This past week I was away visiting my mother who lives on the Bruce Peninsula in the picture postcard village of Lion’s Head, Ontario. A quaint little harbour village situated on magnificent Georgian Bay, Lion’s Head, population 550, straddles the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the north pole. During the summer months the population swells by a thousand or two as cottagers, hikers, boaters, and rock climbers descend on the area.
Several rugged hikes along the Bruce Trail leave from the area – hikes where it is entirely possible to stand alone at the edge of a 200 foot tall limestone cliff and see nothing but crystal clear water all the way to the horizon. My favourite is the trail to White Bluffs. I can leave from the cottage door and walk straight onto the Bruce Trail – and within minutes be on some of the most spectacular land in the province. Actually probably some of the most dramatic, beautiful, and breathtakingly pristine scenery in the world. Ontario is so under-rated!
The cliff and forest ecosystem of the Bruce Peninsula is regarded as one of the most ancient and least disturbed forest ecosystems in North America. The cliffs along the shoreline of Lion’s Head are roughly 400 to 425 million years old, and incredibly some of the rare white cedars in the area are thought to be close to a thousand years old.
Still – the point of all this is the visit to see my mother. In order to fit in all the hiking, visiting, and chores my mother needs a hand with, I try to take up a pre-prepared meal or two. Since I had some beautiful fresh, local, organic spinach to use up, I made her a spinach and ricotta pie, and took along a nice bottle of white wine, freshly picked tomatoes from the garden, and a delicious vegan applesauce loaf (recipe coming soon).
The spinach and ricotta pie travelled incredibly well. It’s so tasty! Spinach, egg, and cheese are one of those perfect flavour combinations – one of my absolute favourites. Right now while fresh spinach is abundant this pie is a perfect way to use lots of it. Later in the year, when the fresh variety is scarcer, or comes imported from thousands of miles away, you can use frozen spinach in its place.
It’s worth buying organic spinach – which along with lettuce, kale, and chard are often listed in the “dirty dozen” lists – those products with high levels of pesticide residues. Apparently it’s also easily grown in containers. Spinach is a cooler weather crop so one of the advantages of growing it in a pot is that during the hottest weather, you can move your pot some place shady to protect it from the worst of the heat. You can also plant spinach in the fall and overwinter it (even in Ontario where we get some pretty harsh winters). It will be one of the first crops up in the spring and should produce right up until the worst of the summer heat hits.
This recipe is an adaptation of the Spinach and Ricotta Pie from A Taste of Wintergreen (page 32). It’s equally nice served warm or room temperature accompanied by a green salad and sliced fresh tomatoes.
Spinach and Ricotta Pie
Pastry for a 9-inch pie crust
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
454 grams or 1 lb of fresh, organic spinach, washed thoroughly, dried, and stems removed OR 10 oz (330 g) package of frozen chopped organic spinach, thawed, and well-drained
1 cup ricotta cheese (or cream cheese)
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup basil pesto
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon each black pepper, nutmeg
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Roll out pastry, line pie shell and set aside.
Sauté the onion in olive oil until soft, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and add the spinach. Cover with a lid and let the spinach wilt lightly for about 5 minutes. If you are using frozen you can skip this step and just mixed the thawed, well-drained spinach straight into the sautéed onion and continue along your merry way.
Mix together all remaining ingredients except cheddar cheese, and stir to combine thoroughly. Add spinach and onion mixture, lifting from the pan with a slotted spoon and leaving excess liquid behind.
Place filling in prepared pie-crust. Top with grated cheddar cheese. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until centre is set and quiche is puffed and golden. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes before serving, or if serving cold, let stand for half an hour before refrigerating.