Two years ago, when we downsized from our big roomy house in Maine to our current perch of a place one town over, one of the many downsizing tasks I had to do involved thinning out my large cookbook collection. At first I was a little overwhelmed losing all my loveys, but once I got started….boom! I was lightened of the burden of how and where to house over 700 books, and have managed to keep the remaining, oh, 200 or so, in three bookcases in Maine, and for good measure, a few dozen in our home in New Hampshire.
One of the books I would never part with is a simple community cookbook from Public School 203, the elementary school my siblings and I had attended in Brooklyn. I was already in high school when this was published. It was part of my mother’s modest collection – (a mere 5 books and a recipe box) which I kept when she passed away while I was in college. During my post-college years when I was really grappling with how and what to cook for me and my new boyfriend/soon to be fiancé/and now husband, I vacillated between this book and Craig Clairborne’s The New York Times Cook Book, originally published in 1961. Which is kind of hilarious when I think of it now, it was like going from one side of the Brooklyn Bridge to the other. Homemade manicotti to mushrooms duxelles (in a future post, I will share the recipe for the manicotti – make your own pasta crepe, just fabulous!).
The cookbook contains the spirit of my Brooklyn neighborhood – many of the recipes from 2nd generation Italian, Jewish, and Irish families, most likely scrawled on index cards and placed in a recipe box similar to my mother’s. And of course, like all community cookbooks from time gone by, it assumes you know how to cook and what the measurement is when a recipe calls for a glassful of milk. Cooking from this book, I am transported back to 1960s Brooklyn, when I knew what everyone on the block was having for dinner by the aromas wafting down the street.
This easy and delicious recipe was one of the first things I made post-college in our little harvest gold kitchen back in Buffalo. Since I’ve been pie-crust challenged from birth, and I feel kind of meh about frozen versions, I have ditched the crust in the original recipe and haven’t missed it. The original recipe calls for farmer’s cheese, a fresh cheese (tastes like well drained cottage cheese) readily available at every Brooklyn grocery and neighborhood appetizing store at that time. Not so much today in Maine. You might have to look for it. One time, I swapped it out for Whole Foods Market’s 365 soft goat cheese. Affordable and tangy. It’s a good substitute, but I still prefer farmer’s cheese, and that’s what I would choose.
In fact, I picked some up recently just to have it on hand even though I didn’t have immediate plans to make this again. Well, that day came and as I’m buzzing through the recipe and ready to mix it together, I open the fridge cheese drawer to grab the farmer’s cheese only to discover that it’s been hacked into by DH. (Dear Husband, remember those days long ago when I was a cooking teacher and everything in the fridge not ordinary was off limits? We are back to those days now that I’m blogging. I love you. Just don’t eat my cheese. Love, Me). Anyway, back to my story — Oh nooooooo…right in the middle of the recipe, but on another look, I found that I had a whole package of feta and clearly I could use some of that. It worked out grand (thank you, DH!) and this is where it’s imperative to own a kitchen scale . I weighed what was left of the farmer’s cheese (13 ounces) and just added 3 ounces of feta to come up with the 16 ounces required. This turned out to be a happy mistake, and I wrote the recipe this way, but if you want, you can just use the whole 16 ounce package of farmer’s cheese and omit the feta. Perhaps you are wondering what to do with a random 3 ounces of farmer’s cheese???? Random cheese is the best cheese, my friend, because that’s what makes a happy cook’s snack! Mix in a bit of thyme, salt and pepper and spread it on a cracker or crostini with a drizzle of olive oil. Deelish.
Lastly, a word about frozen spinach. Just use the block of spinach. Of course, you can use fresh, but I don’t think it will make that much of a difference, and the point here is to create something easy and cook-friendly. Save the fresh for a salad.
This is my first choice for a tasty low-carb addition to a springtime or Easter brunch, as well as an easy supper anytime! Tastes best served very warm, or warm (but heck, I’ve eaten it cold right out of the fridge with the door still open). Just don’t serve it piping hot right out of the oven. I find it needs a 10-15 minute rest on a wire rack to set up a bit before you slice into it. It will still be hot enough, especially since you are leaving it in the pie plate. And, yes you can make it ahead and reheat it, covered with foil at 350 for 10 minutes.
Do you have a favorite community cookbook? Tell me about it!
- 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach
- 4 tablespoons butter (you can reduce it or use olive oil)
- 1 large onion, chopped (1 ½ cups)
- ½ lb. white, crimini or baby bella mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, caps halved and sliced
- 1 – 2 tablespoons cream sherry
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste (see notes)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 3 large eggs
- 13 ounces farmer’s cheese (OR omit the feta below and use 16 ounces farmer’s cheese)
- 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- Cooking oil spray
- Place frozen spinach in a bowl and microwave for 3 minutes to thaw. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Meanwhile, adjust a rack to the middle of oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium, add butter and melt. Add onions, cook for 5 minutes, until softened and translucent, stirring occasionally, then add mushrooms, stir and cook 5 minutes, until mushrooms have rendered their liquid and it has evaporated. Add sherry, and cook 1 minute. Add thyme, salt and pepper, stir to combine. Remove from heat.
- Gather spinach into a ball and squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible, you will end up with around ⅔ cup spinach. Crack eggs into a small bowl, blend together. In a large bowl, add cheeses and break up with a wooden spoon. Add spinach, eggs, and mushroom mixture, stir until combined.
- Spray bottom and sides of an 8 to 8 ½ - inch ceramic or glass pie plate (or square baking dish) with cooking oil spray. Spread mixture evenly in plate. Bake for 30 minutes. Center should be set, top risen and browned. Let cool on a rack at least 10 minutes to set up. Cut into wedges and serve. Or let cool a bit longer to serve warm or at room temperature.