June 14, 2015 Crustless Spinach, Mushroom and Canadian Bacon Quiche

DSC_3155aConsider a humble little package of frozen chopped spinach, a convenience and a staple in many kitchens, including mine. You might be quite surprised how many cups of fresh spinach it takes to make that 10 ounce brick of frozen. That was the information I was looking for this week.

Our spinach plants are going to seed and it was time to do one last serious pick before pulling them out and getting the space ready for another planting. When picking spinach, especially in the extreme hot weather (95°F) it is important to not use a metal bowl or colander, they will put your freshly picked leaves into immediate wilt that will be hard to revive from.  I prefer using a clear plastic “pebble” bowl, sturdy hard plastic bowls I used in my catering business. I snip off the best leaves with scissors, leaving the plant and damaged leaves behind for the mulch pile. Next, I soak the spinach in a clean sink of cold water. I start the process by swishing the leaves around in the sink. I let them sit for a few minutes, the spinach will float to the top, and the dirt and debris will sink to the bottom.  Then I gently lift out the leaves and transfer them to a colander. I will repeat the process again to be sure all the dirt is removed. I refrigerated the spinach in the large bowls with some plastic wrap draped over the top.

Now it was time to find ways to use up this bounty.  Spinach is a powerhouse of nutrition, low in calories, a rich source of iron, vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, calcium and magnesium. End of the season spinach is still very good, but not necessarily something you would want to use in a salad. So I was on the hunt for recipes with cooked spinach. Frittata, quiche, spanakopita, all good choices but many recipes just call for that ubiquitous ten ounce package of frozen spinach. I needed to find the conversions to take that very large bowl to the amount of cooked spinach I needed.

Spinach is 90% water in composition and when cooked, 1 pound of fresh spinach is equivalent to 10 to 12 cups and will cook down to 1 cup. One 10-ounce package of frozen spinach is the equivalent of 1 1/2 pounds of fresh spinach or about 15-18 cups of spinach. In my pictures you will see a before and after of the spinach. To reduce it, I cooked the spinach in a 10″ sauté pan using just the water that clung to the leaves. Then I drained it thoroughly in a fine mesh colander, squeezed it dry and chopped it roughly.

My efforts paid off. With the spinach I picked, I was able to make all three, frittata, quiche and spanakopita. This quiche can be put together in minutes since the most time consuming part is eliminated, making the crust.  I added some sauteed sliced mushrooms and Canadian bacon. In case you didn’t know, American bacon comes from the fatty belly of the pig and Canadian bacon is cut from the loin.  Of course a 10 ounce package of frozen spinach can be substituted in this recipe. It makes a nice breakfast or light lunch and reheats well the next day.

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Fifteen to eighteen cups of fresh spinach.
Cooks down to this!
Cooks down to this!

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Crustless Spinach and Canadian Bacon Quiche

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1c finely chopped onion
  • 1c sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1T vegetable oil
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach or 1½c cooked and chopped fresh spinach
  • 2/3c finely chopped Canadian bacon
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3c shredded swiss cheese (other cheeses will work too like cheddar or Monterey Jack)
  • 1/8t freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. In a large skillet, sauté onion and mushrooms in oil until tender.
  2. Add spinach and ham, cook and stir until the excess moisture is evaporated.  Cool slightly.
  3. Beat eggs, add cheese and mix well. Stir in spinach mixture and season with pepper; blend well.
  4. Spread evenly into a greased 9-inch pie plate or quiche dish.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 40 to 45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

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June 10, 2015 Arugula, Strawberry, Snow Pea and Radish Salad

DSC_2927aJune’s warm temperatures are making an appearance again this week, but technically it’s still spring until the 21st. This end of spring salad brings together four elements that are a part of the early June gardens in our area. All salad greens love the cooler temperatures of spring and arugula is no exception. We have been enjoying pea shoots for several weeks now and the peas started making their appearance last week. They  will probably only last to the end of this month when warmer temperatures will cause the vines to die off.

I just harvested our most currant crop of radishes, another vegetable that doesn’t like mid summer heat.  At my request, Joe planted a strawberry bed this spring.  In fact, some of the plants are already flowering. He has removed the flowers from these ambitious plants to give them time to establish themselves before producing fruit.  So there is a good chance that the plants that bear two times in a season will produce their first strawberries late in the summer.

