Posts Tagged ‘hortapita’

Vegetable dinners: add an egg! and notes on feeding chickens


Like the British cookbook writer Nigella Lawson, I am both greedy and lazy, so I’m full of timesaving tricks for making real food in a hurry. Now if I also looked like her, that would be nice, but two out of three isn’t bad. One of my favorite time-saving tricks is to make a small batch of yeast dough and stick it in the refrigerator with no clear idea what I’ll use it for. Most recently, I used it to make a variation on a hortapita, filled with mixed greens. Since my chickens have started to lay, I decided to incorporate eggs. This isn’t really a recipe. This is the sort of thing you throw together by instinct on days when you need the comfort of the kitchen but if you think too much more, your brain will break.

If you don’t happen to keep dough hanging around, you can use ready-made pizza dough from the Co-op, but making your own is a cinch. My basic recipe is 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast, and 2 teaspoons salt. Mix together, knead on a floured surface for five minutes, form into a ball, pop it into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap, and set in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. On the second or third day, take the bowl out before you leave for work and leave it at room temp for the day. When you come home, it will be ready to use for a homemade pizza or hortapita.
Besides the dough, you will need:
about a pound of mixed greens OR a pound of frozen organic spinach and a handful or two of stronger-flavored greens or herbs to give flavor.
an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic
a packed cup of crumbled feta or shredded parmesan or some flavorful but not stinky cheese. Idiazabal, mild cheddar, or mild gouda would all be reasonable. I used Idiazabal because I usually have some around.
3-4 eggs
some olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425.
For the filling, I took a major shortcut and started with a pound of frozen organic spinach. Then I picked some very mature arugula from the yard to give it that wild strong flavor, but since 6 or 7 big leaves will do the trick, the cleaning time was about 5 minutes for the greens. If I didn’t have arugula in my yard, I’d just chop up a small bunch of parsley or the tops of a few green onions for a different but equally “green” flavor. Chop and saute an onion in olive oil, remembering to stir frequently. Between stirs, shred the arugula or whatever you have into chiffonade and put it in a nonmetal mixing bowl with the frozen spinach. Microwave the mixture on high for two minutes. There may still be some frozen chunks of spinach. Ignore them. Squeeze the mixture over the sink, handful by handful, to get out as much moisture as you can, and return the dry greens to the bowl. At this point the onion should be cooked. Add a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, saute until the garlic is cooked, and add to the greens in the bowl. Add the cheese, toss all together with your hands, and taste. It may need some salt, will surely need some freshly ground pepper, and may cry out for a little thyme (to me, most foods cry out for a little thyme, and so there should always be some in a pot somewhere or in the refrigerator.)
On a large baking sheet, smear around some olive oil and dump the dough on top. Pat it out with your hands, using vigorous stroking motions to spread it out into a big oval without tearing it. When it is about 1/4 inch thick and nearly as large as the pan, pile the greens mixture on half of it and make 3 or 4 depressions in the greens. Crack an egg into each depression, salt the eggs lightly, and fold the other half of the dough over the top and pinch the edges together. Smear a little more olive oil over the surface and stick in the hot oven until done, somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Eat with the knowledge that a tough day didn’t get you down. A glass of good strong red wine will help give you the wherewithal to face tomorrow. If you have just a little more energy and half a bunch of parsley, pound a clove of garlic, the parsley chopped, and the juice of half a lemon in your faithful big mortar and pestle. When somewhat pulverized, add enough of your best olive oil to make a chunky puree and salt to taste. I love this simple sauce/dressing/relish beside almost any vegetable or egg dish, but it’s especially good for bringing a makeshift hortapita to life. If you don’t have a big mortar and pestle yet, a food processor is okay.

