(Not Your Mama’s) Spinach Cheese Casserole
Not your mama’s casserole… not a can of soup or crushed potato chip in sight! This is inspired by a crustless quiche I’ve made for years, but I added grain, and it’s in a gratin pan, so – not a quiche… and not really a gratin, either. A casserole.
I have tended, in the past, to avoid oven meals, because I have a hot apartment and a huge poorly insulated oven. Even in the dead of winter, using the oven makes the kitchen uncomfortably hot. I’ve been using it to bake bread, and make granola, but rarely to just make dinner.
Last fall, though, we moved things in the kitchen to make room (on the tiny counter) for my old toaster oven, so I’d be able to make muffins and such without heating up the oven. And then, this winter, I realized that this 4 cup gratin pan, which had been my mom’s, fit perfectly in the toaster oven… and it holds just enough for two. (Or a side dish for four…) A new world has opened up for me!
The other reason I didn’t ever do many casseroles was timing. They’re a classic convenient dish for a stay at home mom. You do the prep, and assemble it, at any convenient time during the day, then pop it in the oven shortly before your husband gets home. It takes no last minute attention, baking merrily away while you get to say hello to him, relax a bit, do any last minute dinner prep. But that was never my life – I’ve always gotten home an hour or less before dinner, and wanted to sit for a few minutes before I went into the kitchen! (Though I might start a pot of rice or lentils, first.) Dinner had to cook quickly.
Now, though, much of the time I work from home, and other times, my schedule has changed a little. The other day, I knew I was going to get home from a job very tired (this gig is physically taxing) but with plenty of time before dinner. I knew I wasn’t going to want to stand for long, chopping and sauteing, but I could put something together…
The other great advantage of casseroles, for everyone, is that they use leftovers. The large bunches of greens we get in the summer cook up to more than the two of us want to eat in one meal, so I’ll be making versions of this all summer, with half a cup of collards, say, and half a cup of chard… In this case, though, I had a smaller bunch of spinach, so I chopped it in small pieces and sauteed it the night before, to have it ready. I did have leftover cooked millet…
I needed something to hold all this together, and I thought a vegetarian meal would be nice. Eggs and cheese… You can use ricotta, or cottage cheese, or pot cheese, or a curd cheese (if you can get them…) Whatever makes the most sense for you. Feta would work, too, though then omit any other salt.
I started by preheating the oven. (One nice thing about a countertop oven is that it heats quickly, as it is small.) I beat four eggs in a bowl, then added a cup of cheese. Mixed it well, breaking up the blobs of cheese to be sure it was well distributed. Then I mixed in some Spike – a seasoning mix with a little salt, which I like a lot, and which is very convenient. A bit of nutmeg would have been nice, instead, with the spinach. Remember how salty your cheese is, when you decide if you want to add salt.
Then I added the spinach. I chopped it finely before cooking, in this case – if I were using leftovers, I would chop them before adding. I find that a reasonable forkful of plain greens can be awkward to handle in a mixture. I also drained it.
Once everything was thoroughly mixed, I added the millet. I only had about a cup, so that’s what I used – more would have worked, too. I blended everything well – wanted to be sure each forkful would have a mix of all ingredients, and that the grain would absorb any liquid from the greens or the cheese.
Then I poured it into the pan. I have not needed to grease my enameled cast iron pan in any way – or a pyrex casserole dish, when I’ve used it. I’m not sure about a plain metal pan, though – I’ll have to try using one and report back. (Or tell me your experiences, if you use a square baking pan, or a pie plate, for this or similar recipes!)
Baked it at 350. I checked at half an hour, but the center was still a bit wet – so I gave it another 10 minutes. After 40 minutes, I took it from the oven, and let it rest about 10 minutes. This is a good practice with any dish like this – the eggs and cheese set so you get a firmer texture (and no one burns their mouth… )
We enjoyed it. I’ll be making this more often, this summer – it’s a great way to use random bits of greens and cooked grains. I’ll make half the amount, too, in a smaller pan, as a side dish – it would be lovely with beans, say, or a vegetable saute with just a little meat or fish. As it was, I served it with corn chips (an occasional treat) and a salad.
(Not Your Mama’s) Spinach Cheese Casserole
- 4 eggs
- 1 c ricotta or cottage cheese
- 1/2 t Spike or other seasoning blend
- 1 - 1 1/2 c chopped cooked spinach
- 1 c cooked millet
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Beat the eggs in a bowl. One at a time, mix in each of the other ingredients, until they are all well blended.
- Pour into a quart casserole.
- Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until fully set in the middle.
- Remove from oven, and let rest 10 minutes.