Pinto greens and beans, in this case, spinach, is a Hispanic take on a favorite Pittsburgh Italian dish. (Gretchen McKay / Post-Gazette)

Pinto greens and beans, in this case, spinach, is a Hispanic take on a favorite Pittsburgh Italian dish. (Gretchen McKay / Post-Gazette)

The classic Italian ‘beans and greens’ gets a Latin spin

A charred tomatillo salsa adds a bright and zesty finish to this traditional comfort food.

  • Tuesday, April 13, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

“Beans and greens” in Pittsburgh usually evokes the humble dish served at the city’s old-school red sauce Italian-American restaurants.

Traditionally made with cannellini beans and escarole, it’s an iconic Italian comfort food best served in a bowl. It often features hot sausage or banana peppers as add-ins and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan on top.

Yet the dish doesn’t have to speak just to southern Italy to fill our appetites and make us happy. A recipe from the vegetarian cookbook “Leaf” by Catherine Phipps puts a Latin American spin on the Italian classic.

Pinto beans and chopped tomato are paired with a fresh mix of spinach and kale lightly seasoned with garlic, cinnamon and cumin seeds. A charred tomatillo salsa adds a bright and zesty finish.

Don’t be put off by the many different elements — each step is easy to make in its own right, and both the tortillas and salsa can be made ahead.

Speaking of which: I don’t have a tortilla press and so rolled the dough out by hand. As my sister noted on social media (grrrr), they didn’t come out perfectly round. Far from it. But even with their jagged edges, they tasted great. I just need more practice.

This recipe makes a filling vegetarian main course, but it also could be served as a side with chicken or beef. Serve the tortillas on the side as you would bread, or fill them taco-style with the greens and beans.

I didn’t add any cheese but shredded cheddar would totally elevate this dish. You also could top the beans and greens with a fried egg for extra protein.

Pinto beans and greens with coriander tortillas

For the salsa:

10½ ounces tomatillos, dehusked

2 jalapenos

2 garlic cloves

4 spring onions, trimmed

Juice of 1 lime

Few sprigs of cilantro

Few mint leaves, roughly torn

For the tortillas:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup blue or yellow masa harina

4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

½ teaspoon salt

1¾ ounces vegetable shortening, melted and slightly cooled

For the beans and greens:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 red onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Pinch of ground cinnamon

14 ounces spring greens, kale or chard, shredded

8 ounces cooked pinto beans

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

Sea salt

Make salsa: Put tomatillos, jalapenos, garlic and spring onions in a frying pan, preferably cast-iron. Cook over medium-high heat for 15 minutes, shaking the pan, until everything is charred. Keep a close eye and remove garlic and chilies when they blacken.

Remove from heat. When cooked, chop finely or put in food processor and pulse to a chunky puree. Add plenty of salt and the lime juice, then stir through the cilantro. Set aside.

Make tortillas: Put flour, masa and cilantro in a bowl with the salt. Pour in shortening, then ⅔ cup tepid water. Mix thoroughly — if it’s crumbly, add a little more water, a few drops at a time. Keep mixing to a minimum, so you don’t work the gluten too much. You should end up with a soft, slightly tacky dough that will firm up more as the lard/shortening re-solidifies.

Divide dough into 16 equal balls and roll out as thinly as you can, or press in a tortilla press, making sure the dough is pressed between plastic wrap or nonstick baking paper. Heat a cast-iron frying pan and when medium hot, cook the tortillas for a couple of minutes on each side until they are dappled brown. They may also puff up a bit, but will subside as they cool. Keep warm until ready to use.

Make beans and greens: Heat oil in a large lidded frying pan or Dutch oven. Add red onions and cook over medium-high heat until softened and slightly charred. Add garlic, cumin seeds and cinnamon, and cook for a couple more minutes. Add greens to pan along with ½ cup water. Press down in pan then cover.

Cook until greens have just wilted, about 5 minutes, or 10 minutes for a softer texture. Stir in beans and tomatoes and cook just long enough for everything to be piping hot.

Check for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Stir mint into salsa and serve with tortillas.

Makes 4 servings.

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