My cooking style these days often strays far from recipes and sticks close to the desires of my eyes, stomach, and mind. My ingredients also speak to me: that cabbage is finally getting old, I have way too many eggs (is there such a thing?), the hidden apple butter was suddenly noticed after months of unintentional neglect, or I take a whiff of Chinese five spice and all neurons fire “YES.” Since the messages from my mind’s eye and kitchen’s pantry change every day, I rarely replicate meals exactly.
But two nights ago, I had a simple, rustic meal for dinner that I repeated tonight and will repeat whenever the I have all of the ingredients at once: a heaping pile of warm greens over country bread and ricotta, a celestial combination of some of my favorite Maine eats so far.
I caramelized leeks in a trifecta of butter, rendered bacon fat, and olive oil. Then, I threw in several handfuls of chopped kale that I had previously de-stemmed. This helps prevent kale from wilting, similar to how removing carrot tops keeps the root firm. (Important: I threw the stems into a jar with garlic, fenugreek, and a dried chile and covered them with a boiling mixture of water, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup for an impromptu refrigerator pickle.)
While the kale was wilting, I toasted a thick slice of country bread from Scratch Baking Co. in South Portland. This bread is baked in huge 18-inch rounds at least 6 inches high, so the folks at Scratch sell more manageable quarter- and half-loaves as well. On my way back from visiting a friend in Portland for the weekend, I picked up a quarter loaf in addition to a dozen perfect bagels, this establishment’s claim to fame and key to my heart.
After the bread was toasted, I rubbed both sides with raw garlic, a move that elevates toast from plebian to glorious, and smeared a generous portion of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese Basket-Molded Ricotta, a Rockport-based artisanal cheese made using organic Maine milk. I saw owner Allison Lakin speak at the Camden Library about her transition from museum jobs and an anthropology degree to owning her own cheese-making business, and I have been wanting to support this soul-sister financially ever since. Her ricotta is different, as it is left to drain to the point where it is sliceable. I opted to smear it (heavily) on the garlic-rubbed toast and never look back.
I poured the kale and leeks over the ricotta-smeared toast, and topped the whole thing off with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Voilà: a dinner that managed, with each bite, to evolve through light, sweet, smokey, spicy, creamy, crunchy, salty, and chewy. And everything except the olives in the foreground and the olive oil was produced in Maine, within about 30 miles of my house. I’m real into it.