Tag Archives: Spinach

Veggies for Breakfast or Eggs for Dinner? Here’s A Frittata Plus A Dozen Other Eggy Ideas

Lest you think I’m completely crazy for devoting so much cyber-ink to birds in my last blog, I thought maybe I should come clean about a couple of things. First, I think the whole bird thing is part of my effort to be more in touch with nature (goofy as that sounds, I know). Mostly because observing nature requires slowing down. In my old life, I did everything on one speed: Fast. (Oh, dear, now I’m starting to sound like Charlie Sheen.) I barely made time to tend a pot of herbs on the windowsill or take a walk around the neighborhood—I certainly didn’t don the binoculars to wait for a bird to fly by.

Secondly (and much more practically), one of the reasons I’m truly excited about having our own hens is because we eat so many darn eggs around here (see below). Okay, I admit, there’s also a deeper meaning to the hen thing. To be completely honest, I still have a little fear that someone is going to snatch me away from the Island, return me to the office, to the suburbs, to I-95, and to a whole lot of other noise that I now happily live without. I figure raising hens gives me one more toehold on Vineyard terra firma. If the Old Life Aliens come to snatch me away, they will have to take my hens, too!

Okay. So about those eggs. Because I don’t eat a ton of meat anymore…and because I figured out a long time ago that I won’t get hungry mid-morning if I eat eggs for breakfast… and because Roy loves having breakfast for dinner… and because Libby loves anything that involves mixing a batter—we eat a lot of eggs. We are very fortunate to have a regular supply of eggs from local farms available to us (even in the grocery stores); their plump golden yolks and perky whites have spoiled me. (The yellow color comes from the  higher amounts of beta-carotene these birds ingest.) When I’m developing recipes, I’ll try to use non-local eggs to make sure the recipe will taste good regardless—but for our everyday eating, we love our local eggs. Here’s what we do with them:

1. We scramble them with fresh herbs (especially cilantro and mint), a dash of cream, a little cheese (cheddar, aged gouda, Monterey jack, goat cheese), and plenty of salt and pepper.

2. We make waffles and buttermilk pancakes, sometimes for dinner. (Favorite recipes at finecooking.com).

3. We make all kinds of different egg sandwiches; here’s a recipe for one of my favorite creations, which I nicknamed “The Local.” Yes it has a bit of (local!) meat on it.

4. We make my Dad’s famous popovers. (See King Arthur Flour site for pans.)

5. We make savory bread puddings, especially when we have the amazing challah bread from our local Orange Peel Bakery. (Popover and bread pudding recipes coming in Fresh & Green for Dinner.)

6. We make French toast with a dash of vanilla and maple in the custard, and we top it with a homemade concoction of fresh berries warmed in maple syrup and slightly mashed in the skillet. (Love to use the challah here, too.)

7. We make omelets with leftover roasted veggies or roasted tomatoes.

8. We make a rif on pasta carbonara with spring asparagus or garden peas.

9. We make thin, quiche-like tarts; my favorite is with fresh corn, basil, and tiny tomatoes.

10. Of  course, we make cookies and quickbreads and the occasional coffee cake, too. (Most often we use recipes from my favorite baker, Abby Dodge.)

11. We make veggie fritters or pancakes—sometimes with grains, too, or leftover mashed potatoes. We also make spoonbread, a favorite from my Dixie days.

12. But probably our favorite thing to do with eggs is to make a veggie frittata. Usually I make one big one, but sometimes I’ll make little ones in a mini-muffin tin. Frittatas (like the leek and spinach one below) are incredibly versatile; you can eat them for breakfast, lunch, snacks or dinner. And they always taste better after sitting a bit (even overnight); I guess the flavors have more time to penetrate the custard. The method I learned years ago at Al Forno restaurant is easy to follow, and you can make up your own veggie combos, too. (I also love potatoes, mushrooms, corn, arugula, scallions, and broccoli in frittatas.) Just be sure to cook most veggies first to concentrate flavor and to reduce excess moisture. Be generous with fresh herbs and don’t forget the salt and pepper in the custard.

Leek, Spinach, Thyme & Gruyere Frittata

This easy frittata method starts out on the stovetop and finishes baking in the oven—but there’s no tricky flipping involved. After cooling, I like to cut the frittata into small squares, rather than wedges, so that bite-size snacks are easy to grab. It’s also a great way to go for a potluck, book group meeting, or other casual gathering.

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3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 medium leeks (white and light green parts), sliced about 1/4-inch thick (about 2 cups) and well washed

Kosher salt

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

3 ounces baby spinach leaves

6 large eggs at room temperature

2/3 cup half ’n half

1 tablespoon roughly chopped thyme leaves

big pinch nutmeg

freshly ground pepper

1 cup (3 oz.) coarsely grated Gruyère

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Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Make sure one of your oven racks is positioned in the center of the oven.

