Green foods to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy kale, avocados, pesto, risotto and more.

March 4, 2024
Nutrient-dense pinzimonio with avocado. Photo by Bill St. John.
Nutrient-dense pinzimonio with avocado. Photo by Bill St. John.

St. Patrick, we need you back, please.

Thanks, Paddy, for banishing the snakes, but might you also be able to deport so many of these green foods concocted this time of year in your, um, honor?

Green frosting, “emerald eggs” and ham, green velvet cake (gawd), and stuff such as bagels, donuts, pasta, and popcorn tinted green for merely one day. Banish green beer, definitely. And the appletini.

However, you might leave in place guacamole, grasshopper pie, pesto, mint chocolate chip brownies, even lime Jell-O. They are year-round deliciousness.

Alright. OK. Kale. We keep kale.

But to truly honor the eatin’ o’ the green, you everyone-is-“Irish”-on-March-17-ers, why not cook those foods that are viridescent naturally? Or — here’s a concept — that are delicious?

A unique risotto sells itself so. Colored vibrantly green from an abundance of herbs and field greens, its Italian name is “risotto verde” and is the central recipe here.

So, we’ll fashion this risotto for La Festa di San Patrizio? (Is it a coincidence that the Irish and Italian flags are so similar? Huh?)

Cooks dislike preparing risotto because they fear being “pot-bound,” slave to 30 minutes of constant babysitting of the simmering rice, adding ladle after ladle of simmering broth, stirring, stirring, stirring. Not nice, that rice.

But I use an anti-helicopter, no-hover-over-the-stove way to cook risotto that I learned, in a roundabout manner, from watching my sister Christine cook Indian food. She washes her basmati rice four or five times before boiling it. Cleaning the rice kernels of their outer starch helps keep them fluffy and buoyant when done, rather than having them end up creamy and sticky.

But that is precisely what I want in a risotto, the gooey creaminess, yet with each kernel still retaining its own slightly al dente core.

So, I rinse my risotto rices ahead of the heat but—this is very important—do not discard or let drain the rinsing liquid. I keep back the starches; in fact, in the liquid to be used.

Then, after just two installments of broth, a couple of stirs, and two 10-minute bubblings, it’s creamy risotto, but with rice kernels that retain a slight bite.

Exactly what a risotto should be.

Other recipes here for “eatin’ o’ the green” include a vegetarian sausage and greens soup and two appetizer preparations, one of raw vegetables and another of cooked greens on toast.

Sure, these recipes are heavy on the green—that’s the idea: In honor of The Emerald Isle, St Patrick’s tri-leafed shamrock, the green field on the Irish flag, and the symbolism given all green plants, vegetables and fruits—of new beginnings, growth, health, renewal and abundance.

Enough meat will be around anyway, as corned beef and shepherd’s pie.

Let’s give green its day.

Looking for green foods to celebrate St. Patrick's Day? Try this risotto verde recipe as a main or side dish. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Looking for green foods to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Try this risotto verde recipe as a main or side dish. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

Risotto Verde

Serves 6-8


2 cups risotto rice (short-grain rice such as Arborio, Vialone Nero, Carnaroli, Bomba, etc.)

6 cups chicken broth (vegetarians and vegans, use vegetable broth)

4 cups firmly packed greens and herbs (any mix that you fancy, but more leafy greens than herbs; see note)

3 garlic cloves, peeled

3 tablespoons fat (depending on your diet, either unsalted butter or vegetable oil)

4 tablespoons leek, light green part, finely chopped

1 cup white wine or ginger ale or apple juice

1 12-13 ounce package frozen green peas

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

Finely sliced or peeled lemon rind and chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish


Assemble 2-3 large bowls side by side, along with a sieve or fine-mesh strainer. Pour all the broth into one of the bowls, add the rice, and rinse the rice with your fingers for 5-6 minutes, until the liquid gets very cloudy. Using the straining implement, drain the rice from the liquid, but also capture the liquid. It is very important not to discard the broth, while also allowing the rice to drain well.

Make a slurry of the cloudy broth, the greens, and the garlic, using a traditional or immersion blender or a food processor, being sure that the greens are very well puréed. Heat the green broth in a saucepan until it is quite warm but neither boiling nor simmering and keep it that way.

Over medium-high heat, in a large and open, heavy-bottomed pot, cook the leeks in the fat for 5 minutes, until they have melted a bit. Add the rinsed rice and stir well to coat as many grains of rice with the fat as possible, 5-6 minutes. When the rice begins to smell slightly nutty, add the wine (or ginger ale or apple juice) and stir well until the rice has taken it in, 4-5 minutes.

