Herb Pie


Herb PieThis recipe is a play on familiar spanakopita, made with spinach Whenever I have made spanakopita in the past, I made it from a recipe-driven point of view, buying special ingredients from the grocery store and assembling them in specific amounts.  Chock that up to my inexperience, but it never really occurred to me, until now, to make that pie in a free-form way.  As Yotam Ottolenghi describes in his book Jerusalem, this isn’t a recipe to be made from buying little packets of herbs from the store.  This is what you make when you’ve come from a true farmer’s market with unruly heads and bundles of fresh greens and herbs, or, even better, you are growing them yourself and you have so much you need ways to melt them down into savory dishes.  This is additionally a good way to use up bits of delicious cheese.  You pretty much can’t go wrong with the filling proportions and because the filo pastry looks all the better with rustic flourishes and scrunches, that part is worry-free, as well.

In addition to being a delicious way to use an abundance of produce, this is an extremely versatile dish to have on hand this time of year, particularly if you have company.  It is a splendid side dish to any kind of meat you have cooking.  It also makes a comforting breakfast as well as a classy lunch with salad.  It keeps nicely in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Rewarm portions in a 350 degree oven.

Herb Pie

Adapted from Jerusalem

Serves 6

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pastry
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 lbs (about 8 cups) hearty greens (Swiss chard, bok choy, spinach, kale etc…) thick stems separated from leaves, each roughly chopped
  • 1 large bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup mixed fresh herbs and tender greens (parsley, mint, dill, arugula etc…) chopped
  • 4 oz ricotta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 oz other cheese, grated (sharp cheddar, goat cheese etc…)
  • Grated zest of l lemon
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 1/3 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 9 oz filo pastry

Pour olive oil into a large, deep frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute for 8 minutes, without browning.  Add the green stems and continue cooking for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the green leaves, increase the hat to medium-high, and stir as you cook for 4 minutes, until leaves wilt.  Add the green onions, tender greens, and herbs and cook for 2 minutes more.  Remove from the heat and spread the vegetables into a 9′ x 12′ baking pan. Put it into the freezer for about 10 minutes to cool.

Once the mixture is cool, squeeze out a much liquid as you can and transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add the cheeses, lemon zest, eggs, salt, pepper, and sugar and mix well.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lay out a 9′ x 12′ baking dish.  Divide 1/2 packet of filo pastry into two roughly equal portions.  Freeze remainder for another use.  Place a damp dish towel over the sheets.  Pour about 3 tablespoons olive oil into a small bowl.  Dampen your hands with olive oil and pick up a sheet of filo.  Brush your hands over the sheet and then place it into the bottom of the baking dish.  Continue in this way, placing some of the sheets so they overlap the sides of the dish, until 1/2 of the filo packet is used.  Place the filling on top of the pastry and bring sides around it.  Then, continue placing the rest of the filo packet, in the same way as before, on top.  Finally, tuck the filo sheets down around the sides of the pie.

Brush the top generously with olive oil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the center is bubbling and the top is crisped and golden.  Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature.


Rustic Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart

I became enamored with this tomato tart idea several years ago.  It seems to me to be an interesting substitute for the carbohydrate in a meal when you want to make something special, but also slightly rustic.  It works as beautifully with a picnic lunch of pate and salad as it does with a dinner of grilled lamb, which is what we had it with last weekend.  You have to work ahead a little to prepare the puff pastry, but if you have a batch of it in the freezer, it is pretty simple to roll it out, put on the toppings, and bake it off.  I should mention that leftover tomato tart is fabulous for breakfast the next day.

Tomato Tart

Adapted from New Zealand Cuisine, No 157 Mar 2013

For the filling

  • 250g ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 400g cherry or small tomatoes, halved
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • 250g mozzarella, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 tablespoons oregano, chives,  and basil leaves or basil flowers, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.

Roll the pastry out to about 4mm thick, keeping as circular a shape as you can.

Put the pastry on the prepared baking trays and refrigerate for 10 minutes.  Prick all over with a fork.

Put the ricotta and egg in a bowl and mix well to combine.  Spread the mixture over both pieces of pastry, leaving a 1 inch border.  Fold in the borders to form a rim.  Bake for 12 minutes.

Remove from the oven and arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, over the tarts.  Drizzle with a little oil, then bake for a further 10 minutes.

Nestle the torn mozzarella in among the tomatoes, and bake for a further 2 minutes or until starting to melt and slightly browned.

Once removed from the oven, sprinkle with the chopped herbs, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.

