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An Elegant Easter Pie

Italian Easter Pie or Torta di Spinaci

Italian Easter Pie or Torta di Spinaci

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The well-worn recipe from 1972

We learned about Easter Pie years ago, when visiting the family of an Italian-American graduate school friend, John Agresto (who recently published a cookbook full of great recipes and reminiscences of growing up in Brooklyn, Tomatoes, Basil and Olive Oil: An Italian-American Cookbook). In addition to an Easter dinner of monumental proportions, their holiday was marked by a tasty spinach/cheese/meat pie that simply sat around in the kitchen for snacking in the unlikely event that someone was hungry. Carolyn and I spotted a recipe a few years later (1972!) in the Sunday NY Times for “An Elegant Easter Pie,” a recipe by Jean Hewitt under the title “Anita Sheldon’s Torta Di Spinaci.” It wasn’t quite the same as the Easter pie we remembered at the Agrestos, but it was mighty good and it became a family tradition at Eastertime until we lost the recipe some years back. It was, thankfully, recovered recently at the bottom of a file cabinet and it’s been reinstated in our holiday repertoire. We served it most recently at our annual Easter Brunch. While it has holiday credentials, it also makes for great picnic fare, or an easy luncheon dish. We just noticed that the recipe has also been published in Amanda Hesser’s wonderful new The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

Here’s the recipe, with thanks to the New York Times, Jean Hewitt, Amanda Hesser, and Anita Sheldon.

ANITA SHELDON’S TORTA Dl SPINACI
Serves 8 to 10 [or more — it’s a generous size]

For the Pastry
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces [put in all this butter; the pastry is rich, but delicious!]
1 large egg yolk
Approximately 3 tablespoons water

For the Filling
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 3/4 pounds fresh spinach, trimmed and washed well, or two 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach
Three 1-inch-thick smoked pork chops or pork loin (about 1 pound), any fat and bones removed and meat diced, or 1/2 pound bacon, diced
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 5 ounces)
1 cup (8 ounces) ricotta cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

1. To make the pastry, place the flour, salt, and butter in a bowl. With a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingertips, work the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.

2. Mix the egg yolk with 3 tablespoons water and sprinkle over the mixture. Stir with a fork, adding only enough extra water to make a dough that just clings together. Divide the dough in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap each one in wax paper and chill briefly.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions until tender but not browned. Set aside.

4. If using fresh spinach, place the washed spinach leaves, with just the water that clings, in a large saucepan, cover tightly, and cook until the leaves wilt. Drain well and let cool enough to touch. In batches, gather the leaves in your palm and press out all the liquid by squeezing as firmly as possible. Chop the spinach. Or, if using frozen spinach, cook according to the package directions; drain well, cool, and squeeze dry. [Note: the squeezing part is really important — get all the water our or you’ll have a soggy crust!]

5. Combine the chopped spinach and onions in a bowl and let cool completely, then add the diced smoked pork, Parmesan cheese, ricotta, salt and pepper to taste, and lightly beaten eggs.

6. Heat the oven to 425°F. Roll out half the pastry on a lightly floured work surface into 12-inch circle and line a 10-inch pie plate with it. Brush the bottom and sides of the shell with the lightly beaten egg white. Pour in the filling.

7. Roll out the remaining pastry and cover the filling. Trim, seal, and crimp the edges. Make a steam hole and if you’re up for it place leaves, cut from the pastry scraps, around the hole (not over it). [We put leaves around the edges for an elegant spring look.]

8. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and done. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting.

Cooking Notes
The torta can be baked early in the day and reheated in a 375°F oven. Cover loosely with foil to prevent overbrowning. [It is also just fine at room temperature or slightly warmed]

Memorial Day Getaway on the Maine Coast

 

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Solo Bistro. A Guest Favorite!

