greens to the pan and let the mixture cook together a minute. Add a little salt. You want the greens to become infused with the garlicky, spicy olive oil. Then you toast slices of bread. This is where the crunch comes in so you need to use something dense with a good crust, preferably bread that’s been baked in a wood oven. In Rome I use Lariano, which is partly whole wheat. Once it’s toasted you rub the bread with the cut side of a garlic clove then spoon on some olive oil and smear it around. Top the bread with the spicy greens and shave a sharp cheese on top. I used Pecorino Romano. I sometimes shave on parmesan. It should be something that has a little bite to it and has a crumbly texture.
This is one of those recipes with very few ingredients that when combined seem to add up to more than the sum of their parts. I have seen children devour these things. I’ve had to knock them aside to get to the platter before they’re all gone.
This is not junk food. It’s not health food either. It’s just really good. And it goes crunch.
Recipe for Bruschetta with Greens
This should be enough for eight pieces
1 bunch of greens, around one pound (broccoli, spinach, or swiss chard leaves)
3 cloves of garlic, 2 chopped and one peeled and cut
½ teaspoon of dried chilies, or 1 small chili of your favorite type (if you like it spicier, add more)
A glug of olive oil (okay, roughly 3 tablespoons), plus a little more for the bread
A generous pinch of sea salt
1 loaf of sturdy bread
Pecorino Romano (or another crumbly, slightly sharp cheese)
Cook the greens till they are soft. Spinach takes only a couple of minutes, swiss chard, depending on the size of the leaves, can take a little longer. If you’re using broccoli, test it with a fork. When the fork goes in to the stalks quite easily, they’re ready. Drain them. Spinach and swiss chard need to be squeezed until no more water comes out. If you’ve steamed the broccoli, then there’s no need to squeeze it. Chop the vegetables roughly and set them aside.
Put a glug of olive oil in a pan along with the two chopped cloves of garlic and the chilies and warm it on low heat, you don’t want to burn the garlic. As soon as you smell that lovely garlic scent in the air, add the chopped greens to the pan along with a big pinch of sea salt. Stir the vegetables around a little allowing them to become coated in the garlic, chili, and olive oil for a minute or two. Then turn off the heat.
Cut the bread into thick slices. Toast them, then rub one side of the bread with the cut side of a clove of garlic. Smear a spoonful or so of olive oil onto the toasted bread. Place some greens on top and then finish off with a few thick shavings of the cheese.
They are so good.
Read more recipes from Jeannie Marshall on the Beacon Broadside
Jeannie Marshall is the author of The Lost Art of Feeding Kids, now available from Beacon Press. She has written for Canadian national newspapers and magazines such as the Globe and Mail and the Walrus. Before moving to Italy in 2002, she was a features writer at the Toronto-based National Post.