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Greens and bread

Ever since I got Ottolenghi's first Test Kitchen book - Shelf Love, I have been meaning to make this recipe. It's called Kale pesto strata with gruyère and mustard and is a kind of savoury bread pudding.

I thought strata was an Italian dish - well it's sort of an Italian name. Actually I suppose it's latin for layers when I come to think of it. But apparently I am wrong - well according to Wikipedia anyway. It's actually American and first made in 1902 and is described as "a brunch dish, made from a mixture which mainly consists of bread, eggs and cheese". Well there are a lot of Italians in America so let's go for Italian-American and a dish that is trending upwards I feel. I seem to see more and more recipes for various kinds of strata these days.

Fundamentally it's a kind of savoury bread and butter pudding really, and Ottolenghi describes this particular manifestation as such, except the butter doesn't feature that much - well not at all really. Anyway - a somewhat long-winded way of explaining my thinking on writing something about ways that you can pair bread and greens - and I think I am concentrating on leafy greens here, not things like peas, beans and cucumber. Maybe I'll allow herbs. I mean it's not really a pairing that automatically springs to mind like tomatoes and bread or bread and cheese is it? Although I suspect that cheese will creep in somehow.

So let's start with that strata - Ottolenghi is not alone in having thought of this sort of combination. He uses kale in his recipe but he does say that any kind of greens will do. Well sort of - he mentions spinach, but you could use anything leafy really. I found two more 'normal' versions in that it was spinach and cheese - and more Italian kind of cheese at that, but they still looked good and let's give the non-celebrity chefs a go: Green strata/Giadzy; Spinach and cheese strata/Once Upon a Chef. Both of these used chunks rather than slices.

Of course now that I have been looking at various strata recipes I see that it is ripe for experiment - a bit like tray-bakes. Fundamentally you put your bread cubes or slices, or chunks and your filling - whatever you fancy here - cover with a custard - flavoured however you like and bake. Chesse is often involved, sometimes in the 'filling' sometimes on top. In fact that tomato dish I featured recently is kind of a strata, though I think from memory, without the custard, so I suppose more of a tray-bake. Really the more I do this blog the more I realise that there are probably a few fundamental recipes and the rest is just improvisation. A bit like literature - they say there are only basically 7 (I think it's 7 plots). And just to demonstrate that here are two more dishes that could loosely be described as strata - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Panade - Cabbage, onion, bread, which he describes as a gratin and Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi's Green cannelloni and tahini - a strata but without the custard binding it all together.

On to sandwiches and similar. Again, greens are not an obvious contender for a sandwich are they - not even for toasties? Not as the main ingredient anyway. But the chefs and the street food sellers give it a red hot go. I also suspect that I am missing a whole lot of options here. So here are just the few that I found: Swiss chard sandwich a fried version from Nieves Barrágan Mahacho; Pitta with buttery spinach and feta - from Marwa Alkhalaf and not quite as simple as it looks; Mumbai sandwich - Helen Graves - Bombay street food and a bit of a cheat because tomatoes and onions are included but the vital ingredient is copious amounts of green chutney; Crostini - green ones from Jamie Oliver; Scacchia - Sicilian street food which can also be filled with all sorts of things, but in this case it's spinach and cheese; Lentil smothered greens on fried bread from Bon Appétit; and Turkish greens on toast from Anna Jones

Whilst we are still on sandwiches I also found this somewhat queasy looking Easy spinach bread on a website called Where is my Spoon? which probably means that there are lots of other recipes for bread out there that include some kind of greens in the mixture. Even if it's only herbs.

From sandwiches of course it is only a short step to pizza and Greg Malouf has two rather tasty toppings for his middle-eastern pizzas. I cannot find the recipes online and one of them is a bit long to post here - Rainbow chard, currants and pine nuts, but the other one is a spinach topping - shown below and with the recipe here:

"Wilt chopped spinach and sauté it with garlic and shallot in a little butter. Mix in finely grated lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon dried mint then spread over the pizza dough. Dot the surface with blobs of labneh, crack an egg and bake until just set."

Of course there are lots of other recipes for 'green' pizzas but it looked to me that most of them just sprinkled the greens - like rocket or watercress over the top, which has always seemed like a bit of a cheat to me.

Then there's soup - Anna Jones has a version of Ribollita which is more green than the usual tomato and of course salads - variations on panzanella and fattoush ad infinitum. But I'm not much of a salad girl, and besides I don't think that the greens would work nearly as well as the tomatoes in the originals. This one looks good though.

I feel I have been a tiny bit half-hearted with this one. Maybe it's the cost of greens of all kinds at the moment that makes me realise that there's no way I shall be making any of these any time soon. But one day I will. I really must plant some in my garden. And besides eventually they will come down in price. Won't they?


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