To celebrate Memorial Day, the opening of our 16th season, and to encourage visitors to experience the Maine coast in the quieter days of early summer, we have put together a irresistible package for a Memorial Day Getaway, good through May 31.  For any new bookings in May that include at least three nights at Coveside, we will provide — at no additional charge beyond our low-season room rates — some great additional benefits

  • *dinner for two at our favorite Bath restaurant, Solo Bistro.
  • *free admission for two at your choice of the Mid-coast’s two most popular
    Childrens Garden at Botanical Gardens

    Children’s Garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

    attractions, the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath or the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in nearby Boothbay. The Maritime Museum provides a fascinating glimpse into  Maine’s shipbuilding and seafaring past and present. Admission includes a reduced cost for their popular boat trips on the Kennebec. The Botanical Gardens are the largest in the Northeast and have become Maine’s second most popular tourist destination (after Acadia National Park) and a spectacular addition to our area.

  • *two decadent lobster rolls at the ever-popular Five Islands Lobster Company, a five-minute walk from Coveside and always on lists of Maine’s best lobster wharfs. The view, and the lobster, are the best!

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    Five Island Lobster Co.
    A Maine Institution!

This is a $140 value, at no additional cost!  And, of course, our guests always enjoy a complementary gourmet breakfast and free access to our bicycles and canoe.

Click here to check availability and make a reservation.

Oysters from Damariscotta!

Oysters ready to be shucked

Damariscotta oysters ready to be shucked and plated

A sure sign of spring: oystering has begun on the Maine coast and our favorite spot for quaffing them (along with a pint of Pemaquid Ale ) is King Eider’s Pub, on the main drag in Damariscotta.  This delightful village is about a 40-minute drive north of Coveside on highway one. It sits at the top of the lovely Pemaquid peninsula, home to lighthouses, a favorite summer restaurant — Shaws Fish and Lobster Wharf in the village of New Harbor, and great scenery. We think these oysters from Darariscotta River, raised in the chilly waters of Maine, are about the finest oysters we’ve ever tasted. But ice in the river prevents their harvesting during the winter months.  All the more reason to take advantage of these treats when they are available!

Easter Brunch at Coveside

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We invited friends and neighbors to an Easter brunch at Coveside, so Carolyn could try out new recipes and get back into baking after our lengthy sojourn in Europe. The event was a great success and the food — especially the baked goods — was wonderful. Many new ideas for breakfasts next summer! Recipes for the baked goods came mostly from Thomas Keller’s beautiful new cookbook, Bouchon Bakery (Artisan Books), and from the new cookbook from our favorite Portland bakery: Alison Pray and Tara Smith, Standard Baking Company Pastries (Down East Press).

Spring Comes to Maine — Slowly!

First day of Spring?

First day of Spring?

We returned from Europe a few days ago, hoping to find the beginnings of Spring. But we found the remnants of a late winter snowstorm: Spring comes to Maine — slowly. The snow is melting fast, however, and we have high hopes that we’ll soon see the first stirrings of the season to come. In the meantime, we’re making plans for the summer season; Carolyn is testing new recipes; and we’re looking forward to our 16th year as innkeepers.

WOOFING during the Mistral in Provence

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The field from which we removed a truckload of young grape vines, to make room for a new field of asparagus. The tractor is digging up the rows so we can pull out the vines. This was not a small field!

After spending two months, over two years, working on our French in classes near Nice, we wanted to put it to use and see how we could do in the real world. So we signed up to be “Woofers,” [World-side Opportunities in Organic Farming] on a farm in Provence. We lived for 4 days with a family whose son, Mario, was intent on becoming a self-sustaining organic farmer. We traded our work for a place to stay, all our meals, and a chance to get to know the family, their way of life, and to  practice our French (no one in the family spoke English). We emailed back a forth a bit before we left for France, but really had little idea what we were getting into. It turned out to be a truly wonderful experience.

In addition to farming, Mario and his family ran a bed & breakfast (a “chambre d’hote” in France) so we thought we’d fit right in — help cook breakfast, clean rooms, work in the garden a bit. Except that he had no guests in March, and a great need for help in his fields. So we spent four amazing days working as farm hands, living with his family, and speaking French. The only bad part was that we arrived at the same time as a major windstorm — a Mistral. This legendary wind blows straight from the Artic; it is fierce and very cold. For the first three days, the wind blew constantly at 40 – 50 miles per hour, with gusts well over 60!  And the temperature was in the 30’s and low 40’s. The only saving grace was the brilliant sunshine.