A strawberry vinaigrette is the perfect accompaniment for this salad. I chose a strawberry balsamic vinegar from The Tubby Olive, a store that is always inspiring new salad combinations for me. For the dressing I combined garlic, shallot, Dijon mustard, strawberry balsamic, just a touch of honey and a good extra virgin olive oil. When making a salad be sure to use a bowl that gives you plenty of room to combine the ingredients.  I start by tossing the greens first with dressing to coat them lightly and then add some of the other components and toss again. I leave the rest to top the salad with, this ensures the last person who is served doesn’t get all the heavier ingredients that end up in the bottom of the bowl.

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Arugula Strawberry Snow Pea and Radish Salad

Serves two

Ingredients

For the dressing

  • 1t finely minced garlic
  • 3T minced shallot
  • 1t Dijon mustard
  • 3T Strawberry balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4t honey
  • 1/4c extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad

  • 4-5 cups of arugula, washed and trimmed
  • 1c strawberries, stemmed and sliced in half
  • 1c snow peas, strings removed, lightly steamed
  • 1c radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4c slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  • 2-3 slices of prosciutto, crisped in a non stick pan
  • 1/4c creamy feta, crumbled
  • Freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together until evenly combined. Taste and adjust if necessary. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.
  2. Place the salad greens in a large bowl and toss with some of the vinaigrette and taste. Add about half of the other ingredients, toss again, adding more of the dressing if necessary. Top the salad with the remaining ingredients. Season each portion to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Reserve remaining vinaigrette for a later use.

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Our new strawberry patch. They need to be “nipped in the bud” to produce stronger plants.
Joe will plant more arugula in the fall.
Joe will plant more arugula in the fall.

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June 6, 2015 Spinach and Chickpea Curry

DSC_2863aStill on the hunt for spinach themed dishes, I found this recipe for Spinach and Chickpea Curry in Fine Cooking. It is similar to a northern Indian dish called palak  chole, palak being the Punjabi word for spinach and chole the word for chickpea. The dish can be made in no time at all with some basic pantry ingredients.

Curry powder, a staple in many kitchens, is not a single spice like basil or oregano but a combination of ingredients and will vary by region and country. Most curry powder recipes include coriander, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, ground ginger and mustard seed. To add to the confusion, there is also a curry plant that is supposed to smell like curry and a curry leaf plant. The leaves of the curry leaf plant are used mostly in the cooking of southern India.  The leaves look like small bay leaves but are edible and have a lime-lemony taste.

Garam masala is the other spice blend in this dish. Garam is the Indian word for warm or hot and masala is a mixture of spices. Garam masala is a blend of dry roasted ground spices from northern India. Dry roasting adds to the complexity of garam masala and it is not as hot and spicy as other blends. It may contain up to 12 spices including black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, cardamom, dried chilis, mace, nutmeg and other spices.  As with all spice blends they should be kept in a cool dark cabinet and have a shelf life of about six months.

Saute onion, ginger, spice blends and cayenne over medium high heat. The fragrance is absolutely intoxicating. Stir in drained and rinsed chickpeas, canned diced tomatoes and a little kosher salt. Next, add handfuls of spinach, stirring to wilt as you go. The recipe calls for baby spinach but I used garden spinach that I cut down to size and removed large ribs and stems from. This was a dish that came together in less than an hour, and that including picking, washing and trimming the spinach. Serve garnished with cilantro and some plain yogurt to stir in if you choose. Next time I think I will make some naan to sop up the juices. Leftovers are fabulous, that is, if you have them.  This dish was so good, it was requested two days in a row.