My eggs come out of my back yard now, and I give a fair amount of thought to feeding my chickens. If you want your eggs to be highly nutritious, you have to give the chickens the nutrients to make good eggs. For maximum security from predators my coop is fixed and nonmobile, so I cut grass and clover from the yard daily to supplement the laying mash. All the vegetable trimmings from garden and kitchen prep go to them, too. Any pumpkin or squash “innards” go to them so that they can eat the seeds. The chickens get oystershell for calcium, and they get any nutritious table scraps that would otherwise be wasted. For example, they will happily devour leftover salad, for which there is no other use, and rice or stale bread or bulgur are right up their alley. If I have leftover oatmeal or yogurt, they wolf it down. Now that we’ve had several frosts there aren’t many green things left in the yard, so I give the chickens some flaxseed every day to keep the omega-3 content of their eggs up (this is how the commercial high-omega 3 eggs are produced.) Flaxseed is expensive, so rather than give it to them dry and permit it to be scratched around and wasted, I mix it into yogurt or chopped vegetable scraps to make a slurry that they can eat out of a small dish.
I also feed their own eggshells back to them for calcium, but I never just throw the shells into the coop, because this trains them to eat their own eggs (yes, healthy chickens with lots of room and food will eat their own eggs if they learn how, and once a flock has learned to eat eggs there’s no good way to stop them.) I set the shells on a plate and microwave them for one minute to dry them thoroughly, then let them cool and set them aside in a bag. When I’ve accumulated a dozen or so, I crumble them roughly by hand and then put them in the blender and grind them to a coarse powder. The powder is added to yogurt or leftover oatmeal and stirred in well. The chickens gobble it up and it helps them make strong eggshells.

The Greens of Spring: Scorzonera and Chicories

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If all the greens you grow are sweet mild greens, your greens dishes will be bland. You need some vigor and some bitterness to make a hortapita or other mixed greens dish come alive. Chicories are a large, drought-tolerant, highly adaptable family well worth getting to know. Our local company Gourmet Seeds in Tatum, New Mexico has the most comprehensive selection I’ve come across. I bought my seed from them last year, and haven’t had to replant. Above, you can see what radicchio looks like in early life. I plant mine in late summer, harvest a small but usable head in late fall, ands take care not to harm the crown of the plant when I cut it for use. If the root and crown are left in place, next April they will look like “earth roses” as you see above. Cut the outer leaves for cooking. Taste before use, and if they’re very bitter blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes and drain well before cooking further in whatever way you choose. Otherwise, when concentrated by cooking, they will be more bitter than you want. Some people like even the outer leaves in salads. Taste before serving. See my “greens” and “recipe” categories for some dishes made with mixed blanched greens, including the hortapita post, which is a great way to eat a lot of greens and enjoy it.
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This is the chicory usually sold as “dandelion” in grocery stores. Cut the leaves until May or June; keep taking nibbles raw befre cutting, and when they go from pleasantly bitter to unpleasantly bitter, stop cutting or blanch before use. When very young, they’re good in salads. If allowed to go to seed, they’ll get 4 feet tall and seed themselves all over your garden. If this is not what you want, keep cutting back the stalks before they flower.
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I planted scorzonera for the roots, but found that I wasn’t wowed by them. I left the remaining plants in place, and harvest a nice bunch of mild cooking greens from each plant every spring. After one good cutting, I leave them alone for the year. I’ve read that they can be used in salads, but to my tooth they’reĀ  too tough to use uncooked. They require no care and are very drought-tolerant. I prefer to mix them with stronger-flavored greens like chicories, and providentially, they’re harvestable at the same time. Vegetables that come up perennially with no fuss are too good to ignore.
For more about greens, see my “greens” and “herbs” pages on my website.

