Green gratin and orange Mars

Special to The CambrianApril 11, 2014 

Tempt your family and friends with a flavorful pan full of kale.

CONSUELO MACEDO

Lately I have had a hankering for all things green, especially after I saw a wonderful presentation of Eating Well magazine’s fresh asparagus pizza with Fontina cheese. I love asparagus, as well as] these other veggies!

Spinach, Leek, and Red Pepper Gratin

2 10-oz. bags of fresh spinach (or 2 pkgs. frozen baby spinach)

3 leeks, well cleaned and sliced thinly

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

Small amount of olive oil or spray

1/4 cup light cream cheese

1/2 cup fat-free half and half

1 tsp. fresh basil (or 1/2 tsp. dried)

Pinch of salt and pepper

2 sweet red peppers, roasted, seeded and peeled; chopped

1 cup grated Mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup Italian flavor dried breadcrumbs (plain are okay)

2 tblsp. grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Spray a 10-inch skillet with Pam or olive oil, and heat over medium flame.

When hot, sauté the leeks about three minutes, then add the garlic for another three minutes. Add spinach and toss until just wilted.

Add cream cheese, half-and-half, basil, salt and pepper (the original also included grated nutmeg.) Stir until the cheese has melted. Add the bell peppers and spoon into a greased 13- by 8-inch casserole (or 1 quart size) Add a layer of mozzarella (I found low sodium at Albertson’s.) Mix bread crumbs and Parmesan and sprinkle atop; bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

I used to think that “gratin” meant that it was made with cheese, as in Grandmother’s scalloped potatoes, but gratin means layered, so the second time I made it for a parish potluck I layered the spinach mix, then cubes of Monterey jack, then sauteed peppers, topped with the Parmesan mixture. Recently I substituted my other favorite, kale, which cooks down more firmly than spinach, and modified the directions to make a quick stir-fry by eliminating the crumbs, cream cheese and half-and-half. The Italian cheeses stirred in at the last made it nice and saucy.

Maria at farmers market gave me extra measure when I purchased a 1-pound bag stuffed with the small curly leaves of kale, which are ready to rinse and prepare, instead of the usual big bunch of stalks. I normally enjoy chopping and shredding when I cook, but cold, damp weather had made my arthritis painful. As illustrated here, I simplified by sautéing them in two pans with equal parts of olive oil and butter, then seasoning with onion salt and coarsely cracked pepper. Cooked down by half and topped with ready to use shredded cheddar, there was plenty to enjoy and share. I love kale!

You also know how much I also love stargazing. Lately I have been observing the moon in all its phases, especially since the movable date for Easter varies by a month. It falls on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Vernal or Spring Equinox. This year we will celebrate on April 20.

When there is no moon (new moon) visible, there is a great view of all our stars, constellations and planets. Jupiter has been big and bold as he sets in the west. You may have noticed Mars by its red or orange tint as he crosses the southern sky, not far from brilliant Arcturus and Spica. Tuesday, April 8, he was “in opposition,” or in a straight-line alignment with earth and the sun. His magnitude rivaled Jupiter and Venus, and he is there to enjoy all month.

Cook’s tip: It’s not too late to contact Marjorie Ott at the Olallieberry Inn about her upcoming class schedules. Monday, April 14, features fresh berries coming into season. Call 927-3222, or email info@olallieberryinn.com.

Consuelo Macedo’s column is special to The Cambrian. It appears on the second, fourth and any fifth Thursdays. Please send recipes and ideas to Consuelo, c/o The Cambrian, 2442 Main St., Cambria CA 93428; or email to cambrian@thetribunenews.com.

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