Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eating weeds: Lamb’s quarters aka wild spinach

It’s Wednesday and that means it’s time for Summer Fest, a celebration of the summer’s most delectable foods.  This week our theme is herbs, greens, and beans and I’m blogging about a delicious and nutritious green I recently discovered.  Be sure to stop by A Way to Garden, White on Rice Couple, Gluten-Free Girl, and Food2 to read about their take on how to enjoy the best of what summer has to offer.

I don’t consider myself an overly adventurous eater.  Living in NYC as I do, there are hundreds – no, make that THOUSANDS – of opportunities to try new and unusual ingredients and dishes.  Sometimes I do, but more often than not I stick to more familiar fare.   Recently, however, I was tempted by a new ingredient while waiting in line for the much-coveted Mountain Sweet Berry Farm strawberries.  As I’ve mentioned, the line was rather long, giving me plenty of time to peruse the other offerings from the farm.  Lamb’s quarters caught my eye because the sign described it as wild spinach and I love spinach.  Rick Bishop’s farm is a favorite of the best chefs in town and it’s a safe bet anything he sells is worth trying.  I bought a bunch and headed home. 

Turns out I spent three bucks on a bunch of weeds.   Lamb’s quarters can be found on the side of roads and riverbanks and is considered an invasive weed in some parts of the United States.  Unbeknownst to most gardeners who yank it out of ground and toss it on the mulch pile, it is edible and a nutritional superstar at that.  Loaded with vitamins A and C, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and beta-carotene, lamb’s quarters is one of nature’s powerhouse foods.  Wild foods are generally more potent than their cultivated cousins, containing vitamins and minerals in much higher quantities.   

On occasion people feel sick after eating wild herbs and weeds; often this occurs because their bodies are accustomed to weaker, less nutritious foods.  There are other reasons, too, and if you decide to venture into the wilderness (or suburbs) to find free lambs quarters, be mindful of where you harvest it from; pesticides and soil pollution are absorbed by the plant and stored in its leaves. Only gather wild edible plants from areas you are confident are chemical-free.

Lambs quarters may be used in any recipe that calls for spinach.  Toss it in salads and swirl it into soups; use the greens in lasagna and omelettes fillings.  Give it a steam or sauté it as I did, with a little olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Unlike wild arugula, which has a more intense, complex flavor than its supermarket counterpart, lamb’s quarters are mild like regular spinach, with the addition of an earthy, slightly mineral taste.  I found it a nice change of pace from the standard greens I eat and loved that something so good is so good for me. 

Foraging for food has become an increasingly popular activity and I’ve noticed classes popping up around the city for those interested in learning the tricks of the trade.  These classes are for people who take their quest to eat local to a whole other level.  I admire their desire and commitment, but I must confess, I won’t be joining them anytime soon.  I’m happy to limit my foraging to the baskets at Rick’s stand. 

Quadrettoni di Frittata con Spinaci e Formaggio
(Square Omelettes Stuffed with Spinach and Cheese)
Adapted from Sicilian Home Cooking by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene

This recipe calls for spinach; I substituted equal amounts of lamb’s quarters. 

Lambs quarters have a powdery white coating on its leaves; to remove it you must immerse the greens in water and swish them about. 

10 ounces baby spinach or lamb’s quarters leaves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon freshly grated pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley
1 cup Italian fontina cheese, grated
Cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves for garnish

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil; add spinach or lamb’s quarters, reduce to a medium boil and cook until done, about 5 minutes.  Drain greens well, squeeze dry in a clean dishtowel, and finely chop.  Heat butter and oil in a frying pan and add greens.  Season well with salt and pepper and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl, beat together the eggs, pecorino, Parmesan, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. 

Generously butter an 8 x 8-inch square nonstick baking pan.  Add fontina cheese to the greens and quickly toss.  Mix well with the egg mixture.  Pour into the baking pan and bake until golden brown on top, about 30 minutes.

Let the frittata cool for 5 minutes, then invert it onto a cool platter.  Let it cool for an additional 5 minutes.  Cut into 6 squares and garnish each piece with a few cherry tomatoes and basil leaves.

Serves 6

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