Biscuits with Sausage and Espresso Gravy

We were in Portland a couple of weeks ago where we had many great meals, but I guess it was the final meal that stayed in our memories.  It was a breakfast of biscuits with espresso gravy.  I have cooked with coffee grounds before.  I have a great recipe for a coffee-marinated pork loin that continually surprises me by its smokey flavor and the coffee has the same presence in this gravy.

The blog The Chubby Vegetarian published a nice recipe for this breakfast.  I think the vegetarian version also looks fantastic and will try it too, one day, but today, we had some fresh pork sausage to use.  The biscuit recipe is flaky and easy,  I used all butter and the leftover biscuits were quickly finished as shortcakes with some local, ripe strawberries.

Happy Sunday brunch!

3-2-1 Buttermilk Drop Biscuits

Makes 10-12 biscuits

  • 3 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 – 1 1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Using your fingers, cut in the shortening until pieces are no larger than a pea. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the milk. Using a rubber spatula, fold the milk into the dry ingredients — but use as few strokes as possible. The less you stir the dough, the more tender your biscuits will be.

Using a medium ice cream scoop, scoop up a 1/4-cup portion of dough and drop it onto a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all dough has been used. (You should get about a dozen biscuits from this recipe.) Be sure to leave an inch or so between each biscuit, but don’t be too particular about their shape — drop biscuits are supposed to be rustic. Bake for 15 minutes or until the craggy edges are brown and crispy.

Espresso Red-Eye Gravy

2 tablespoon butter
1 lb. bulk pork sausage
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt (to taste)
1/4 cup espresso (or strong coffee)
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon maple syrup

Brown the sausage along with the black pepper, red pepper flakes, and salt (if needed).  Pour off most of the sausage fat, then add the espresso to deglaze the pan. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Push the sausage mixture off to one side of the pan. In the clearing, add the 2 tablespoons of butter. Once it is melted, add the flour and whisk the two together. Allow this mixture to cook for a minute until the flour becomes fragrant. Whisk in the milk and maple syrup. Stir constantly until mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook an additional five minutes until mixture is thick.

A Montana Fourth

Celebrating the Fourth of July, as it should be done, for our family,  revolves around a trip to Montana.  In Montana reside my parents, my sister and her family, and my brother David’s family.  Billings, Montana is also about equidistant between Colorado and Washington which is the spread of my siblings and me.

This brother, David, also happens to own an idyllic box canyon ranch, stocked with Icelandic horses and many other fantasy features of a true western lifestyle.  It is flat-out fun and we love going there, because we love both our family and Montana.

It felt like the extended family made a greater effort than ever to get there this year and one of the things we all said we enjoyed the most about our time together was how we took turns with the meals.  For our part, there was a dinner based on Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk-Fried Chicken that was quite popular, especially with my 23 year old nephew who is living on his own now and really appreciates a home-cooked and free meal.

I also made an Ina Garten plum-apricot crumble to contribute to the Fourth of July barbecue.  This dessert was not-too-sweet, with extra crumb topping, and the plums and apricots bubbled together to form a pleasing pink color.

The main attraction, however, was the breakfast burritos made by my niece, Camilla, and her husband of almost one year, James.  Camilla has struggled with food allergies for many years and has explored cooking with a far greater variety of grains than I ever have.  She owns her own grain mill and for these tortillas ground hard Montana spring wheat, kamut, and spelt.  Camilla and James made and froze the tortillas and the Chili Verde Con Cerdo ahead of time and then cooked the eggs and bacon on the morning of the fourth.  We were absolutely groaning from the deliciousness and it was so much fun to share an interest in food preparation with them.

Breakfast Burritos

Flour Tortillas

  • 4 cups flour (choose any kind of flour such as wheat, kamut, spelt, etc…)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  1. Mix all ingredients until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  2. Take a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and liberally add olive oil.  Place dough in the oiled bag and extract as much of the air as possible before sealing.  Roll dough around in the oiled bag to cover it well then let it sit in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  3. Form dough into golf ball sized portions and lay on a parchment covered baking sheet.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into tortillas.  Heat a dry nonstick skillet to medium heat and cook tortillas on both sides as they are rolled. Stack them on a plate as they come off of the pan and cover the stack with a dry dish towel.

Makes between 12-15 tortillas

Serve with any of the following: scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, cheese, onions, green chilies or potatoes.  Smother with Chili Verde Con Cerdo.  Top with additional grated cheese and sour cream.

Finally, what would a family reunion be without cute little boys playing with kittens and eating ice cream sandwiches?