The Greens-Drying Hack I Learned in Italy 10 Years Ago & Still Use Today

March  6, 2018

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When I was a college student, I had an amazing opportunity my grown-up self would have relished a whole lot more than my 20-year-old self did: For two and a half weeks, I stayed at my friend’s Italian grandmother’s tiny apartment in Turin. The pretense? Her nonna was going to teach us how to cook.

Our real goal was just having a free place to stay and a homey way to spend Christmas while we bummed across Europe. Italy was just one stop on an itinerary that included Denmark, Spain, Germany, and England. We paid a lot more attention to boys and updating our Facebook photo albums (it was a brand-new feature back then) than we did to her grandmother’s instructions—all barked in gruff Italian even though she had worked as an English translator for Fiat for decades.

Undeterred by our antics, Corinna’s nonna would get to it around 7 a.m. each morning, so that by the time we woke up, the house was filled with the sounds and smells of a bubbling stovetop and over-stuffed oven. Every meal, though simple, was three or four courses; whole walnuts and clementines were a consistent punctuation, even at breakfast, and even when dessert was already included. We did some of the cleaning, a good deal of the shopping, very little of the cooking, and all of the eating.

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Top Comment:
“When I lived in Firenze for 8 years I didn't have a salad spinner and no one taught me the towel method. I came up with using a pillowcase, just throwing my washed greens in and spinning it in the stone stairwell of the 500-year-old farmhouse we were living in. I now use a salad spinner at home, but when we rent a beach house, out comes the pillowcase! ”
— Jenny N.

Despite the fact that I didn’t ask any of the right questions, a couple of her lessons (and probably a few extra pounds) stuck with me. I still do all the dishes—all of them—before I sit down to eat, and I sweep the kitchen floor every evening. I still have the hand-written recipe for gnocchi we wrote out at uncle Claudio’s house, and I’m confident I can make a vegetable soup out of literally anything. I still think that all a salad needs is good olive oil, good red wine vinegar, and a healthy sprinkling of salt all poured right into the bowl and tossed with your hands. I’ve been known to have a glass of red wine at lunch, even if it’s 11am on a Wednesday. My fridge has never seen a day without a giant hunk of Parmesan, and I’ll go very far out of my way to buy cheese, vegetables, or meats from someone I know, even if the alternative looks pretty decent. Sometimes I get out of bed just to cook.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

What’s stuck with me the most, and maybe even informed my whole approach to food and cooking, was the joy she got from stuffing her loved ones (and even interlopers who couldn’t speak a word of Italian) full of her best efforts. That, and the best way to quickly dry or herbs or greens—a trick I’m going to share with you now because it’s extremely useful.

  • Place your greens in a big bowl of cold cold cold water. It should almost hurt your hands it’s so cold.
  • Move them around in the water until the dirt falls to the bottom, pull them out, pour out the water, and do it again until no more dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl.
  • Spread out a clean kitchen towel on the table, and lay the greens in one single layer on top. Roll them up in the towel the long way (hot dog vs. hamburger, for anyone who used that paper-folding trick in grade school art class).
  • Fold the rolled up towel end-to-end, with the seam on the inside, so that you’re holding both of the towel ends in one hand.
  • Stand on your patio, balcony, backyard (or heck, just lean out the window), and whip the towel forward over your shoulder like you’re throwing a baseball. Don’t let go of the towel!! Repeat until barely any water comes off when you go through the whipping motion.
How to whip your greens! Photo by Bobbi Lin

Thanks to this method, I’ve never owned (or missed) a salad spinner, and I’ve never made a soggy (or gritty) salad. The water should whip off right through the towel, so that when you unroll it, you’ve got mostly dry herbs or greens. All you need to do is give them a nice little pat with another dry towel and you’re good to go. If I’m being honest, I usually pat them with paper towels and then use the damp paper to wipe down my counters after cooking.

If you’re not going to use your washed salad right away, this is also a really great way to store washed greens or herbs in the fridge—instead of unrolling and patting, just put the damp, rolled up towel directly in the fridge. Once the towel gets bone dry, whatever’s inside will be dried out too, so if you’re not going to use them for a few days, place the rolled up towel in a plastic bag. In my experience, this will keep your greens and herbs fresh and crisp for a week or more.

Have you tried out the towel-whipping method of drying greens? Let us know about it in the comments!

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Cory Baldwin

Written by: Cory Baldwin

Food52's director of partner content Cory Baldwin has been an editor at food, travel, and fashion publications including Saveur, Departures and Racked.