The Greens of Spring: Hortapitas

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We’re eating meatless until Easter, and with an active vegetable garden that’s no hardship. This is a great time of year for greens, and one of my favorite ways to eat a lot of greens is in a hortapita, or borek, a wild-greens pie found under various names throughout the Mediterranean. For a complete and scholarly exploration of the borek, see Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Grains and Greens, which is full of delicious recipes. My own method is rough and unscholarly (surprise!) , but produces tasty greens pies thoughout the season with a minimum of fuss.
First, catch your greens. You need somewhere between 1.5 and 2 pounds of them. My most recent borek was made with chard, nettles, bolted arugula, mustard greens, chicory, green onions, and herbs because that’s what I had a lot of at the moment. I try for a ratio of about half strong-flavored and half mild-flavored greens, but many people may prefer more mild greens. Chard and nettles are mild, while mustard, chicory, and bolted arugula are strong-tasting, so I was careful not to let strong exceed mild in bulk. If you’re buying your greens, a bunch each of chard, dandelion (which is actually chicory) and some zippy green like aruguloa or watercress should come out to the right amount. For flavoring, fennel fronds are a necessity in my book. A handful of the nonbulbing kind, or two handfuls of the relatively weak-flavored fronds of bulb fennel, plus a handful of parsley is always a good start. If you can’t get fennel fronds, use a small handful of dill. Then add other herbs to taste. A tablespoon each of thyme leaves and oregano leaves is my go-to addition, but savory, marjoram, shallot greens, sage (in very small quantities) and tarragon are all possibilities. Just make sure to taste the finished greens mixture carefully for any needed adjustments.
First, chop 2-4 cloves of garlic depending on your taste for garlic, and the white parts of 6-7 green onions (chop the green parts separately and reserve them for later.) Saute the garlic and onion bottoms over low/medium heat in olive oil (about a quarter cup) in a very large skillet or a large flat-bottomed saucepan. Meanwhile, lay all your well-washed greens on a cutting board, one bundle or large handful at a time, and slice them crosswise into thin strips. When the garlic is cooked but not colored at all, add the greens. It will make a huge pile, and this is why you need a big skillet. Continue to cook, turning every few minutes, until the greens are thoroughly wilted. Now add the herbs, finely chopped, and the chopped onion greens. Cook and stir for another few minutes. Now remove from the heat, and either proceed with your borek or refrigerate until later. You can keep the greens mixture for up to two days refrigerated.
When you’re ready to proceed, thaw a package of phyllo pastry and put some olive oil in a bowl at your workspace. Keep the phyllo covered with a barely-damp towel when you aren’t working with it. Taste your greens mixture, salt to taste, add a few more herbs if needed, and decide whether you want to add cheese. Crumbled feta is good, as is nearly any grated cheese if it has no added flavorings. Consult Ms. Wolfert if you are a stickler for authenticity. If not, think about what would taste good to you. Some grated Parmesan is a completely inauthentic addition, but quite delicious. The amount to be added depends on the flavor of the cheese. Add a little to the greens, mix in well, taste, add a little more, taste again. No set amount will work, since you’ll be using a different greens mixture every time you make this dish. If you prefer not to add cheese, a handful of toasted pine nuts is very tasty.
Lay out one sheet on a large baking sheet, brush it lightly with olive oil, lay another sheet on top, brush with oil, repeat. When you have six sheets in place, put the greens mixture in the center and spread it out until it’s about an inch thick. Turn the excess phyllo around the sides over the top. Now brush another sheet with oil, roughly fold it in half, and layer it over the top. Continue until your top “crust” is six layers thick, and tuck the overhang under the edges of the borek. Bake at 350 degrees until gold and crisp on top. Eat hot, warm, or at room temperature. A little bowl of Lemon Oregano Jam, which will be posted soon on my recipe page, is a lovely addition and freshens the flavor wonderfully.
The variations are endless: bread dough crust rather than pastry, different greens, different herbs, different cheeses, and additions of cooked grains like bulgur are all possibilities. I recommend against adding very strong-flavored greens like kale or turnip greens, but if you’re very fond of those greens, be my guest. Green leafy vegetables are among the very healthiest foods that you can eat, packed full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and anything that induces you to eat more of them is on the side of the angels.
For more about greens for hortapitas, click here!