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Spinach and Chickpea Curry

Ingredients

  • 3T canola oil
  • 1/4c chopped red onion
  • 2T finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1T curry powder
  • 1t garam masala
  • 1/8t cayenne pepper
  • 1 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14½oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1¼t kosher salt plus additional for final seasoning
  • 7-8c fresh spinach, torn into 1″ pieces
  • ¼c chopped cilantro
  • Plain Greek style yogurt for serving

Directions

  1. Heat canola oil in a 12″ sauté pan over medium high heat. Add onion, ginger, curry powder, garam masala and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring often until the onion is softened, 2-3 minutes.
  2. Stir in one can of drained and rinsed chickpeas, one can of diced tomatoes and 1¼t salt.
  3. Add spinach by the handful, stirring to wilt as you go. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the spinach is completely wilted and the flavors have melded, 4 to 5 minutes more. Season to taste with more salt. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in ¼c cilantro.
  4. Spoon onto a platter and serve with Greek yogurt for dolloping on top.
The curry leaf plant.
The curry leaf plant.

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June 2, 2015 Spinach, Sun Dried Tomato and Feta Frittata

DSC_2848aI was looking for a different way to use some of our abundance of spinach and decided a frittata would be a good choice. Frittata is the Italian name for a flat open faced omelet. They are quick to make and can be enjoyed warm or at room temperature, not only just for breakfast, but at lunch and dinner as well.  In the late Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook, she delineates three distinctions between the omelet and the frittata.

  • An omelet is cooked briefly over high heat, a frittata is cooked slowly over low heat.
  • An omelet is creamy and moist, just short of runny. A frittata is formed and set, although by no means, stiff and dry.
  • An omelet is rolled or folded over into an oval tapered shape. Frittatas are flat and perfectly round.

This recipe’s framework came from a recipe on the Cooks Illustrated website. It called for a dozen eggs and just a few tablespoons of half and half to add some creaminess. The original recipe was for a frittata with broccoli rabe, sun dried tomatoes and fontina cheese. I substituted four cups of lightly packed spinach with the large stems and ribs removed for the rabe. The spinach was just picked and washed so I was able to cook it down quickly with just the water that clung to the leaves, so very little oil was needed in the pan. I substituted my favorite French feta for the fontina, since spinach and feta are such a good combination. The sun dried tomatoes called for in the original recipe were oil packed. The sun dried tomatoes I used were ones I made last summer with Sun Gold tomatoes from the garden. They just needed to be reconstituted in some warm water for about ten minutes to bring them back to life. I was surprised (and pleased) that the skin came off in the process. I chopped them roughly before adding them to the frittata.

A heavy bottomed oven safe non stick skillet is absolutely necessary to make the frittata. Before you proceed with the recipe be sure the skillet fits comfortably under the broiler without a great deal of maneuvering. The handle on my skillet was a bit high and made getting it in and out of the oven quite challenging. Have thick potholders at the ready so you don’t burn your fingers pulling the pan out of the oven. Once out, leave the potholder over the handle to remind yourself the pan is still hot. Use a spatula to loosen the frittata from the pan and transfer to a platter or cutting board. Of course, there are countless variations of the frittata and as the season moves on my add-ins will change.  Whatever you put in yours, it’s a great quick weeknight supper to serve alongside a simple green salad.

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Spinach, just a few weeks ago.
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That same spinach a few days ago.

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Spinach, Sun Dried Tomato and Feta Frittata

Makes one 12″ frittata

Ingredients

  • 12 large eggs
  • 3 T half and half
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 c loosely packed spinach, large ribs and stems removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/8t red pepper flakes
  • 3/4c lightly crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4c coarsely chopped sun dried tomatoes

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Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to upper middle position, about 5 inches away from the heating element. Heat broiler.
  2. Whisk eggs, half and half, ½t salt and ¼t freshly ground pepper in a medium bowl until well combined, about 30 seconds. Set eggs aside.
  3. Heat oil in a 12-inch non stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering; add spinach and cook until it wilts, about 1 minute. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir crumbled Feta and sun dried tomatoes into eggs; add egg mixture to skillet and cook, using spatula to stir and scrape bottom of skillet, until large curds form and spatula begins to leave wake but eggs are still very wet, about 2 minutes. Shake skillet to distribute eggs evenly, cook without stirring for 30 seconds to allow the bottom to set.
  4. Slide skillet under broiler and broil until frittata has risen and surface is puffed and spotty brown, 3 to 4 minutes; when cut into with a paring knife the eggs should still be slightly wet. Remove skillet from oven and let stand 5 minutes to finish cooking; using spatula, loosen frittata from skillet and slide onto platter or cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve.

 

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