Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

These Collard Greens Are What Happens When an Italian New Yorker Is Invited to a Pig Pickin'

by 
Daniela Savone
May 14, 2021

This past fall, I was invited to my very first Southern Pig Pickin'. What is a Southern Pig Pickin' you ask? Good question.

As a former New Yorker who left the city just two years prior for the wide open spaces (and better cost of living) in South Carolina, I hadn't a clue, but I assumed it involved a pig. (Spoiler alert: I was right.)

I wasn’t asked to bring anything, but for Italians like me, it is sacrilegious to show up to someone's home empty handed. I wanted to fit in and bring something "Southern" that everyone at the party would recognize and appreciate. So, Google to the rescue. I typed  'Southern Side Dishes' in the search engine, and recipes upon recipes fluttered my screen; Paula Dean's Mac & Cheese, baked beans, potato salad, grits, fried okra, hundreds of casseroles and collard greens. Of course, there’s plenty more to Southern cooking than this, but I was just starting out on this journey into a new, rich cuisine, so I embraced these familiar classics.

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I was on a mission to impress these kind Southern folk and win them over with my version of collard greens, but I knew I’d have a better shot if I stuck to ingredients in my wheelhouse. I’d never had collard greens before, let alone cooked them, but they seemed akin to escarole, chicory, or broccoli rabe -- the kinds of greens I grew up eating in my Italian home. Each recipe I found called for pounds of butter, bacon fat, or ham hocks, which in an Italian kitchen translated to my three most reliable ingredients; garlic, olive oil, and pancetta. This could work, I thought. I can do this.

I learned that collards are like giant leaves -- tough giant leaves -- which, if wilted down with just the right amount of flavor and seasoning, while still leaving just enough bite, are absolutely delicious. My Italian-Southern collard greens were not only a big hit at this pig pickin' but I had Southerners beg me for the recipe. To me, the new girl in town, there was no higher compliment than that. I had become one with the people and also a big fan of roasted suckling pig.

Italian-Style Collard Greens

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Ingredients

8-10 cups of chopped collard greens
4 oz diced pancetta
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
1/2 chicken bouillon cube, or measured equivalent of paste (the packaging should indicate that measure)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup white cooking wine
3 tbsps grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

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Ingredients

8-10 cups of chopped collard greens
4 oz diced pancetta
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
1/2 chicken bouillon cube, or measured equivalent of paste (the packaging should indicate that measure)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup white cooking wine
3 tbsps grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients

8-10 cups of chopped collard greens
4 oz diced pancetta
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
1/2 chicken bouillon cube, or measured equivalent of paste (the packaging should indicate that measure)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup white cooking wine
3 tbsps grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Remove all collard leaves from stems and roughly chop. Rinse well in cold water.

2. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil on medium-high. Saute diced pancetta until crisp -- about 5-10 minutes -- then garlic, and crushed red pepper until translucent, about 2 minutes.

3. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the chicken bouillon, and mix in well. Add wine and lemon juice, allow to evaporate and mix in all ingredients allowing all the flavors to meld together.

4. Add collard leaves and mix in well for another minute.

5. Lower heat to medium-low and allow collards to cook and wilt down for about 15-20 minutes. Continue to stir every so often. Test collards to ensure they still have bite.

6. Add a dash of salt and pepper to taste and stir.7. Remove from heat and add the last tablespoon of butter along with the grated cheese, stir, and thicken. Garnish with lemon zest and serve.

About the Author

Daniela Savone

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