Ah, summer. When the heat climbs, and you wander the stores and markets in a daze buying delicious things only to discover upon returning home that somehow you’ve managed to acquire a pint of fresh strawberries and approximately 20 pounds of various kinds of green leafy thing. Last Saturday, I went to the farmers market reminding myself that I still had some uneaten lettuce and other things, and so I needed to not go nuts. Result: the requisite pint of strawberries, two pints of sugar snap peas, and 5 big bunches of different kinds of cooking greens, not to mention a bulging bag of mixed lettuce, arugula, and spinach. I may have to admit that I have a problem.
But before I start my leafy-greens rehab program, can we just talk about lambsquarters? Because a lot of my greens-induced fugue state was induced by a lambsquarters sighting: I’m totally incapable of not saying “You know, I better grab two” when I come across them. So what are they? Lambsquarters is a type of goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri) that grows throughout North America, all the way from Alaska and northern Canada down to Michoacán, Mexico. If you live anywhere in its range, you’ve probably seen it, even if you didn’t notice it — it’s a very hardy, opportunistic weed. The picture below is some volunteer lambsquarters growing in a patch of newly seeded grass near my building at work: they’re everywhere.
But it’s not just some ol’ weed. In fact, this leafy green vegetable was domesticated by American Indians in the Eastern Agricultural Complex as early as 1700 BCE, and was a mainstay of their diet until it was finally supplanted by maize. Though lambsquarters isn’t widely cultivated in the United States any longer, it’s still grown as a leaf vegetable in Mexico, and some farmers are redomesticating it here in the States. It’s worth picking up if you see it in a farmer’s market: the leaves have a rich, filling flavor like spinach, and with a quick saute they take on a soft velvety texture that’s just wonderful. And hey: you probably already know one of its close relatives, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), so you might as well get to know its cousin.
One of these days I’ll get around to making a Chenopodium family reunion dish with quinoa and lambsquarters, but for now: this oven frittata. If you have crisper drawers that are overflowing with hearty greens, whether they’re lambsquarters or something like kale, collards, tatsoi, whatever, this is a delicious solution to your overcrowding problem. And as if that wasn’t enough, it’s filling, it has a big dose of healthy green vegetables, and it’s just as good reheated for a midweek snack as it is fresh from the oven as part of a low-stress brunch.
Serve this frittata as-is for a simple appetizer, dress it up as part of a light seasonal supper, or stick a slice in a sandwich (see the Options for some more ideas). Once you have the basic recipe in your back pocket, it’s endlessly adaptable, and always ready to whip up in a pinch. Maybe a leafy greens obsession isn’t such a bad thing after all…
Oven frittata with hearty greens
When summer’s come into full swing, there are only so many sauteed greens you can eat before your head starts spinning. And yet they look tempting in the market and store, so tempting that, if you’re like me, your crisper drawers are overflowing with all sorts of leafy vegetables. This simple oven frittata, light on the eggs and heavy on the greens, is a perfect shakeup to your greens routine, and you can dress it up for dinner or dress it down for a weekend breakfast (and the slices reheat beautifully for leftovers).
Confession time: I spent the better part of an hour just experimenting with different titles for this recipe, until I started to feel like I was just pulling words out of a hat and yelling them at my husband: “rich green brunch squares!” “hearty greens New World mamaliga!” “Spanish tortilla no potatoes lambsquarters magic kazoo!” I think the name gets the basic idea across, but if it seems really wrong to you, I’m just going to plead temporary terminological insanity.
Adapted from Aglaia Kremezi’s “Crustless Zucchini Pie.”
6-8 c chopped hearty greens, washed and drained (such as kale, lambsquarters, tatsoi, braising mixes)
1 medium sweet onion, diced (about a cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 c cornmeal
1 tsp Aleppo pepper
1/4 c chopped mint (loosely packed)
Kosher salt to taste (about a teaspoon)
Handful cherry tomatoes (12-16), halved
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a square baking dish (8 or 9 inches) with parchment paper and set aside.
Heat the olive oil In a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion turns translucent. Add the washed greens and cook, stirring frequently, until they are wilted. Remove the skillet from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and cornmeal till smooth. Add Aleppo pepper, mint, salt, and tomatoes. Add the entire contents of the greens skillet, using a rubber spatula to scrape in all the oil. Stir to combine.
Scrape into parchment-lined pan and bake at 400°F for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 375°F and cook for 25-30 more, until eggs are set and the top is lightly browned.
Lift the parchment paper out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into large squares and serve warm; a little grated parmesan cheese makes a nice garnish, as does a dab of mayonnaise if you’re feeling more Spanish about it.
This recipe also works with tender greens (baby spinaches, lettuces, etc.). Those will cook down far more than their hearty cousins, so take 8 cups as a minimum amount in that case.
The recipe I adapted this from calls for 4 oz of crumbled feta. I usually don’t go there, since Jarod’s not a feta fan, but it’s a great addition. Just fold it into the egg-cornmeal mixture along with everything else, and be mindful of its saltiness when you’re deciding how much salt to add.
Leftover alert! One of my favorite things to do with this is to make a breakfast sandwich. Toast a couple pieces of bread or a split English muffin, smear on a bit of mayonnaise, and place a square in between (warmed up or cold out of the fridge, as you like). Far superior to my usual coffee-and-a-handful-of-yogurt-pretzels.
While this is an excellent vegetarian main or hearty side, I’ve also served these squares as finger foods at parties. To go this route, let the squares cool entirely after transferring to the cutting board, and then cut into little bite-size cubes. Serve with toothpicks if that’s your style; a little bit of garlic mayonnaise is a nice dipping sauce, or a spicy, herb-heavy vinaigrette.