Love thy neighbor

My neighbor has been raving about a cookbook for some time. However, it’s not one of mine. It’s “The New Southern Garden Cookbook” by Chapel Hill’s Sheri Castle (UNC Press, 2011). My neighbor has other fine qualities, so I have chosen to overlook his lack of tact.

It’s difficult to blame him, and we are into the time of year that this book is really useful, because it offers many ways with Southern vegetables. For example, I had a load of chard from my CSA box. Sauteed greens with some garlic is great, but I wanted something different. The Greens section of the book offered many tempting options. I went with Greek Shrimp with Spinach, Feta and Orzo – with some modifications, starting with the chard for the spinach. I omitted the Parmesan cheese and used only half of the feta called for, a nod to The Hub’s dairy allergy. I could not find orzo in my usual supermarket, but I did find a box of the cutest miniature bow-tie pasta, called farfarlline.

So, this is an adaptable recipe, obviously. It even tastes pretty good reheated the next day (do it gently, so as not to rubberize the shrimp). And it’s hard to argue with my neighbor.

Greek Shrimp with Spinach, Feta and Orzo

From “The New Southern Garden Cookbook” by Sheri Castle

7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

12 ounces uncooked orzo

4 cups lightly packed baby spinach or stemmed and shredded chard

1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese, divided

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

2 pounds extra-large (21-25 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 teaspoons oregano

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a glass or ceramic 9×13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil. cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain well in a colander and return to the same pot. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the oil, the spinach, 1/2 cup of the feta and the Parmesan. Spread the orzo mixture in the bottom of the prepared baking dish an dcover with foil to keep warm.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook only until they start to turn opaque, about 1 minute. The shrimp will finish cooking in the oven. Arrange the shrimp over the orzo.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Add the garlic and cook until you can smell the aroma, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, oregano and red pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces to the consistency of pasta sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and orzo.

Bake until the shrimp are opaque, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of feta cheese and serve hot.

Makes 6-8 servings.


Greens and beans

Green leafy things have been pouring into my kitchen, as if a UFO (unidentified frond-filled object) had landed there. Olive oil and a hot frying pan are all that very fresh greens often need, and sometimes I toss them into tomato sauce for pasta or stuff dumplings with them. But I was looking for a change.

Combine culinary restlessness with the greens and a freezer full of newly prepared chicken stock, and soup came to mind. I tried a recipe using chard and lentils from Barbara Kafka’s “Soup: A Way of Life.” I know I’ve mentioned this book before, but the recipes are always interesting. For this one, however, I’d make some changes.

First of all, the recipe makes an extremely thick soup, more like a stew. I added more stock because I wanted a more liquid soup. Also, maybe because I added liquid, I would double the paprika and cumin for more flavor. For vegetarians, I would suggest using vegetable stock, not water. Kafka says to use chard, but I think any kind of medium-flavored leafy green would do. I don’t know why I don’t cook with lentils more often. They don’t have to be soaked, cook quickly and are small enough to play well with other ingredients in a soup or stew. Here’s the recipe with my changes.

Chard and Lentil Soup

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon paprika (I suggest 2 teaspoons)

1 teaspoon ground cumin (I suggest 2 teaspoons)

2 medium bunches green onions, white part cut into 1/4-inch pieces plus enough green part to make 1/2 cup

1 pound dried brown lentils

6 cups chicken stock (I added about 3 more cups)

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2 pounds chard, leaves coarsely chopped, stems discarded

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice (another teaspoon or so wouldn’t hurt)

Salt and black pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil, paprika and cumin over low heat, stirring, until the spices are fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the green onion whites. Cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the lentils, stock and garlic. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until the lentils are almost done.

Stir in the green onion greens, chard, cilantro and lemon juice. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the chard is cooked through and the lentils are soft. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.