Waste Not, Want Not

Since we left Misty Brook in November of last year, I’ve been battling on and off with vegetable withdrawal.  I had become accustomed to having limitless quantities of vegetables  available to be at almost all times–my normal way to plan a meal is to look in the cooler or the field and ask myself “what do I have way too much of?”  Since we set off on the quest to start our own farm, however, I’ve found myself back with all of the normal people who frequent grocery stores and roadside farm stands, and who have to make decisions about their meals based not on vegetables supplied but on price demanded.

I lamented my sad situation to my friend Margaret, who, in the middle of her first growing season on her own farm, is up to her eyeballs in produce.  Margaret displayed remarkably little sympathy, perhaps because I had also mentioned that we have taken to playing ultimate frisbee in the Frederick park on Sunday evenings.  Margaret, I should note, has taken one half day off from farming since May.

I think that even an untrained observer could tell from my cooking that we’re at the beginning of the “season” on our farm, because we allow nothing to go to waste.  Andrew lets no bones leave our home for the compost without first contributing to a pot of stock.  I forage in our front yard for wild berries and fresh mint.  In July, I sorted through about three gallons of blueberry seconds (an unbelievably tedious task, let me tell you) in order to make a blueberry pie and some blueberry butter.  And of the vegetables that we do buy, we eat them in their entirety: the roots and greens of the beets, the leaves and stems of the swiss chard.  I even searched online recently to find out if the inner part of a peach pit is edible, as it looks a bit like an almond.  (answer: yes technically it can be eaten, and in such cuisines is known as “bitter almond;” as the name suggests, though, it is not especially palatable)

But slowly, slowly, the products of our fields are beginning to roll in.  Last week, I thinning my first seeding of beets.  Beets have a “compound” seed, meaning that each seed you plant is actually composed of multiple tiny seedlets.  As a result, beet seedlings always come up in tightly packed clusters, and to get a strong stand of harvestable roots, you’ve got to grit your teeth and thin them to a more reasonable spacing.  Normally, I do not enjoy thinning.  Unlike weeding (which, mechanically, is basically the same action), thinning involves removing the very plant that I am trying to grow, so I always find thinning a bit demoralizing.  This week, however, I practically whistled as I walked to my garden.  As I worked my way down the rows, I saved all of the tiny beet seedlings that I pulled.  Back in the kitchen I rinsed them clean and spun them dry, and I began looking for delicious recipes that called for a pound and a half (!) of tender young greens.

I settled on making a simpler version of spanikopita (called “hortopita”) from one of my newest cookbooks, The Winter Harvest Handbook.   I’ve worked with flaky filo dough before and while its umpteen wafer-like layers of pastry certainly look intimidating, it is actually quite easy to work with.  The key is to keep the dough from drying out, which I do by not opening the package until my filling is complete and I am ready to assemble the finished dish.  Also, don’t skimp on the butter!  The butter that you brush between each layer of filo makes the final product light, crisp, and delicious.  It isn’t even really all that much, when you divide it between the 4 to 6 servings.


1 pound (or more!) chopped mixed greens (spinach, sorrel, swiss chard, lettuce, arugula, kale, nettles, beet greens, or turnip greens can all work here.  If the green are of radically different toughness, cook them separately to a comparable state of doneness)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped leek or onion
6 sprigs mint
1/2 cup chopped parsley
4 T cooked rice
1/2 pound filo dough
1/4 cup melted butter

Clean the greens.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the onions or leek and saute until translucent and soft.  Add the chopped greens, mint, and parsley, cover, and saute until fully wilted and cooked through.  You will need to remove the lid and toss it a bit along the way.  Add the rice and stir until the mixture is amalgamated and fairly dry.

Open the filo package.  Place one sheet in the bottom of a casserole dish.  If it does not fit perfectly, you can cut the filo to fit or you can be lazy (like me) and fold the sides over a bit, or scrunch it up in the corners.  Brush the first layer with melted butter.  Repeat until you have layered about half of the filo.  Spread the filling over the pastry evenly.  Repeat the filo layering technique until you run out of filo and butter (don’t do any butterless layers!)

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Serves 4-6

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