Gleaning, Glee and a Gratin of Greens

Every year at the end of the season, our CSA farm allows members to enter the fields to harvest whatever is left, within reason — meaning what your family can reasonably consume, plus a portion collected for a local food bank. If the weather’s good, and this year it was spectacular, it’s wonderful to spend a couple of fall hours in the widespread fields, carefully picking matching leaves of chard or kale, digging up beautiful beets with dark red tops, foraging for the stray head of broccoli or cauliflower, marveling at the red, green and speckled lettuce, snipping parsley, dill, cilantro and celery, and chatting with other gleaners having just as good a time.

Luckily, this pig-out occurs right before Thanksgiving so I start planning our celebratory feast and the surrounding meals right there in the field. This does put a strain on refrigerator space because greens take A LOT of room. If it takes significant self-constraint not to overdo it in the fields (everything’s so beautiful and fresh!), it takes real ingenuity to deal with the haul when I get home. Our new refrigerator is counter-depth so it doesn’t have the cavernous compartment of the old box, and it’s a German machine that demands order (I defied that). However, with the temperature in the low 40s, some things will stay in good shape in buckets on the porch.

This dish is one of my favorite standbys since it is endlessly adaptable to whatever greens you have on hand. It would be called a gratin or a tian when topped with breadcrumbs and cheese, but since we’re going wheat-free and dairy-free at the moment, this one is unadorned even though I left the name intact. The original idea is from a “crust-less greens pie” in Greene on Greens, a 1984 cookbook full of quips and tips on thirty or so types of vegetables. When I read it now, I’m amazed at how much butter and cream Bert Greene used compared to what feels right today. He also cooks his vegetables longer than I do, but then, I mostly get mine straight from the field or farm store so they’re probably younger and fresher. I’m also amazed at how many of his chapters I’ve consulted over the years and how many of his good ideas I have adapted.

I think that using a variety of greens is helpful to the overall consistency and complexity of taste. I typically balance something sturdy like kale (I’ve used just about every type) with more delicate spicy greens such as dandelion, arugula, or even a little mustard, plus herbs like parsley, lovage, dill or basil (use one of last three, not all). Chard also works well but don’t overcook it. I also tend to keep the pieces of kale or chard fairly large since the spicier greens are usually smaller. It’s important to assemble all of the ingredients first.

I often make the greens mixture in advance and store it in the refrigerator so that all I have to do is add the eggs and topping and bake it, making it about 30 minutes to prepare. I also have frozen the mixture with success, but it does need draining when thawed, and a little freshening with herbs.

Gratin of Greens (without or without the bread and cheese)

Approximately 8 cups of greens, preferably a mix, torn or cut into pieces

Approximately ½ cup chopped herbs (parsley plus lovage, dill or basil)

1 red, yellow or orange pepper, chopped  (1/4-inch pieces)

1 medium or 2 small zucchini, grated

1 yellow onion, chopped (1/4-inch pieces)

1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp olive oil

1tbsp butter or vegan spread (like Earth Balance)

3 eggs

Salt and pepper

Optional toppings:

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs (and 1 tbsp olive oil or butter)

½ cup grated cheese (Swiss-type cheese, maybe combined with a little Parmesan)

Prepare all of the ingredients. In a large pot over medium heat, cook the onion in olive oil and butter until softened, add the garlic and stir, then add all of the ingredients other than the eggs, salt and pepper. Cover the pot and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every so often to combine the ingredients. Cooking time will vary depending on the main green (chard melts quickly, kale takes longer). If there is liquid left in the pot, let it cook uncovered for a few minutes to evaporate. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly beat the eggs and stir them into the greens mixture. Pour into a greased ceramic or glass pie plate or gratin dish. If you are topping with breadcrumbs, toast them lightly in a pan with a little butter or oil. Bake for about 25-30 minutes and let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

Categories: Greens, Vegetable gratinTags: ,

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