In a 10-inch heavy nonstick (ovenproof) skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, season with a big pinch of salt, and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are softened, 5 or 6 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks are browned in spots, another 8 to 11 minutes. (Don’t worry if they get a little overbrown in places—that’s just great flavor.) Add the minced garlic and stir well. Add the spinach and 1/4 tsp. salt and, using tongs, toss and stir the spinach with the leeks until it is all wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the veggies cool a minute.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, half ’n half, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, the thyme, the nutmeg, and several grinds of fresh pepper. Stir in the Gruyère.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to it. When the butter has melted, pour and scrape all the custard mixture into the skillet.  Using a silicone spatula, gently stir and move the contents of the pan around so that everything is evenly distributed. (You may have to nudge clumps of leeks and spinach apart.) Let the pan sit on the heat until the custard is just beginning to set all the way around the edge of the pan, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the frittata is puffed, golden, and set, 22 to 24  minutes.

Before unmolding, let the frittata cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Shake the pan a bit, tip it, and use a spatula (silicone works great) to get under the frittata and slide it gently out onto a cutting board or serving plate.  Cut into wedges and serve warm, or wait for a bit longer and serve at room temp. Refrigerate leftovers; this is even better the next day.

Serves 4 to 6

A Great Tip+Fresh Spinach=Popeye’s Garlic Spinach Recipe

Cooks love tips—anything that makes life in the kitchen easier, tastier, more fun. I once did a TV tour where all I did was demonstrate cooking tips (of course with no stove or running water) on morning TV shows all over the country. This was somebody else’s great idea, not mine, as I was sent off to do this with almost no media training. Fortunately, I was usually on for about 30 seconds between the local political scandal and the weather, so I’m sure nobody watched.  However, in one place—Fort Worth, Texas—where I am happy to say they place a great value on cooking at home—I was on for 12 whole minutes. This required a little bit of effort to prepare for (and I’m not talking about the serious make-up they applied to me before I went on the air. I looked like Susiezilla). I had to expand my 30-second schpeel into a “top ten tips” kind of thing—and talk a whole lot more slowly!

The host (and the viewers) loved that tip demo, and I remembered this when I was getting ready for my book signing at Bunch of Grapes bookstore last Friday night. I was asked to speak for 30 minutes (normally this would be the time when a fiction or non-fiction author would read from his or her work), and I didn’t want to bore everyone to death. Plus, I am always better in front of a crowd if I have something to do with my hands. So I did a tip demo.

I peeled fresh ginger with a spoon. Made pretty squash ribbons with a hand-held julienne peeler. Zested a lemon with a Microplane zester. Cut the bottom of a potato off to stabilize it first before slicing it thinly. Stacked basil leaves, rolled them like a cigar, and sliced them across into a “chiffonade.” That sort of thing. Once again, I got positive feedback from folks, and one friend asked me if I could post more of these tips on my blog. “Just give us a short blog every once in a while with a quick tip.” Quick I am good at, short I am not. So while this blog could really begin with the next paragraph, I’ve made you all suffer through these words to get to the tip. Someday I will get it right.

Here’s the tip. It’s about using fresh garlic. Instead of always chopping or mincing fresh garlic, try slicing whole cloves very thinly with a paring knife. These slivers, when gently sautéed in olive oil (keep the heat fairly low to prevent overbrowning), turn into delicious golden “chips.” Not only do the chips make for tasty nubbins in your final dish, but they gently infuse the olive oil with subtle garlic flavor. That olive oil, in turn, imparts a nice garlic flavor to whatever (ideally a green leafy vegetable) you next add to the pan.  (Minced garlic releases so much juice that it not only risks burning more quickly but can overpower a dish with intense garlic flavor).

I use this method (and these yummy garlic chips) to make my version of the classic side dish, garlicky sautéed spinach. (I named mine for Popeye.) The only other trick to my side dish is—your guessed it—really fresh spinach. By fresh I mean spinach still on its stems, in a bunch (not in a plastic bag). I realize how convenient bagged spinach is, and I’m all for using it when I’m making a big lasagna or that sort of thing. But to enjoy a simple spinach side dish, treat  yourself to a bunch of fresh flavor (that was a typo, I meant fresh spinach…or maybe I really did mean flavor). I especially like the variety with bodaciously crinkly leaves that give your side dish a little body, even when wilted. And I do mean wilted—that’s my last tip. Don’t overcook spinach. Just toss it in the infused oil until it collapses. Done.