You might think that with these climactic conditions, no one would work outside. Not so! We spent 3 1/2 frigid days pulling out grape vines, planting some of the vines in another vineyard, weeding a newly planted vegetable garden, pruning back a sizable vineyard that had gone without care or pruning for several years, and trying to stay warm. Fortunately, the wind stopped for our last day of work so we got a sense of what the Provencal weather is usually like this time of year. But the four days we spent “:woofing” were unforgettable — we laughed a lot, drank a lot of wine, ate very well, took a lot of Motrin, found out that we could understand and make ourselves understood pretty well in French, and got acquainted with a truly delightful family which we will probably visit again. Here are some pictures of our adventure. They include trying to light a fire to make coffee in 60 mph winds, the load of vines we removed, Tom weeding, Carolyn trying to stay warm, a work break from pruning during our one warmish day, the vineyard we pruned (note its size, and the difference between the pruned and unpruned rows), the B&B, and Carolyn with Mario’s wonderful family.

Rome food adventure

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After our four-week French course in Villefranche-Sur-Mer was over, we spent four days in Rome, visiting old friends who were in Rome for the month of March. On the first day they booked a fabulous Rome food tour with Elizabeth Minchilli, an acclaimed cookbook writer and blogger. She is an American who has lived in Rome for many years. Her blog, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, is one of our two most favorite food blogs (the other is David Libovitz’ “Living the Sweet Life in Paris.”)

We spent an hour or so in the Campo de’ Fiore, one of Rome’s best known vegetable markets. Artichoke season had just begun and the bounty of artichokes was amazing. To say nothing of the other vegetables, the flowers, spices, etc. And then we visited food shops in the neighborhood. A feast for the senses!  If you are in Rome, we highly recommend Elizabeth’s food tour, which includes visits to pastry, cheese, wine, bread, and sausage shops — with tasting — and a lovely lunch at a traditional Roman restaurant. Some pictures of the bounty:

Only in France: The Menton Lemon Festival

Menton Lemon Festival 2013

We’re in southern France, on the Cote d’Azur, working hard on our French at an intensive language school, L’Institut de Francais, near Nice. A long way from Coveside and the Maine coast in February! We had a day off today and took the train to Menton, a lovely resort town on the Italian border, to check out the annual Lemon Festival. They create a park full of huge displays made entirely of oranges, lemons, and flowers (as well as parades with floats made of fruit, night-time displays, and other events). The theme this year was Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days and the amazing citrus displays depicted various places in the world visited by Phileas Fogg on his voyage. The fruit are attached to the huge display frames with elastic bands.  This year the displays consumed 120 tons (!) of citrus and a million elastic bands. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images. Only in France!

We’re in France!

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Our blog entries may slow down a bit until mid-March.  We’re spending almost 7 weeks in the South of France, attending a French language school in Villefranche-sur-Mer (a beautiful village next to Nice on the Mediterranean). And then we’re doing a bit of traveling. We’re even spending five days working on an organic farm and B&B in Provence, practicing our French (our hosts speak no English), working in the fields, and helping with the housework. We’ll let you know how this works out!  Here’s the view from our school — L’Institute de Francais. You can see why we like it here!

If you’d like to follow our adventures, our travel blog is Covesiders.blogspot.com.

New Website for Coveside Bed & Breakfast

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Our first website, a classy, state-of-the-art website in 1998, was designed by our good friend, Chap Bowie (now retired from the website business). It served us extremely well during the years of dial-up internet service and beyond. But its narrow format and compressed photographs were no longer suited to the broadband era. We were lucky to obtain the services of Whitestone Marketing – the national leader in websites for inns and bed & breakfasts – to design a new website for us. And we employed Lynn Karlin – a preeminent Maine professional photographer – to do a 2 1/2 day photo shoot here at the inn last summer. The result, we think, is stunning. Thanks to Whitestone and to Lynn for a superb job!