Spinach, Barley and Gruyere Timbale on Marinara

Are you totally intimated by my use of big cooking words? Better yet, are you impressed?

Ha. Timbale is just another way of saying molded custard, like a quiche without a crust.

I love this dish. It is filling and satisfying and not a million calories. I feel better, richer and happier every time I serve it. The textures, the various tastes all simple and complex depending on the bite… The homemade marinara underneath perfectly complements the dish. And it looks fucking awesome. Just make sure you butter the ramekins well. And a baking pan large and deep enough to use as a water bath for the ramekins.

For the uninitiated, the tasks at hand may be intimidating but fear not. It is a bit labor intensive but it is worth it. I have done this so many times that I deem this one an easy dish. Not because I am so talented but because I have enough practice. And dammit, I am talented, even if it is just a little bit.

The first few times I made this dish, I served it as one of the many courses… Since then, I bought much smaller ramekins so people don’t get so full. The way I have outlined the recipe here, I would suggest serving this as a main course. And it is vegetarian to boot.

Ingredients

For the Marinara

  • 28 oz of diced tomatoes (2 cans)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. sugar
  • 2-3 sprigs of basil leaves

For the Timbale

  • Butter for ramekins
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups tightly packed blanched spinach (from 1.5 lbs of baby spinach or 3 lbs from fresh on stem), finely chopped
  • 2 tsps. fresh thyme, chopped 
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cooked barley
  • 3 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated (in a tight spot, use Parmesan)
  • 2/3 cup 2% milk
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Several basil leaves, julienned, to dress the plate

Makes 6 1-cup ramekins or 8 5-0z ones. Prepping the ingredients will take about 30 minutes. Cooking and baking time will add up to 2 non-consecutive hours, without needing much attention.

Make the marinara. In a blender or food processor, pulse the tomatoes.

In a 4-quart sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic to the pan and let it get only just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato, sugar, salt and the basil to the pan and bring to a gentle boil. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and let simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring once in a while. When done, remove the basil sprigs. You can prepare the marinara a day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator.

Start making the timbale. To blanch the spinach, first wash the spinach well if using from a bunch (rather than out of a pre-washed bag). Fill a large bowl with 20-30 cubes of ice and then fill the rest with cold water. Bring a large pot of water to boil and using a strainer or steamer basket, boil the spinach in batches, no more than 20 seconds per batch. Transfer immediately to the cold water. Drain and squeeze out excess water. I leave the spinach in another strainer over a bowl so it drains as I prepare other stuff.

Butter 6 1-cup ramekins (or 8 5-oz ones), making sure the sides and bottom get generously ‘oiled.’

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl and stir in rest of the ingredients and add 3/4 tsp of salt. Scrape the mixture into the ramekins, filling them only 3/4th of the way and no more. Place the ramekins in a large baking pan deep enough and fill it with enough hot or boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Place the baking pan in the oven and reduce heat to 325 degrees. Bake for 30-40 minutes until set and a skewer inserted in the center of a ramekin is almost clean.

While the timbale is baking, reheat the marinara sauce. When it is time to serve, spoon 3-4 tbsp of the marinara on each plate. Run a knife around each ramekin and unmold on to plates. Ramekins will be hot so be careful. Dress up with julienned basil leaves.

Here is the nutrition information on this recipe:

spinach timbale nutrition facts 2

Firinda Mücver (Baked Zucchini with Onion and Parsley)

Mücver is something I loved when I was growing up. Well, I still love it. It is usually fried and served with yogurt but there are ways to get the taste without the frying part… My mom used to do FIRINDA MüCVER as ‘diet’ food. She would go on to these diets, fairly strict ones and eat very little, to similarly very little long-term effect on her weight. One of the things she used to eat was this dish. I prefer to eat it because it tastes delicious (it is somewhat one-dimensional and bland but it accompanies other dishes well and the one-dimensioned taste is a solid one if you like zucchini and onions) and not because it is considered ‘diet’ food. It sure doesn’t scream diet food, given the delicious taste and it goes well with pretty much any kind of protein you maybe having. A salad alternative or a color splash on the plate. Either way, it is goooood.

There are recipes out there for Firinda Mücver and this is my version… I first did this based on what I remember from watching my mom and talking to her about it. Then I morphed it over the years to make it become what I want…

Firinda Mücver (Baked Zucchini with Onion and Parsley)

Ingredients

  • 4 medium zucchini, grated (food processor makes this very quick)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 oz. grated cheddar cheese (or any kind of mild cheese)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup unbleached white or wheat flour (you may not need all of it. You can use garbanzo bean flour to make this gluten-free)
  • 1 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh dill, finely minced (or a generous pinch if using dried)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a 9-inch by 13-inch dish.

Grate the zucchini using the food processor and then handling one handful at a time, squeeze the juices out and place them drained zucchini in a large bowl. Add the onions, eggs, cheese, baking powder, the flour and the parsley and combine well. This may be a bit of work and the consistency won’t be runny at all but it works (zucchini will release some additional water in the baking process so while the mixture may look like it needs moisture, trust me, it doesn’t).

Season with salt (a generous pinch), pepper (less generous one) and red pepper flakes (generously) and dill, if using and mix well.

