Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Long Winter

My mom used to read me and my sisters the Little House on the Prairie books before we went to bed. The sixth book in the series is called The Long Winter; I think you can guess the premise. Laura Ingalls-Wilder recounts the winter of 1880 and 1881 during which time the small South Dakota settlement her family lived on was inundated with blizzard after blizzard from October until May. At one point the railroad stopped delivering shipments to the homesteaders (check out this photo taken in March 1881), putting them in real danger of starvation. Children stopped attending school because no one could get there. In the end, two men walked, probably in homemade snowshoes, 12 miles to find a cache of wheat to feed the village. I find it interesting to note that Laura's father knew a long winter was on its way because the muskrats were building nests with thick walls.

I'm reading a book right now called Out of This World by Mary Swander for a class. It's about a woman who lives near a large Amish community in Kalona, Iowa. The book follows a year in seasons, centered on planting, growing, harvesting and storing. I am more than a little inspired to be closer to the ground, like Swander and her Amish neighbors are. They have an intuition about the weather and the earth that does not exist in my life. I wake up to an alarm from my phone, not a rooster's call or the sun's movement (not that I'm complaining about that), I whine about shoveling my puny little driveway, and I carefully drive to work everyday. I'm barely outside at all--though I suppose Laura Ingalls didn't spend much time outdoors during the long winter. I'm just missing it right about now and longing to dig up some ground in a few months. My new career goal is to be an urban farmer.

All this is wholly unrelated to the egg casserole I made for the office "breakfast club" last Friday. I tweaked a recipe from Smitten Kitchen by adding pancetta and broccolini to her already fine egg strata. I wasn't sure how it would go at work with flavorings like nutmeg and Dijon mustard, but it was a winner--I didn't take any of it home with me. In fact, the crunchy broccolini and the smoky/salty pancetta were my favorite parts of this dish--one I had three helpings of. It was nice, too, to roll half-asleep out of bed, fire up the oven and bake something in the blue hours of morning. If I was Amish, these eggs would be from my henhouse, the bread would be home-baked and the vegetables straight from the garden ... maybe someday.
Egg strata, pre-cooked
My coffee resting on the roof of my car; it really was that blue that day.
Egg Casserole: from Smitten Kitchen
6 or 7 slices of bread
1 bunch broccolini
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup onion
3 ounces pancetta
1 cup spinach
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 ounces parmesan cheese
9 large eggs
2 3/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Grease a 9x13 pan or gratin dish really really well (really, it took a lot of muscle to clean that pan afterward). Pull apart the the bread into 1-inch cubes and arrange enough to just about cover the bottom of the pan. Set aside temporarily.

Coarsely chop the broccolini, pancetta and spinach. Finely chop the onion. Blanch the broccolini by placing it in boiling salted water for 4 minutes, drain and then run cold water over it to stop the cooking. Sprinkle the broccolini over the first layer of bread cubes.

In a skillet, melt the butter. Saute the pancetta for a few minutes before adding the onions. Saute for about 5 minutes, then add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir. Add the spinach, allowing it to wilt and then removing the pan from the heat. Pour the butter mixture over the first layer of bread. Grate your parmesan cheese over the pan. Smitten Kitchen also recommends using Gruyere cheese, but I didn't have any and it was more than fine. Pull apart the rest of the bread and arrange on the toppings.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and Dijon. Once blended, pour over the of bread and toppings. Store in the fridge overnight (or bake right away). Preheat oven to 350 and bake for 45 to 55 minutes.


Jamie said...

I love egg dishes! One of my favorite additions to an egg dish like this would be some fresh (warmed from the sun) tomatoes sliced thinly. I can't wait until summer!

Allison said...

"my sisters and i remember that winter as one the coldest of our childhood..." i bet we could say that about this winter.

Lainey Seyler said...

i could say that about every current winter. i HATE winter, though i admit it never seems so bad in july.

Anonymous said...

I think some Belgian horses pulling Almonzo Wilder's sleigh would cure us of our winter blues. Thanks for the recipe. I'll make it this week!