Whole grains have firmly established a prominent place in today’s overall diet, and are continuing to grow in acceptance and popularity. Once a taste for them has been acquired, less textured, more refined grains often have less appeal. Years ago when I first sampled wild rice I was not at all eager to have it again. Last night when it was served for dinner, I immediately wanted a second helping.
During this time of Lent, when many people choose to eat less meat, and have simpler meals, it can be a good time to introduce more grains into the menu such as this flavorful combination of wild rice with mushrooms and leeks.
If you visit any one of Tuscany’s Trattorias, you will most likely find this on the menu as a “contorni” or side dish. Leeks, parmesan and a light sprinkling of nutmeg — all the flavors of Northern Italy combine to make this savory pie a wonderful addition to beef or veal. This past weekend, we served this as a side to Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Vinegar to our Oblates on retreat. As we venture into Lent, this meatless side dish could actually become a main dish for lunch. It’s one of my favorite recipes to share with you. Our prayers are with you for a very blessed Lent.
Prepare your filling. Strip away any damaged tough parts of the leek and top extreme ends, and slice the leeks into thin slices.
Put them into a bowl of cold water and swish them with your hand to remove any dirt remaining. Transfer to a colander to drain.
Put the olive oil into a saucepan to heat and add the leeks. Saute gently to soften, and season with salt and pepper.
When the leeks become lightly golden, add the wine and continue cooking over low heat until most of it has evaporated and the leeks are softened. If the leeks are still hard and the wine has evaporated, add 1 cup of hot water and saute for another 10 min. or so until the leeks are soft and there is only a little liquid left in the pan. Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool slightly.
Lightly whip the eggs in a bowl and add the cream, parmesan cheese and a dash of nutmeg. Add the cooled leeks and stir well. Adjust seasonings if needed.
Pour the mixture into your par-baked crust, shifting the leeks evenly with a wooden spoon.
Return the tart to the oven for about 20-30 min. until the top is lightly golden and the filling is set.
Cool slightly and slice into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.
The other night, we made this tasty soup at the Convent in the form of a stew, with pieces of chicken thighs cooked into it, and chunks of sweet potato left intact. We loved the flavor so much that we thought we’d create our own recipe in a meatless rendition, something to relish during Lent. The result was wonderful! You can taste each subtle flavor: roasted peanuts, sweet potatoes, coriander, ginger, and tomato – a very odd collection! But when put together, a velvety and beautiful soup is born.
It’s very simple to throw together and with a little bread, cheese, and salad, you have a complete meal. Enjoy!
Our Lenten journey has begun. The church has been dressed in violet and our promises to God for these forty days have been made. The chants for the season speak of hope, transformation and a return to God. In the monastery, it is traditional to simplify life, not only in our work but also in our attitudes and our eating. Many monastic houses fast from meat during Lent – a simple soup and bread for lunch and dinner are the norm. As we harvest the last of our winter squash from our garden, this simple yet hearty soup is the perfect beginning to this special season of the church year.
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Vegetable and Lentil Soup from a Monastery Kitchen
Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot. Add the diced leeks, celery, carrots, parsnips, butternut squash and a small amount of the dill and parsley and sauté until golden and the vegetables are beginning to soften, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat so the vegetables are sauteing, but not burning.
Add the lentils and continue to sauté for a few more minutes.
Add 6 cups of hot chicken or vegetable stock and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
Cook for about 8 min. over medium heat, simmer, but do not boil.
Add the diced zucchini and continue simmering until the lentils are cooked and the vegetables are softened, about 15 min.
Remove from heat and add the baby spinach, the herbs and the lemon zest and juice and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. If desired, serve with grated parmesan cheese.
Recently four of our young sisters were invited to a neighbor’s house in our community for a special dinner. The next day when I asked, “So how was the dinner?”
the response was, “Phenomenal!” That didn’t surprise me knowing that the menu had featured a choice tenderloin of beef, which they all liked and
we rarely have at the Convent. What did surprise and amuse me was that each of them individually wanted to tell me about one special dish
that had put the meal “over the top” and sent it “out of the park.”
This was a savory bread pudding that included leeks, fresh mushrooms, Gruyere cheese, pancetta, and sherry. Well then, why wouldn’t that
impress anyone as a phenomenal dish? And because our brave leeks are still holding their own out in the garden, why shouldn’t we give
it a try here at home? Well, we did, and sure enough it scored a home run with the whole sisterhood. Why not try it yourself and see
what kind of a rating it gets at your house?
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Phenomenal Savory Bread Pudding
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
6cupsbreadcubed (1/2-inch-diced) from a rustic country loaf
1.5cupsGruyeregrated, or your favorite cheese (6 ounces), divided
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread the bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large (12-inch) sauté pan over medium heat.
Add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes, until starting to brown. Stir in the leeks and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the leeks are tender.
Stir in the mushrooms, sherry, 1 tablespoon onion salt and 11/2 teaspoons pepper and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the parsley.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, chicken stock and 1 cup of the Gruyere.
Add the bread cubes and mushroom mixture, stirring well to combine. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid.
Stir well and pour into a 2 1/2-to-3-quart gratin dish (13 x 9 x 2 inches). Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Gruyere and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is browned and the custard is set. Serve hot.
After having had so many special meals over Christmas and New Year’s
we wanted to come up with a simple yet satisfying supper on New Year’s
day. Remembering that we still had some leeks braving the cold out in our
almost barren gardens we decided on a potato leek soup, homemade bread
and a hearty salad. Since there was also some kale fighting for
survival out there why not add that to the soup making it even
healthier and giving it yet another dimension?
Our decision turned out to be a good one and everyone enjoyed it! They especially
appreciated its being light as well as very flavorful and heart-
warming,(the flavor was even better the next day) so when we make
it again I will suggest we make it a day or two before actually serving it.
We garnished it with a dollop of sour cream and chopped kale. A few bacon bits
or curls, if desired, could also add to its look and flavor.
*Whether you get your leeks from your garden or your grocery store it is important
to wash them ever so thoroughly because they often have soil hidden between the leaves
at their stems.
Heat the oil in a large (6-plus quart) stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek and potato and kale . Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have begun to soften and brown slightly, about 8 to 12 minutes (this time will vary greatly depending on the surface area of the bottom of your pot).
Add the vegetable stock and bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Blend until smooth, either using an immersion blender or by carefully transferring to a blender in batches.
Add the cream, and season to taste with salt (I start with 1 teaspoon and go from there, tasting frequently) and lemon juice and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Ladle into bowls, and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a healthy sprinkling of kale or bacon bits.