Terrine of Greens, Bacon and Polenta
"In the garden of Eden, there were no weeds. The dent-de-lion, or dandelion, lay peaceably with lamb's quarters and lettuce, sourgrass with mustard and escarole. All leaves were young, tender, tame and edible in the green and salad days of our first gardeners, who had no need of cooks." So says Betty Fussell, in her book Food in Good Season, from which this recipe comes. I, like Betty it seems, have never held a particular prejudice against weeds. What child, after all, does not adore a dandelion as much as any wild (or cultivated, for that matter) flower? And perhaps the dandelion is even more revered during childhood because of the almost translucent puff of cotton-candy it becomes in the fall.
Today, however, we're not in the original garden. And although summer greens don't necessarily have to be cooked, it doesn't hurt. And if you include them in a terrine of polenta, cheese and bacon, then it really doesn't hurt. I thought this was hands down one of the most delicious ways I've ever had greens. And since you can use any type, or mixture, that you come across, you can buy with abandon at the farmers market, knowing your greens have a purpose. You might try dandelion, mustard, chard, curly endive, escarole or spinach.
In the original recipe, Fussell suggests saving the liquid leached from the greens when they're wilted to include in a later soup. But there's no reason for that, since the liquid is fragrant with garlic and the essence of greens. I stirred it back into the polenta, so neither nutrients nor flavor would be lost through cooking. The polenta soaked it up just a greedily as I thought it might. And speaking of polenta, Fussell's brilliant double boiler method does away with constant stirring. It doesn't produce the kind of dreamy, creamy polenta you might get with the more labor intense method. But it's the perfect texture for baking, and much more amenable to making on a hot summer day.
Terrine of Summer Greens, Bacon and Polenta
Process slightly adopted from Betty Fussell's Food in Good Season
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups polenta (the slow-cooking kind, such as Bob's Red Mill)
5 cups water
4 sliced bacon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic (or 3), crushed or passed through a press
1 pound mixed greens, I used a combination of mustard and green chard
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces high quality roman cheese, such as Romano Locatelli
8 ounces Fontina cheese
Mix the salt into the polenta in the top of a double boiler. Bring the water to a boil in the bottom of the double boiler, then stir 2 cups of the water slowly into the cornmeal until well combined. Add the remaining water and stir well, leaving about 2 inches of water in the bottom of the double boiler. Place the top of the double boiler over the bottom and cover. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Be sure that the bottom of the double boiler doesn't dry out.
Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry until crisp. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the same pan, then add the crushed garlic and the greens. Toss to coat, then cover the greens and steam them until they're wilted. This should take 5 - 10 minutes. Drain the liquid into the polenta and stir well. Transfer the greens to a cutting board and chop well.
Grate the two types of cheese separately. When the polenta is done, or nearly so, stir the Romano into it. Grease a loaf pan (any standard size is fine) and smooth a layer of polenta on the bottom. Top the polenta with a layer of greens, then bacon, then a sprinkling of Fontina cheese. Top again with polenta, then another layer of the rest of the ingredients, and finally finish with one more layer of polenta. Sprinkle a bit more Fontina over the top, and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
Place the loaf pan an oven preheated to 450 F, and bake for 15 minutes. The polenta should be a bit browned and crusty on top, and the cheese melted. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for about 10 minutes before unmolding. Slice, and serve. Enjoy your weeds!