Cook with What You Have
Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel’s beautiful and oddly uplifting post-apocalyptic novel, Station Eleven (2014) haunts me. Set two decades after most of humanity perishes in a pandemic, the story follows the exploits of a nomadic group of actors and musicians whose motto pays homage to Star Trek.
It is emblazoned on the hood of their horse-pulled pick-up truck: “To Survive Is Not Enough.” In one scene, the protagonists forage for old cans of food in an old farmhouse in rural Michigan. When I first read these passages, I was transported back to some of the more memorable family meals I cooked in New Orleans in late 2005, after Hurricane Katrina.
With limited ingredients foraged from our cupboard, running water, a functioning gas stove, but no electricity, I was able to prepare meals that somehow tasted better. Of course, the wine was warmer than it should have been. However, with each bite, we recognized that we were happy to be together. I remember rather vividly that I prepared pasta. We had ample olive oil, a few cans of tomato paste, and pickled capers, dried pasta, and enough salt and pepper in the cupboard.
In keeping with every hurricane season, we always stocked up for summer with loads of canned goods, water and medicines. COVID19 is frightening. Yes, we do not know what comes next. However, the more we fill our time of social distancing with constructive activities we rarely have time to pursue in our busy lives, the better. Get seeds into the ground now for vegetables and herbs. Remember, plants still grow. Read novels, instead of the reports from the 24-hour newscycle. And bake a quiche. Surprisingly simple to make, it is a great means to use some of the perishable items in your fridge.
Key ingredients: Cook with what you have in your cupboard 2
I headed to the nearby grocery store during non-peak hours and made a bee-line for the “rotting shelf.” I found a bag of 4 red bell peppers for $1. Stores are keen to move their produce quickly now. If you cook it now, grab any vegetable that is priced to sell: carrots, peppers, tomatoes, onions, etc. I also ventured into the vegetable garden, and discovered those lovely Japanese white turnips that had made it through winter. I had forgotten that I had planted them, so I harvested them now.
6-8 TBS unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1 ½ cup flour (here’s where you can be creative — use what you have)
¼ tsp salt
1 TBS sugar
3-4 TBS iced water
3-4 bell peppers, or 2-3 carrots, or 1 large onion (chopped finely)
1 cup winter greens (chopped finely)
2 cups milk
3 large eggs
1 cup cheddar (or any) cheese will work (grated)
Grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste
Short-Crust Pastry: If you have a food processor, great. It is super quick and easy to bunk all of the ingredients in and press on: butter, flour, sugar, salt, and the iced water to hold the dough together when you spread it out in a 12-inch pie pan. If you are prone to use a rolling pin, you can certainly roll it out on the counter. However, I find it just as easy to pour the dough into the middle of a shallow pan and press it the center outward and up the sides with your thumbs. If you are combining the ingredients in a bowl without a food processor, it works just the same. If the ingredients do not hold together, add more TBS of water.
The Filling: Pre-heat the oven to 350F/177C. Chop vegetables finely and cook enough so that they are soft when placed in the pan to bake. If peppers or tomatoes, roast in the oven while it is preheating. If carrots, celery or turnips, cook in a rolling boil of water for 5 minutes. Once cooked soft enough, remove from heat and drain and/or let cool. Grate the cheese in a food processor or with a manual grater. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, blend eggs, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. I find the hand-mixer helpful. It fluffs up the liquid mixture nicely. If you have any dried herbs, feel free to add them as well.
Combine and bake: Place the grated cheese on the uncooked crust, and top it with the vegetables. Spread them evenly so that everyone gets cheese and vegetables in each bite. Pour the liquid (milk and eggs) mixture over the cheese and vegetables. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until it browns on top. Reduce the heat to 300F/149C and let cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let it stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Serve hot or at room temperature in slices with a green salad (if you have lettuces). If not, look to see which canned or frozen vegetables you have with which to make an impromptu salad.
Recognizing that most everyone is anxious, cooking comforting food, like quiche, is ideal for Meatless Monday.
–> This recipe is part of the Meat the Change campaign, carried out to raise awareness among producers and consumers about the environmental impact of meat consumption and production. Find out more here
–> To learn more about Meatless Monday: Watch the videos about how it is going global; and the tour of Terra Madre. To join us, submit a recipe of your own via email (Richard@ThinkLikePirates.com). If you prepare this week’s recipe, post images online using the hashtags #MeattheChange and #MeatlessMonday.