Popeye’s Garlic Spinach For Two

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1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch fresh spinach (10 to 12 ounces), stemmed, washed well, and spun dry

3 medium-large garlic cloves, peeled, ends trimmed, and cut into very thin slices (1 1/2 to 2 scant tablespoons garlic “chips”)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

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Heat the olive oil in a medium (9- to 10-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot (it will loosen up), add the garlic slices and stir with a silicone spatula to distribute them in the oil. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently to keep the garlic covered in the oil, until the garlic softens and loses its white color, and the smallest pieces become light brown, while the larger pieces are just starting to become a light golden color, 6 to 7 minutes (don’t overcook the garlic or it will become bitter). You should smell a pleasant garlicky aroma, nothing acrid. Add half of the spinach and the salt and stir and fold the spinach with tongs until most of it is wilted and dark green, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the other half of the spinach and stir well again until the spinach is mostly all wilted, another minute or two. Take the pan off the heat, add the butter, and stir again to melt the butter and incorporate it with the spinach. Transfer the spinach with all of the garlic pieces to a serving bowl or bowls.

Serves 2

Slipping Leeks into the Skillet: “Sweat” first, then Sauté

Like Peter Rabbit sneaking into Mr. McGregor’s vegetable patch, I tiptoed into a friend’s garden yesterday and heisted some leeks. I didn’t get caught, and it was pretty thrilling, so, I don’t know, I may turn into a petty criminal.

Seriously, I sort of had permission for this particular heist. When my friend left the Island late last fall to spend the winter in California, he implored me to help myself to any garden stragglers. I stopped occasionally for some lettuce and other greens, then forgot all about the garden until yesterday, when I drove past it on my way to pick up some fresh eggs at a nearby farm. I looked out the window and couldn’t believe what I saw—a row of green leafy leek tops sticking out of the grey, crackly earth. What a courageous vegetable, I thought, to brave the winter we’ve had—the winter of a gazillion snowflakes and a billion rain drops, the winter of anemometer-breaking winds, beach-busting surf, and canceled ferries. I couldn’t just leave the leeks there—or not all of them, anyway. They deserved to be cooked. So I dug up a few, and oh, how good it felt to harvest a vegetable. Who says nothing’s in season in March?  (I hear that parsnips are even better after a long winter.)

I took my leeks home, sliced them up, rinsed them well, and treated them to a luxurious buttery, steamy, simmer in a skillet until they were soft and most of the moisture had evaporated. Then I kept cooking them a bit until they were lightly browned. (Leeks like to be “sweated” in a little liquid before they’re sautéed. They give off a slightly sticky substance that can cause them to stick to the pan or cook unevenly if they’re not started off with enough fat or liquid.) Next, I folded in a few handfuls of fresh spinach, tossed in a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves, and added just a tablespoon of heavy cream to give the dish some body. Off the heat, I grated in a tiny bit of Parmigiano. What I wound up with was the perfect “bed” for a juicy steak, a grilled lamb chop, or a piece of grilled fish. This is a pretty richly flavored side dish, so a little goes a long way.  You can use some at dinner time and do as I did this morning—add the rest to an omelet. Delicious. It would be a great pizza or crostini topping, too.

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A Bed of Buttery Leeks & Spinach

3 medium leeks, white and lightest green parts (about 8 ounces)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste

2 cups (packed) washed and stemmed fresh spinach leaves, torn into smaller pieces if large (about 2 ½ ounces)

1 teaspoon lightly chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon heavy cream

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)

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Trim the ends from the leeks. Slice the leeks across into thin rings (about 1/8-inch thick), discarding any woody stem in the center. Put the sliced leeks in a bowl and cover them with tepid water. Swish them around a bit and let them sit. Lift the leeks out of the bowl and transfer to a colander. Drain and rinse the sand from the bowl, return the leeks to the bowl, and cover again with tepid water. Lift, drain and repeat one more time, leaving the leeks in the water the last time.

Heat the 2 tablespoons butter in a medium non-stick skillet over medium-low heat.  Lift the leeks out of the water and add them to the pan with whatever water is clinging to them. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are limp and all of the liquid has evaporated, 10 to 12 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks are very lightly golden brown, another 3 to 5 minutes. Add the spinach leaves and a pinch of salt and fold or stir them in with the leeks until they are wilted, about 1 minute. Add the fresh thyme and the cream and remove the pan from the heat. Gently stir until the cream is mostly absorbed into the dish and the thyme is well-distributed. Stir in the Parmigiano, if using. Taste for salt and serve warm.

Serves 2 as a side dish, 2 to 3 as a “bed” for fish, chicken, or beef