Transfer the mixture into the greased dish, using a spatula to spread an even layer.

Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until golden brown. If not browning after 45 minutes, broil for 2 minutes and remove from heat. Serve hot or cold.

Makes 12, 3-inch square servings. Here are the nutritional facts:

Arugula and Watermelon Salad (with Goat Cheese or Feta)

There are a million arugula salad recipes on the web. I asked myself… Do we really need another one? Well, I think we do. If I browse the recipes I find, I see that most are drenched in oil and cheese. Well, with that much oil and cheese – topped with watermelon – any old crap will taste great. How about making something healthy out of it, without sacrificing the taste? That was the idea of coming up with this particular recipe. I did a version of this 2 weeks ago and another version this week. I like this week’s version better so here is the recipe…

Arugula and Watermelon Salad (with Goat Cheese or Feta)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 Tbsp honey (1.5 tbsp if the arugula is from a farmer’s market since organic ones tend to be sharper)
  • 1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 6 cups arugula, loosely packed
  • 2 cups watermelon, diced to chunks and loosely packed
  • 4 oz goat cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Cherry tomatoes (OPTIONAL)

Prepare the vinaigrette by first combining the orange juice, lemon juice, honey, shallots with a whisk and then drizzling the olive oil in as you whisk to form an emulsion. In a large bowl, combine the arugula, watermelon, mint and the cheese. Coat with the vinaigrette and toss well. Adjust salt and pepper. If you’d like, you can dress it up with cherry tomatoes as you serve.

Makes 6 servings. Here are the nutritional facts:

Arugula Watermelon Salad Nutrition Facts

Cherry and Onion Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

This is a Fine Cooking magazine recipe that seems complicated but it is not. It does take time but there are no tricks. You may want to have another set of hands to help with the rolling and wrapping of the tenderloin with the kitchen twine. Yep, twine is necessary.

I served this with rice with dill and onion, cabbage salad with roasted sesame seed, barbunya and gruyere kalamata olive bread… With much smaller than the recommended servings of everything, it made quite a nice dinner, I have to say. This dish can be the whole dinner if you’d like. The servings are very very generous and the protein is great. It makes a great lunch too. Just don’t overcook the pork.

Cherry and Onion Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients

  • Olive oil, 3 tbsp
  • Medium yellow onions, 1-2 thinly sliced
  • Freshly squeezed orange juice, 6 tbsp
  • Balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp
  • Granulated sugar, 2 tsp
  • Freshly grated orange zest, 1.5 tsp
  • Fresh sweet cherries, 1.5 cups (about 8 oz.), pitted and chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pork tenderloins, 2 of them  (about 1 lb. each), trimmed
  • Ground cloves, 1/8 tsp
  • Dry white wine, 1/2 cup, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • Lower-salt chicken broth (preferably homemade), 1 cup
  • Fresh rosemary, 1 tsp minced
  • Unsalted butter, 2 tbsp, cold, cut into small pieces

Heat 1 Tbs. of the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and light golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the orange juice, vinegar, sugar, and orange zest, reduce the heat to low, cover, and continue to cook until the onions are very soft, 15 to 20 minutes more. Uncover and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes more. Add the cherries and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature.

Heat the oven to 425°F.

Meanwhile, butterfly the pork by slitting each tenderloin lengthwise just far enough that it opens like a book to make a flat piece. Place the pork between two pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper and pound gently with a meat mallet to flatten it to a 3/8-inch thickness. In a small bowl, mix 1 Tbs. of the olive oil, the ground cloves, and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Rub the mixture on both sides of the pork and season generously with salt.

Divide and spread the cherry mixture evenly over the tenderloins and roll them back to their original shape. Tie them with butcher twine at 1-inch intervals.

Heat the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil in an ovenproof 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides until golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of a tenderloin reads 145°F, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and tent with foil.

Set the skillet over medium-high heat, add the wine, and deglaze the pan by scraping up the cooked bits with a wooden spoon. Boil to reduce the wine by about half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and rosemary, bring to a boil, and reduce by about half, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the butter one piece at a time, letting each melt before adding the next. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the strings from the pork and slice it into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Serve drizzled with the sauce. Serves 6-8. Here are the nutritional facts based on 6 servings:

Gruyere and Kalamata Olive Bread

OK, if you are looking at this, you are looking for trouble. This is an easy recipe and it is a great company to grilled meat dishes and it is high in fat content. If you like Gruyere and olives, at least try it once to see why you should not be baking this often. You have been warned (but it is so good, especially when fresh).

Gruyere and Kalamata Olive Bread

Ingredients

  • Olive oil, for greasing pan
  • 1 and 3/4 cups  All-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 c mayonnaise (I make my own fatty mayo but you can use fat free or low fat off-the shelf ones)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (1 cup)
  • 3 Tbsp Kalamata olives, pitted, chopped

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch glass loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, egg and milk. Fold the wet mixture into the dry until just combined. Fold in the cheese and olives.
Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake until golden and firm, 45-50 minutes. Let bread cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and over turn onto a wire rack. Cool 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Makes 10 servings. Here are the nutritional facts:

Gruyere Olive Bread Nutrition Facts

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