Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spring = Bountiful Rain and Greens

These are two things you can rely on during spring in Portland - the early crop of greens and the ever-bearing rain. It discourages me a bit to see my freshly-planted tomatoes drowning in a soggy heap. But it pleases me to dart out in between downpours to grab a handful of greens. Here are a couple of adaptable ideas for recipes that would be good with whatever kind of leafy green you have on hand. Chard, kale, mustard greens - they'd all be great in either.

This is a great recipe for brunch. You can prepare it the day before (it actually tastes better if you do). And if you're the least bit creative, there are endless variations with different ingredients (bacon or sausage, mushrooms, peppers etc, etc.). You can't go wrong....

Spring Greens Strata

several bundles of spring greens
1 1/2 c. finely chopped onion (1 large)
3 T unsalted butter
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
8 c. cubed (1 inch) bread, artisan works best (1/2 lb)
6 oz coarsely grated Gruyère, swiss or other favorite white cheese (2 cups)
2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
2 3/4 c. milk
9 large eggs
2 T. Dijon mustard

Blanch greens in boiling salted water and drain.
Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then finely chop, measuring loosely packed to 1 1/2 cups.
Cook onion in butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in spinach, then remove from heat.
Spread one third of bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow ceramic baking dish and top evenly with one third of spinach mixture. Sprinkle with one third of each cheese. Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).
Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata. Chill strata, covered with plastic wrap, at least 8 hours (for bread to absorb custard).
Preheat oven to 350°F. Let strata stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Cooks' note:
• Strata can be chilled up to 1 day. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before baking.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

I particularly like having pesto on hand because you can use for an infinite number of purposes. You can put it on your toast and eggs in the morning for a savory breakfast, or use it as a base for your pizza instead of the usual tomato sauce. It makes an otherwise ordinary sandwich something you can write home to mom about. Don't limit yourself to basil-based pesto. I've made it with parsley, kale, even stinging nettles earlier this spring. All different flavor profiles, but all delicious.

Kale Pesto

2 cups (packed) kale, blanched for 2 minutes first in boiling salted water
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic
good pinch salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the blanched kale, cheese, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a blender or food processor. Puree until fairly smooth, then while the motor is running, drizzle in the olive oil until a smooth, loose paste forms (you can add more olive oil if you like, but I found 1/4 cup to give me the consistency I was looking for.) Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed.

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