During the month of July I must have had a tomato sandwich or BLT 4 times in any given week. The tomatoes were outstanding this year. In the last couple of weeks the crop has started to slow down and although the tomatoes are still way better than anything you can get in the grocery store I use them more for cooking than sandwich making. Yesterday there was some leftover New Zealand spinach and leeks that my wife had made and I decided to make an Italian Casserole. I’ll call anything that is layered with green, white and red an Italian Casserole. There was only a small amount of spinach so I used a tiny baking dish and didn’t really measure anything. Next time I make it I’ll be more exact for those of you who don’t like to guess.
The dish is extremely easy to make and words can’t do the dish justice. It’s a gooey, crispy, one dish meal.
I used a French Baguette (or what the Ingles passes off as French bread). I sliced the loaf into 1/2 inch slices. I put the slices on a baking sheet and put in a 300 degree oven to make crisp but not toast the bread. When the bread comes out preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
The greens. You can use just about any green leafy vegetable that doesn’t take too long to cook. Avoid collards, mustards and turnip greens. Use fresh spinach (or in a pinch 10oz pack or frozen spinach), kale, Swiss chard or in the recipe pictured here New Zealand spinach (tetragonia). The New Zealand spinach is much hardier than regular spinach and grows in the heat of the summer.
Clean and sauté one to two leeks, depending on the size, in some olive oil. You can add some fresh thyme if you’d like and 1 large onion can be substituted for the leeks. Once the leeks are tender add a 1/2 cup of dry white wine and the greens and simmer over moderate heat until the wine has reduced and the greens are tender. Season with a little salt and pepper.
Preparation: Butter the baking dish and put a layer of the bread on the bottom, overlapping the slices slightly to make sure the bottom is completely covered. Top with a layer of tomatoes again overlapping slightly. Season with salt and pepper. Spread half the greens mixture on top to the tomatoes and cover with shredded Gruyère cheese. Repeat the layering process and end with sliced bread. Brush some melted butter on the last layer of bread cover with foil and place in 400˚ oven for 50 minutes. Uncover the dish and return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes until the top layer of bread is browned and crisp.
Note: Gruyère cheese is extremely expensive. You can use a cheaper cheese (one without an accent mark) but avoid cheddar.