Tag Archives: spinach

ZUCCHINI AND SPINACH UN-QUICHE

We are entering our third week of unpacking. We had thought that by now we would be able to have Carol and her family over for our alternating family Sunday dinner. Unfortunately that was not to be although our kitchen is in good enough order to do some cooking. This week I was scheduled to make the main dish and sides. Carol was scheduled to make appetizers and dessert. The modified modified plan was for me to cook in our kitchen and then take it to Carol’s house for the dinner.

Carol made some outstanding appetizers and a delicious bread pudding (I forgot to make the promised whiskey sauce, but not to worry – there was whipped cream and/or ice cream to substitute.) Carol calls the appetizers puff pastry pinwheels. She had two kinds: pesto and sun-dried tomato. She says that the family’s favorite is prosciutto. It would have to be great to beat the two that she baked. Her bread pudding was made from an extra Christmas panettone augmented with chocolate and raisins.

Puff pastry pinwheels

Puff pastry pinwheels

For the main dish I roasted a whole chicken along with Hasselbach potatoes.  The challenge was the green vegetable. This time of year you can always find broccoli, broccolini, and green beans, but for me they have worn out their welcome. I know that summer squash is out of season, but in Southern California everything seems to be in season all year long. Unfortunately zucchini often cooks up watery with not much color. I decided to combine it with another watery vegetable but with more color: spinach. And mushrooms. Cheese and mushrooms sounded like good additions, and suddenly you have the makings of a quiche. The crust was definitely too much effort and too filling for a side dish, but the stand-alone filling sounded good.

Here’s the whole menu – puff pastry pinwheels, roast chicken, Hasselbach potatoes,  zucchini-spinach un-quiche, and panettone bread pudding.

RECIPE

Zucchini and Spinach Un-Quiche

Ingredients

  • 3 medium zucchini
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 generous handfuls, more or less, fresh baby spinach
  • 5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Pernod
  • 2 ounces Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup panko
  • ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Method

  1. Wash the zucchini and cut off the stems. Grate with the coarse side of a box grater. In a clean towel or with clean hands, squeeze as much liquid as you can from the grated zucchini.
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the grated squash and sauté until the squash gives up its liquid. Then add the spinach and cook until the leaves are completely wilted and they have given up their liquid. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add Pernod
  3. Transfer the mixture to a strainer. Drain. Use a heavy spoon to press out as much moisture as you can. Place in a well-buttered 2 quart baking dish or soufflé bowl.  Top with grated Swiss cheese.
  4. Combine the well-beaten eggs and cream. Add a little bit more salt and pepper. Pour over the zucchini/spinach mixture and stir until well combined. Sprinkle the top with panko and grated Parmesan cheese. Dot with butter.
  5. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 hour or until bubbling and well-browned. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, and serve while still warm.

Cook’s Notes

  • The casserole will deflate as it cools. It will not reinflate with reheating, but it will still taste good if it is rewarmed.
  • You can turn this into quiche by baking it in a blind-baked pie shell at the same temperature for the same time.
  • You can turn it into a soufflé by separating the eggs, combining yolks with the cream, and gently folding in the stiffly-beaten egg whites. Use the same time and temperature.

 

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BOXED MACARONI DINNER INCOGNITO

Some time ago I wrote about James Kraft and his invention of Velveeta processed cheese food. His small company morphed into a giant food manufacturer that has been responsible for some of the inventions that have made American cuisine what it is. Those inventions include Miracle Whip salad dressing, Cheez Whiz, Parkay margarine,  and arguably the most famous of all, the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner that came into being in 1937.

Since then, there is probably not a single American child who has not had boxed macaroni and cheese. In fact, in our family it is a child’s favorite that is often preferred to Mom’s carefully crafted (no pun intended) macaroni and cheese made from the finest ingredients. The good news is that children’s tastes change as they grow older.

Recognizing the appeal of boxed macaroni and cheese dinners with kids, some time back when we were watching over some of our grandchildren for several days, I bought a box but wound up not using it. It came home with us and has been residing in our pantry for awhile (It is virtually indestructible and will probably last forever, along with my box of Velveeta). It has become a bit of an embarrassment, so when I was reorganizing the pantry a while back, I decided to use it with the sub-plot of disguising it so much that it would fool an adult.

Well, it turned out to be pretty well disguised, but sorry to say, you will not be fooled. Still it was a pleasant diversion and something that went ok with soy-sauce-and-lemon-vinaigrette-braised flounder.

 

RECIPE

Boxed Macaroni Dinner Incognito

Ingredients

  • 1 7.25-ounce package of Kraft macaroni and cheese dinner
  • 1 10-ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 teaspoon Pernod (optional)
  • 5 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (doesn’t need to be EVOO)
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup panko
  • 1 ounce Parmesan, grated
  • butter to dot the top of the casserole

Method

  1. Prepare the macaroni and cheese dinner according to instructions on the box. Pour the finished dinner into a bowl and set aside.
  2. With your hands, squeeze as much water out of the thawed spinach as you can. Chop finely.
  3. Saute the mushrooms over medium heat in the olive oil. Drain.
  4. Combine the spinach and mushrooms with the prepared dinner. Stir in Pernod to your taste, but be careful as it can be overpowering if used too liberally)
  5. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper
  6. Top with panko and grated Parmesan. Dot with butter.
  7. Bake in the middle of a 350° F (177° C) oven for 40 minutes or until the top is browned and bubbling. Serve.

 

 

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SANTORINI AND SPANAKOPITA

The ship sailed into the harbor at Santorini just as the dawn broke over the Aegean Sea. We were surrounded by mountaintops glistening a blazing white. Snow, I thought. In the Mediterranean? Impossible. And then I realized that the villages of Santorini were perched on the peaks surrounding us, washed an incredible white, and glued to the impossibly steep slopes all the way to the harbor below. No wonder so many tour guides call Santorini the best island escape in the world.

