I’ve been thinking lately about what to cook in my newly acquired outdoor Moroccan oven. If you haven’t seen one, It’s a small earthenware container that houses a little charcoal fire. You put a tagine (also earthenware) on top and voila — you get an outdoor slow cooking oven that is compact, transportable, low tech, and downright fun to use.
Tiptoeing through the garden, I observed a clump of eager chard leaves waiting to be martyred.
While I was at it I rooted out some deeply embedded onions from last season.
I brought home a thing of beauty from the Union Station farmers market: a bag of trumpet mushrooms, with astounding girth beneath the caps, from the exceptionally talented mushroom duo, Mike and Liz from Mile Hi Fungi. Their mushroom bouquets are arguably the most glamorous thing to hit Denver since Oscar Wilde’s speech at the Tabor Opera House in April, 1882. Trumpet mushrooms if you haven’t heard, are heralded in the press for their massive size and meaty texture, as was Oscar— and these didn’t disappoint. Get a dime bag and you’ll never, ever look back.
And so it came to pass, with these things, I made a chard pie.
I had a free hour after breakfast, so instead of immersing myself in the daily doldrums of my dark media hole, I chose to do something useful and life-affirming: I prepared my pie.
Come evening all I had to do was crack a beer, light a fire, sip and set the pie on top. Once the coals had died to embers it took an hour to cook.
There are infinite ways to approach this. I used beef, but lamb shoulder with feta and eggplant is on my list. Ionah suggested a thin layer of potatoes layered on the bottom. How good would that be? Soft, chewy and soaked in succulent meat juices? Yes please sir!
A lentil and mushroom filling would be fine if you’ve become exasperated with the world of industrial meat production, or, find a farm that field raises their animals from start to finish without sending them off to end their days getting fat, sick and juiced on antibiotics in an over-crowded CAFO, (industry speak, for controlled animal feeding operation).
The beauty of a pie like this is that there really is no recipe. Use any leftovers that you have and throw them in, like chicken, rice or lentils; use Tuscan kale or cabbage leaves instead of chard.
Chop up the onion and off with the trumpets’ heads and dice them up.
Cut off the stems from the chard leaves and chop them up.
Sauté these three gently in something. (I used coconut oil: olive oil or butter would be fine too). After they soften, sprinkle in a little turmeric and stir it around.
Meanwhile, cut the mushroom stems into little steaks.
Transfer the onion/mushroom/chard stem mixture to a bowl.
Wipe out the pan and sauté the trumpet stems in oil and season lightly with soy sauce. Add them to the bowl.
Clean out the pan, add oil, heat it to hot and add the beef. Brown it a bit, add a pinch of cinnamon, a bigger pinch of Aleppo pepper and turn off the heat.
Cinnamon, with a generous hand, is overpowering: too much will destroy. Use with parsimonious fingers.
Chop up some fresh herbs and add them to the beef—I used sage and chives.
Combine the beef with the onion/mushroom/chard stem mixture and add in a small handful of pine nuts and another of currants.
Twist in some black pepper, add sea salt, stir, taste and adjust as needed.
The heat from Aleppo pepper is mild and should stay in the background. Any other hot pepper/chile will work, but use with a mild hand. A few drops of tabasco style hot sauce would be fine.
Steam the chard leaves in batches for ten seconds or less, plunge them into cold water and drain.
Assemble the pie. Lay down the leaves, face (shiny) side down overlapping a bit, allowing the ends to spill out over the tagine. Fill ‘er up and fold the leaves over to cover. Put the lid on and place over the coals. The slow cooker will now do its work. As it heats you will see little bubbles of savory broth appearing around the edges whose steam will wilt, flavor and finish cooking the leaves on top. When it’s ready drizzle on some flavorful olive oil. It will buff and shine up nicely.
Of course you need neither a tagine nor a Moroccan earthenware oven to make this. You could do it in a dutch oven on an outdoor fire. You could make it in a regular oven in a casserole dish covered with a lid or wrapped in foil.