Pastrynum1 August 30, 2020
I tried drying Romain lettuce in the towel. It flew everywhere! I’m laughing so hard I can barely type! Just so funny! I’ll try it again
Marcella M. June 11, 2020
A whole head of lettuce will not fit in a single layer on a kitchen towel; so one must use several towels? A bath towel would not fit in the frig. So I am confused how to dry an entire head of romaine etc. with a kitchen towel. Please advise.
Lunamia January 4, 2019
Not strictly an Italian spinner hack. Also done in Benelux.
Ukey September 16, 2018
That’s how my Mom would dry her garden greens. She would bundle them into the towel like it was a bag, then whip it out the back door until no Walter flew out. Until I saw this article, I hadn’t thought about that in decades, so thanks for a nice memory of my late Mom.
tamater S. April 5, 2018
This is the way we've always done it, (you know, back in the 'olden' days) but always with Tea-towels, never paper, and they go in the fridge in the same towel - no big deal to clean, if you've got a washing machine. My MIL uses old pillow cases, but I like Turkish or large linen tea towels. With some kinds of lettuce, you'll get a reddish stain from the stump-end, but it comes out in the regular wash without stain remover.
tamater S. April 5, 2018
PS: "they" go in the fridge, means whole heads of Romaine or whatever. If you choose to break up the heads, which can be quite large, just lay the big leaves on the damp towel and roll up like a jelly roll. The life span of lettuces done like this is amazing!
tamater S. April 5, 2018
PPS: Cory, loved your story; there are never too many gonna stories.
Sharon March 12, 2018
This is not exactly new. Long before there were salad spinners, this is how most restaurants I worked in dried their salad greens. We used (new and clean) pillow cases.
JoanJ March 11, 2018
My Dad had a large garden that produced all manner of greens. My mother would do the washing/rinsing thing, roll them up in dishtowels and secure with safety pins, and then put the towels in mesh laundry bags. A couple of minutes on the final spin dry cycle in the clothes washer did a great job of getting rid of excess water.
Terry March 11, 2018
Oh - this is a way to dry OFF your greens, not "dry" them. I was wondering, "Canned greens, blanched and frozen greens, yes; but dried greens? Who does that?" But now that that's cleared up, I may just take a salad spinner off my birthday/Christmas wish list.
scolere March 12, 2018
me too !! click-bait ;-)
Jenny N. March 11, 2018
When I lived in Firenze for 8 years I didn't have a salad spinner and no one taught me the towel method. I came up with using a pillowcase, just throwing my washed greens in and spinning it in the stone stairwell of the 500-year-old farmhouse we were living in. I now use a salad spinner at home, but when we rent a beach house, out comes the pillowcase!
Marcella M. June 11, 2020
Doesn't the lettuce adhere to the pillowcase?
Jenny N. June 12, 2020
Not really, though baby arugula might. If it does, you can just turn the pillowcase inside-out and retrieve it. Or use a towel for microgreens or small stuff. But for every other green, it works great. You might want to designate a pillowcase for the job, as it can turn a bit green!
Lemon &. March 8, 2018
My dad taught us this when we were little, and my sisters always did the more helicopter spin version. We used to try to write our names on the driveway with the water that flew out. Definitely the best drying method!
Smaug March 7, 2018
They used to sell folding metal baskets with handles for just this purpose- probably still do. worked pretty well, but of course you have to move your greens around a few times- you can't spin water through a leaf. Or if you can, I'm scared of you.
Fran M. March 7, 2018
I was born in Bully-Les-Mines France. This is how we always dried our salads & I still do.
FrugalCat March 7, 2018
I've seen this without the baseball throwing motion- just spinning it overhead like helicopter blades. Both look like fun. I am picturing a side by side experiment with one nephew throwing, one nephew spinning, then comparing the results.
Hana A. March 6, 2018
Love this! I'm a diehard salad spinner fan, but I'm going to channel my inner nonna just to try this method out. Long live nonnas!!
felice March 6, 2018
Always worked best- I lived in Firenze 24years leaned this in the early 70s and still use it today!
Cory B. March 6, 2018
I always feel so silly leaning out my window (and what unlucky passersby!) but it really does work better than a spinner :)
felice March 7, 2018
Cory, you brought a smile to my face!

Connie T. March 11, 2018
Cory, spin it in the bathroom. A little water won't matter in there.
Tavo January 29, 2021
No, outside. That way you get your Vitamin D with each swing, instead of Ecoli 😳