Creamy Winter Greens au Gratin

creamy greensEven though both spinach and kale (and you could actually add or substitute frozen turnip greens in this recipe also) are plentiful fresh this time of year – winter greens, after all – we are using frozen today because first, freezing tenderizes kale and second, you need an awful lot of fresh greens to get to the equivalent of two pounds of frozen chopped greens. Besides, when you’re making a dish this healthy – nothing beats winter greens for iron, fiber, vitamins, etc. – it’s not difficult to justify buying something frozen even when it’s in season. Pound for pound, I’ll wager the cost is going to be about the same, especially when you factor in cooking and, of course, waste – how many of us actually use kale ribs after we remove them? Another plus: The dish will go together lickety split when using a couple of bags of frozen greens, so stop beating yourself up. And feel better by making your own breadcrumbs – we may love our panko, but in this dish you want larger crumbs for texture and crunch.

1 large bag (16 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 large bag (16 oz) frozen chopped kale, thawed
1 T unsalted butter
½ t ground nutmeg
1/4 t hot pepper flakes (optional)
2 T olive oil
1 C fresh breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 C heavy cream
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 C freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Heat the oven to 400°F. Have ready a large gratin dish or casserole dish (any shape is fine as long as it’s shallow). Drain thawed greens in a large strainer, pressing down to expel as much moisture as possible, then squeeze them in paper towel or dishtowel to extract more moisture; heat butter in a large saucepan and add greens; cover and saute gently about 3 minutes until heated. Add nutmeg and pepper flakes if using and toss to mix well; reserve. In a small bowl, combine olive oil and breadcrumbs, 1/4 t salt and a few grinds of pepper.

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and garlic to a boil over medium-high heat (watch that it doesn’t boil over), immediately lower the heat, and simmer vigorously until the cream reduces to about 3/4 cup, 4 to 8 min. (Don’t over-reduce.) Take the pan off the heat and remove and discard the garlic cloves. Let the cream cool slightly, stirring occasionally to keep a skin from forming. Season with 1/4 tsp. of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.

Put warmed greens in the gratin dish, spreading them out; sprinkle with cheese; pour over reduced cream and top with breadcrumbs. Bake until the gratin is brown and bubbly, about 25 min. Let rest for 10 to 15 min. before serving.

For a change, serve these gratins individually. Just divide ingredients among four small gratin dishes and bake as directed above.

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BLT Pasta

blt pasta2 strips thick-sliced bacon, diced or 4-5 strips turkey bacon, diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or 1 large ripe tomato, cut into large dice
½ t sugar
1 leek, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ C dry white wine
½ C chicken broth
1 t red wine vinegar
Dash of red pepper flakes, optional
1 large handful baby spinach leaves

4 ounces bucatini or spaghetti, cooked according to package

For the bread crumbs:

1 C (about one ½” – thick slice) French or rustic country bread, cubed
1 garlic clove

Make the bread crumbs: mince the garlic in a food processor, add the cubed bread and process until coarse. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat and add the crumbs. Toast until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Set aside.

Sauté the bacon in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook until crisp, then drain the pieces on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of drippings. If using turkey bacon, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and sauté bacon until browned (turkey bacon will not crisp up like thick-cut bacon). Remove bacon bits from skillet, add another splash of olive oil if necessary. Add the cut tomatoes and sugar, cook about 5 minutes, until tomatoes begin to caramelize. Add the leeks and cook until wilted, 3-4 minutes.

Deglaze the tomatoes with wine, simmer until liquid is nearly evaporated. Add the broth, vinegar, pepper flakes and simmer until reduced by 1/3. Add the spinach, bacon pieces and cooked spaghetti. Toss to coat, season with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta between two plates and sprinkle with bread crumbs before serving. Serves 2.


Spinach Soup with Sumac and Feta

spinach soup

Sumac’s name comes from the Arabic word for red, which is the color of the spice, sumac, widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine.  It has a tangy flavor not unlike lemon but distinct.  You can find sumac at any good spice shop, such as Penzey’s, or markets that sell Middle Eastern or Indian ingredients.  You can also find it on line — there’s a link below in the ingredients list.  The spice comes from the sumac bush, which grows all over the world.  The type that is made into a spice is sweet sumac, or aromatic sumac.  The fruits are dried and ground into a powder. Poison sumac (there are more than 250 species of sumac)  is distinguished by white fruits rather than red or orange.  Poison sumac can cause an allergic reaction like poison ivy.  If you don’t have sumac for this recipe, substitute lemon juice and/or lemon zest.  This was part of our demo with a large class on a beautiful Wednesday at Brookside Gardens February 19, 2014. Read More



Georgia Peach and Tomato Salad

black-eyed-pea-salad-sl-l

 

4 C heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 ripe peaches, diced
1 (14-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed OR 1 vacuum-sealed package of steamed black-eyed peas*
2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
¼ C red onion, diced
4-5 strips thick-cut bacon, diced
3 T apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Toss the tomato wedges, diced peaches, black-eyed peas, spinach and onion gently in a serving bowl.

In a small skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Transfer bacon pieces to a bowl and reserve the drippings for the dressing. Whisk in the vinegar, season with salt and pepper. Pour mixture over salad and toss again gently to coat. Sprinkle with bacon bits and serve.


Spinach Matzo Balls in Saffron Broth

saffron fieldsLet me tell you my saffron story.  The lovely Evangeline, Adrienne’s globe-trotting daughter, was traveling in Morocco and the ONLY thing her mom requested was to bring back some Moroccan saffron.  Regaling her parents with her adventures in the saffron fields outside of Marrakesh only made the request more justified and the desire for the spice more urgent.  Some weeks later, just in time for Thanksgiving, Evangeline arrived at Dulles with Adrienne eagerly awaiting the prodigal child.  The first thing I asked of her — the very first thing, even before, “How was your flight?” — was “So, did you get the saffron?” Evangeline’s stricken look did not need underscoring with the sad retelling of why no saffron was forthcoming.

In the ensuing weeks, nearly daily references, usually accompanied by a long sigh, to the absent saffron seemed the only way to assuage my grief.  Then, on Christmas morning, Evangeline handed me a small, carefully wrapped package.  In it, I found a small bottle of precious saffron from those self-same fields of blue outside of Marrakesh.saffron sorting

Way to keep a secret!

A sophisticated, company-dinner variation on the old (one could say ancient) stand-by, these lovely matzoh balls floating in flavor-rich saffron broth can served as a starter for Passover dinner.  Expect to pay $20/gram (3 teaspoons) for the high-quality, flavor-packed saffron this recipe begs for.  We adapted this recipe from Epicurious. Read More