Add 4 cups of the heated broth, stir it in well, bring the pot to a slow boil, cover and then set the heat to as low as it goes. Cook for 10 minutes, undisturbed. Remove the cover, add the rest of the broth and the peas, stir again well, bring up the heat until the risotto bubbles once more, cover, lower the heat to very low, and cook for another 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the grated cheese, salt and pepper to taste (the cheese and broth may have carried in enough salt), and the lemon juice.

Serve garnished with the lemon rind and parsley.

Note on the greens: For the mix of greens, these proportions will work: 3 cups 50/50 blend of baby arugula and baby spinach (widely available) or 3 cups baby spinach, plus 1 cup mixed green herbs such as basil, parsley leaves, dill, chives, chervil, and (if used, less than the others) tarragon.

Eat your greens with this vegetarian sausage and greens soup.
Eat your greens with this vegetarian sausage and greens soup. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

Vegetarian Sausage and Greens Soup

This recipe is from my friend and colleague, Chef Erin Boyle. She heads up an organization to which I also belong, CHOW, which aims to support wellness within the food service, beverage and hospitality industry. To make vegan, simply omit the eggs and choose vegan sausage. I used vegan chorizo both for a punch of flavor and aroma, and for its reddish color. Serves 2-4, depending on portion size.


1/3 cup fine yellow cornmeal (see note)

1⁄2 tablespoon olive oil

6 ounces vegetarian or vegan sausage, sliced or crumbled

5 cups thin vegetable stock (from 1 cube or 1 teaspoon bouillon paste)

Around 3 cups collard greens, stemmed and thinly sliced crosswise

2 eggs (optional)

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling (optional)


Heat cornmeal in a pot over medium-high heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring  pan constantly, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Transfer cornmeal to a bowl and set aside.

Sauté the sausage in the olive oil in the same pot, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Bring vegetable stock to a boil in the same pot over high heat. Carefully and slowly whisk in reserved cornmeal, constantly whisking at first, then reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, whisking often, for about 20 minutes.

Stir in the reserved collards, first, then the sausage and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until collards wilt well. If either or both the stock or sausage are low sodium, correct for salt.

Crack eggs into a small bowl and keep yolks whole. Poach in the simmering soup until cooked. Serve in warmed bowls and drizzle with the olive oil, if desired.

Cook’s note: The finer the cornmeal, the thicker the soup. If you wish, you may thin towards the end with more veg broth.

Pinzimonio with Avocado

Marcella Hazan, the cookbook author and cooking teacher, told me, one Aspen Food & Wine Classic, that the Italian appetizer preparation called “pinzimonio” is a combination of the verb “pinzare” (to pinch; you pick up the raw vegetable pieces with your fingertips) and “matrimonio.” You “marry” the crudités with the best possible extra virgin olive oil. That’s all. That’s it. Makes 1 serving.


1/2 ripe avocado, pit removed

Your best extra virgin olive oil

Any of many possible raw vegetables, in quantity of your choosing, cleaned and cut (and all green, if as a centerpiece for St Patrick’s Day): small stalks of celery and their leaves (the tenderest and palest possible); fennel, cleaned of its feathery top and sliced into half-moons, tender stems remaining attached if desired; Persian cucumbers, sliced longways into fourths; scallions (“green onions”), cleaned and root ends trimmed off.

Non-green vegetables that serve here: radishes, rough stems and roots pared away, stuck with decorative toothpicks as holders, carrots, peeled (the slimmest and tenderest possible); red bell pepper, de-veined and seeded, cut into strips; leaves of Belgian endive or thin radicchio.


Place the avocado half in the center of a large bowl or plate. (It may help to sliver off and flatten the bottom of the avocado if it wants to roll around.) Place any number of the raw vegetables around the avocado half.

Pour the olive oil in the well of the avocado where the pit was. To the oil, add unholy amounts of a finishing salt such as Maldon and freshly ground black pepper. Dip away and, of course, spoon out the avocado flesh itself with the oil clinging to it.

Enjoy the nutritional benefits of this green food recipe: toasts with lacinato kale.
Enjoy the nutritional benefits of this green food recipe: toasts with lacinato kale.

Toasts with Lacinato Kale

Adapted from “The Cafe Cook Book,” by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers (Broadway, 1997). Makes 2.

Take 6-8 leaves of lacinato kale (also known by its Italian name, cavolo nero), stiff stems stripped away, and simmer them in salted boiling water (or, better, homemade stock) for 10 minutes. Drain, then place 1/2 of the kale atop toasted slices of trimmed ciabatta or other toast. Season liberally with finishing salt (such as Maldon) and freshly ground black pepper. Pour on liberal drizzles of your best extra virgin olive oil.

Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.