Publsihed in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 20 March 2007.
By recent misfortune I discovered a new take on the saying "don’t put all your eggs in one basket." Don’t bake a three-course meal in one oven. Should that oven suddenly conk out, as mine did, you will be stuck with a kitchen full of wonderful uncooked food just as guests are arriving for dinner.
My oven was very sneaky in this matter. While the top element was functioning well, the lower element had taken a hiatus. As a result, the oven got hot, but it only cooked from the top down.
I discovered this while baking baguettes, that long French bread that was to form the appetizer of our meal. That was to be followed by a sumptuous layered dish called a Milanese Tourte and, for dessert, a confection of cake, jam and meringue. All of it cooked in the oven.
I suppose I could have cancelled dinner, but that would be admitting defeat. So, after bawling on my husband’s shoulder, we decided to rise to the challenge of planning and prepping a completely new menu in little more than an hour. This was complicated by the fact that it had to be a Saskatchewan meal – just about all of it, with a few exceptions, had to be local food. Why? I am a big fan of the wonderful foods produced in Saskatchewan, so that is what I like to serve for dinner at my house.
Our guests that evening, Lisa and Ralph, are just as interested in local food. To serve anything else would feel worse than defeat; it would be a betrayal of that local food ethic. As our guests walked in the door, my husband was in the kitchen calmly rolling ravioli. I made the pasta dough with farm eggs and he made the filling of ground pork and lamb (from the freezer) and dried herbs. A tomato sauce was simmering on the stove (made last summer with our garden tomatoes). Instead of fresh bread, I revived a two-day-old loaf by toasting it with olive oil and turning it into Italian bruschetta. For dessert, I opened a jar of local pears I picked and canned last fall.
As for the Milanese Tourte, it is now tucked into the freezer for another meal. As for the oven, it has worked perfectly ever since. The Milanese Tourte is a good dish for company because it can be made ahead of time and baked before they arrive (if the oven co-operates). I adapted this recipe from the cookbook Baking with Julia, where the instructions take no less than three pages!
10 big farm eggs
2 tbsp mixed fresh herbs such as chives, parsley, oregano, tarragon
(or 1 tbsp dried herbs)
Scramble the eggs slowly with the herbs until they begin to set but are still quite runny. Salt and pepper to taste. Scoop into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool.
1 tbsp each butter and olive oil
1.5 lbs fresh spinach or 1.5 pkgs frozen
2 cloves garlic, minced
dash of nutmeg
Blanch fresh spinach or thaw frozen spinach. Squeeze out excess moisture. Heat oil and butter in skillet. Sauté garlic. Add spinach, season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, and cook 5 minutes. Cool.
3-4 roasted red peppers, in strips
8 large thin slices of ham
8 large thin slices of Italian cheese, such as Asiago
1 pkg puff pastry
Butter a deep pie plate. Roll out half the pastry and place it in the dish. Spread the pastry with half the eggs. Cover with half the spinach, then half the ham, half the cheese and the roasted peppers. In reverse order, add the rest of the cheese, ham, spinach and finally the eggs. Roll the rest of the pastry and place on top. Crimp and seal the edges, and cut an air vent. Refrigerate for 30 min. Bake at 350F for about one hour, until the crust is nicely brown. Best served warm (not hot) or at room temperature.