It is easy to go overboard when the first vegetables of the season start popping out of the ground.
For months the earth has displayed all the visual excitement of a parking lot, then suddenly it started sprouting juicy edibles and it is more than my nervous system can handle. I'm just a guy who can't say no.
So when a neighbor offered me a grocery sack of fresh spinach, just harvested from a relative's farm, I was not about to turn her down.
Nor was I in the mood to say, "just give me a little." The earth makes; I take.
That is how I ended up with a mound of spinach in the refrigerator.
At first, I attempted to reduce the mound by making salads. Salads with mushrooms, salads with ranch dressing, salads with bacon. The salad-making hardly put a dent in the spinach supply.
The fridge was filling up with other food, and I was running out of ideas for ways to fix spinach.
That is how I ended up putting the spinach in the oven. It was a desperation move. I didn't have anywhere else to put it.
On my own, I would have never thought of baking spinach. I always regarded spinach and lettuce as greens destined to TC travel from the hydrator to the salad bowl with no stops en route. Then I did a dangerous thing. I read a book. A cookbook called "Pleasures of the Good Earth," by Edward Giobbi.
And, as happens when you read books, you see new ideas. And, as happens in the newspaper business, when you see new ideas, you steal them.
In this case the stealth involved covering spinach with olive oil and garlic and baking it for 15 to 20 minutes.
I found this recipe on page 12 of the cookbook, but that may not be where it will show up this summer when the book hits the bookstores, May 30, at a price of $23.
The copy of "Pleasures of the Good Earth" that I was looking through was an uncorrected proof, a paperback edition, that the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, sent out to stir up interest in the forthcoming book. It worked with me.
The idea of stealing an early spring recipe from a book that had not officially blossomed, only made the theft more appealing. It was like walking in last year's garden and finding some surprise vegetables.
As I flipped through the book I saw that this is exactly how Giobbi, an artist as well as a cookbook author, celebrates spring. He walks through his garden picking up "found vegetables," which he then chops up and cooks with potatoes in garlic and olive oil.
"I had a mess of it yesterday for lunch," said Giobbi when I reached him by phone in his home in Katonah, N.Y., a suburb he said was about an hour north of New York City.
"You've always got a few things in the garden you didn't pick last year," said Giobbi, adding that he mixed old vegetables, with the new spouts, such as dandelion greens. "You cook them altogether and squash the potatoes and they become like cream," said Giobbi.
Versions of the recipes were published in one of his previous cookbooks, "The Italian Way." But basically the recipes come from visits to his relatives in the Marches section of Italy.
"They would eat these vegetables with rabbit that was braiseand cooked with white wine. That was some meal," he said.
I wasn't able to try this recipe, since the only thing being produced by my little garden is mud.
But since it stressed olive oil and garlic, two of my favorite ingredients, it, too, looked good enough to steal.
Edward Giobbi's baked spinach
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds spinach
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour some of the olive oil into a large oven-proof casserole. Add spinach and garlic and toss, then drizzle on the remaining olive oil. Salt lightly and grind fresh pepper over the spinach. Bake, covered, stirring occasionally. The spinach will be done in 15 to 20 minutes; don't overcook.
Stew of found vegetables
About 2 1/2 pounds found vegetables, coarsely chopped
4 cups diced potatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons minced garlic
hot pepper flakes to taste (optional)
salt to taste
Put vegetables and potatoes in pot of boiling water and cook 4 minutes. Drain, reserving about 3 cups of the water. Heat the oil in a large skillet, add the garlic and optional hot pepper flakes and cook until the garlic begins to take on color. Add the parboiled vegetables along with 1 cup of the reserved liquid and a little salt. Cover and simmer over low to medium heat, adding more water as needed. Stir occasionally, crushing the potatoes after they become soft. Cook about 1 hour. Garnish each serving with a little extra virgin olive oil, if desired.