The islands have been populated for thousands of years, but they have also been the scene of unthinkable human disasters. Even from a ship, it is clear that the villages have been built upon the remaining walls of an ancient volcano, and that the harbor nestled in the ring of islands is the caldera of that volcano.

Minoan culture once thrived on the islands, not that of the capital in Crete, but clearly more than just an outpost. Ancient ruins have been excavated showing vivid wall paintings, impressive buildings, and a thriving population center. All of that came to an abrupt end in about 1600 BCE when the volcano exploded with one of the largest flows of smoke, lava, and ash during historical times. Crops failed in China because of the explosion, and the civilization on Santorini was annihilated. The islands remained uninhabited for hundreds of years. Some believe that the disaster is the source of the legend of Atlantis.

There have been other eruptions over the centuries, and seismic and volcanic activities have been recorded in recent years. Still the inhabitants seem oblivious to all of this, and the visitor is soon caught up in the apparent tranquility of the scene.

The sands of the popular beaches may be red or black or white depending upon the color of the volcanic layer from which they come. The environment is that of a desert with desert plants and no natural sources of water except the rains. Some of the buildings are painted in pastel shades, but the great majority are whitewashed with bold blue trim. Churches are everywhere, and their vivid blue roofs meet the clear blue of the cloudless skies. Narrow streets weave along the crests of the hills. Everyone seems to relax in a casual stroll.

Our  visit ended with a ride down the cable car with a panoramic view of the harbor down below. It is easy to see why many Greeks as well as celebrities have chosen Santorini as a quiet getaway.

 

SPANAKOPITA

More than forty years ago when we lived in Salt Lake City, Susan was well-known amongst our friends for one of her hors d’oeuvres which she served with drinks. The recipe came from the local Junior League’s Heritage Cookbook and was called “crab triangles”. The dish was equally popular when we moved to Shreveport. It called for flaked crab meat, cream cheese, phyllo dough, and butter. At the time, neither of us knew that the triangles were a riff on the Greek treats, tyropitas (phyllo triangles filled with cheese) or spanakopita (phyllo triangles filled with spinach and cheese)

The following recipe is not necessarily authentic (every Greek family has its own recipe so, what, after all, is really “authentic”?) But it’s pretty close to the real thing, and it is good enough that you probably will not have any leftovers. It uses frozen phyllo dough which usually comes in a 1 pound box containing two separate rolls of 20 leaves of dough in each roll. Be sure to read the label.

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter
  • 1 roll (½ pound) phyllo dough thawed according to instructions
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 9 ounce package of pre-washed spinach, chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ teaspoon Pernod
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper

Method

  • Prepare clarified butter by melting butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Skim off the foam that rises to the top. Let milk solids settle to the bottom of the pan. Then pour the skimmed butter slowly into a glass measuring cup, being careful not to pour the milk solids into the cup. Set aside the clarified butter in a warm, not hot, place.
  • Heat a medium frying pan over a medium-low flame. Add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, stir in the shallots and cook until wilted and translucent. Do not brown.
  • Add the chopped spinach, cover, and cook until the spinach is wilted. Add the wine and Pernod. Cook until the mixture has given up most of its moisture and is dry. Do not brown or allow to burn. Cool for 5 minutes.
  • Combine spinach mixture, feta cheese, eggs, and Parmesan. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.
 

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CLAM, MUSHROOM AND SPINACH STUFFED CONCHIGLIONI

Pasta shaped like great big shells (conchiglioni) has always intrigued me, because those shells are just begging to be stuffed with something. The little ones are good, too, because they hold sauce in a hot dish or dressing in a pasta salad. But the big ones can hold any kind of stuffing you can think of.

Conchiglioni

A box of conchiglioni caught my eye in the grocery aisle the other day, so I bought one without having a clear idea of what I wanted to make from them. Over several days I flipped through a mental catalog: shrimp, cheese, ham, chicken, ground beef. Nothing seemed exactly right, and then I remembered a can of minced clams that had been sitting in the pantry just waiting for me to make one of my favorites, pasta with clams and white sauce.

Stuffed shells ready for sauce

That seemed like a good beginning, but I was trying to think of something a little different. At last I came up with a plan and decided to make a stuffing of clams, mushrooms, and spinach.

Ready for the oven

Ingredients

  • 12 giant conchiglioni
  • 3 quarts salted water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, washed, trimmed of stems, and chopped coarsely
  • 1 pound crimini mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 6.5 ounces canned minced clams, drained (Reserve clam juice)
  • ½ teaspoon Pernod
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ¾ cup grated Swiss cheese
  • ½ cupgrated Parmesan cheese
  • butter for dotting the top of the casserole

Baked

Method

  • Boil the pasta shells in the boiling salted water until al dente, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside for stuffing.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat,  heat the olive oil until shimmering. Then add the chopped spinach and heat, covered, until wilted.
  • Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through.
  • Then add the clams, Pernod, salt and pepper. Be careful with the Pernod, as too much can be overwhelming.  Reduce the heat to low until ready for stuffing.
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the flour. Stir until thoroughly mixed and cook for 5 minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour. Stir in the clam juice and enough cream to make a thick sauce. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Add water if the sauce is too thick.
  • Arrange the cooked pasta shells in a well-buttered baking dish.
  • Divide the stuffing evenly among the pasta shells. Then top with the sauce, sprinkle with Swiss  and Parmesan cheeses. Dot with butter, and place in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350°F. Bake for 50 minutes or until the top of the casserole is well-browned.  Remove from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then serve.

Ready to serve

Closeup view of the finished dish

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