The gratin - golden brown, fragrant and sizzling from the oven
The gratin - golden brown, fragrant and sizzling from the oven
     
  (using spinach, chard, tomatoes, red onions, garlic and marjoram or oregano - all from the tunnel)
 
 This is a really very easy - but oozingly delicious dish using ingredients that most people will still have if they garden at all - and a couple of balls of mozzarella. If you don't grow your own - all the ingredients are easily available everywhere - both organic and non-organic. 
 
Although it's seasonal now - you can also make it all year round. In winter I like to make it with Swiss chard which I grow in the polytunnel and use some of my dehydrated semi-dried Rosada mini-plum tomatoes on the top - partially rehydrated in olive oil - rather than buying fresh ones.
It's a reasonably priced dish to make even if you have to buy the ingredients, as it doesn't include meat. But obviously if you grow your own - then it's a really cheap meal for 3 or 6 people - depending on the amount made. This recipe is for 2-3 people but is very easily doubled up for more.
 
It's versatile as it makes a very satisfying main dish for lunch or supper on it's own, or it could be used as a side dish to accompany a grilled chicken breast or perhaps some steak, in which case it would feed more people. We like to eat it with some thickly sliced crusty toasted sourdough bread topped by a poached egg. We have lots of eggs at the moment as the hens are laying well - so that's the way I made it for Gerry to taste.
It's suitable for vegetarians if they eat cheese.
Lastly - it's very healthy! The ingredients are all very nutritious and it's full of protein, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrient-rich vegetables.
 
 "It's hard to believe that just a few very simple ingredients could taste so good" - Gerry Kelly!
 
Equipment:
 
You'll need a large, deep, heavy based saucepan to cook the onions and spinach in, and a 16 x 21cm gratin dish, Pyrex dish, or similar for the amount which serves 2 - 3 people. For 4-6 people simply use a dish twice the size and double the amounts in the recipe.(If saucepan's too shallow the spinach keeps falling over the side!)
 
Ingredients* (for 2-3 people): 
 
Extra virgin olive oil
2 medium red onions (you could use white onions but red are nicest in this dish)
 
2-3 cloves of garlic 
 
600g of spinach or Swiss chard (or a mix of the two)
 
150g or 175g of mozzarella (drained weight) - usually the weight of 2 average-sized packs. Amount not critical - a little more doesn't matter, so no need to waste any! (Buffalo mozzarella is oozingly creamier if you're feeling decadent - but cheapest cow's mozzarella is fine if you want to feel frugal!)
 
125g of fresh baby plum tomatoes (plum are nicest but you can also use cherry tomatoes - although they can tend to be a bit more watery)
 
1 & 1/2 tablespoons of chopped oregano or marjoram leaves (loose - not packed - spoon, some varieties of oregano can be very strong!) I used golden marjoram which is a little milder and also has a lovely 'nutmeggy' taste when cooked in this dish - which goes well with the spinach.
 
Grated Parmesan cheese (freshly grated from a block or wedge please - not that sawdust-like rubbish out of packets which is already rancid and tastes disgusting!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Some thick slices of sourdough, ciabatta or other crusty bread to serve. If you want to serve a poached egg beside this dish - toasted sourdough is nice.
 
*I always use all organic ingredients if possible but that's up to you. Organic food is proven to be higher in many important nutrients. It's grown without artificial fertilisers and not sprayed with pesticides. Organic eggs are from hens that are kept on more extensive free range than conventional free-range hens and unlike conventional poultry, organic hens are fed on a totally organic ration which is guaranteed not to contain any genetically modified ingredients such as GMO soya protein or maize.
 
Method:
 
1. Heat a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in the large saucepan. Remove tops, tails and skins from the onions, slice finely and sweat gently in the saucepan, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until silky soft.(putting the lid on for the first couple of minutes of cooking creates a little steam which helps to prevent it from sticking too easily. but remove lid when onions are half cooked)
 
2. Add the crushed or chopped garlic to the pan just for the last minute or so, when the onions are almost cooked. Season with a little salt & pepper. Transfer the onion and garlic mix to a bowl and set aside.
3. Add another couple of tablespoons of oil to the pan and toss 1/3rd or 1/2 the spinach in it until wilted - not completely cooked. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the rest until you have all the spinach well wilted down. Set aside in a separate bowl to cool (If using Swiss chard - leave out the tougher stems as they take longer to cook. These make a very nice gratin on their own)
 
4. Put all the cooled spinach in a colander and press it down to get as much of the liquid out as possible - using a potato masher, saucer or something.
 
5. Slice the mozzarella thinly, keeping the balls separate so that you have an even amount for each of the two layers.
 
6. Lay half of the drained spinach on the bottom of the dish, spread 1/2 of the onion mixture on top and then half of the sliced mozzarella.
 
7. Repeat this layer again. So you now have 2 layers. Spinach - onion mix - mozzarella / spinach - onion mix - mozzarella.
 
8. Scatter the chopped oregano or marjoram and the halved tomatoes evenly over the top. It doesn't matter which way up the tomatoes are - it's a rustic looking dish. It's flavour - not neatness we're after! Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese if you have it - as much as you like.This gives you a nice crispy brown top. You could use Cheddar if you don't have Parmesan - but Parmesan is far nicer. (You can prepare ahead to this stage if you want - if doing so - cover and chill)
 
9. Just before cooking - drizzle with another tablespoon of olive oil, then cook at 190deg C for about 25 to 30 minutes, turning round halfway through in oven if necessary until it's sizzling and a nice even golden-brown on top.
 
Serve immediately, either on it's own with some crusty toasted sourdough bread, buttered or drizzled with olive oil - or with the bread toasted and topped with a lightly poached egg as well - which is how we I ate it here. This recipe doesn't freeze or keep warm well - it's best enjoyed straight from the oven!
 
1. Slice onions finely & sweat gently in couple of tablespoons of olive oil 2. When onions are soft, almost cooked & golden - add crushed garlic to pan for the last minute or so
1. Slice onions finely & sweat gently in couple of tablespoons of olive oil 2. When onions are soft, almost cooked & golden - add crushed garlic to pan for the last minute or so
3,4,5,6,7. After wilting & draining the spinach, put half on bottom of dish, spread half the onion garlic mix on top, &  half the sliced mozzarella. Repeat layer. 8. Scatter marjoram or oregano & halved tomatoes on top & sprinkle with grated Parmesan
3,4,5,6,7. After wilting & draining the spinach, put half on bottom of dish, spread half the onion garlic mix on top, &  half the sliced mozzarella. Repeat layer. 8. Scatter marjoram or oregano & halved tomatoes on top & sprinkle with grated Parmesan
9. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil & cook at 190degC for 25-30mins until golden brown  
9. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil & cook at 190degC for 25-30mins until golden brown  

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