I’ve talked about my love of libraries for some time now. This week (April 14-20) is National Library Week, and I’m going celebrate it by talking about why the library has been important in my own life for over three decades, and why it should be important to you. Hopefully, your library is awesome, and you visit it regularly. You can use it for a multitude of things, from music to movies to, yes, every conceivable type of book. In this little corner of the internet, you’ve seen it used most often for cookbooks; in fact, many of the recipes I’ve researched, toyed with and practiced on over the past few years have come from none other than my lovely library.
Which brings me to my next item of business: since I am a food blog and not a blog about libraries, I will be cooking things for you. Delicious things, all of which I found in books I borrowed from my local library. Each day you will get a story about why the library is awesome, combined with a recipe that is equally spectacular. This is my ode/love letter to The Saint Louis County Library: a library I have borrowed many a book from, owed many a fine to, and enjoyed many an hour in. I love you, library: this is why.
Some of my earliest memories involve you. I was a big reader from a very young age, and I devoured books quickly. We had quite a few at home, but my mom was a big fan of taking me to you every week to get new books to read. I loved everything about it; the smell, the massive amount of books, and the feeling that I was doing some thing very grown up. It would take me what seemed like forever to pick out something I wanted to take home, because we were only allowed so many and I wanted to take all of them.
The Cliff Cave branch was my branch back then, and it was everything a library in the early eighties should look like: beige and brown and orange and wonderful, with lots of tables slightly too large for me. I remember we were always very quiet, lest we disturb something and not being allowed back. I was taught from a very early age to have a sort of reverence for the building (and the fellow readers found within) that I carry to this day.
This was also the era I fell in love with the best thing on wheels: the bookmobile. At that time, Library, your bookmobiles were light tan with brown writing, with wood shelves lining both sides. Never has their been a happier break from school than when the bookmobile would come. I would go straight to the Nancy Drew, Babysitters Club, or Sweet Valley Twins/Sweet Valley High section and grab the next in each series, anxious to see what happened next. I lost a few books that were yours, Library; some of which I have found recently.
You are not getting this back, by the way; I consider it a souvenir of my youth.
Library, I should tell you; if you are reading this, and you remember someone recently calling and talking to you about perhaps there being an old bookmobile floating around somewhere to adopt/purchase? That was my mom. Our big life goal is to someday own an old bookmobile, and she is on the hunt. Someday I will have one, and I will fill it with books and use it as the best office/studio ever to exist on this earth.
You helped me learn to read, Library; more than that, you helped me learn how much I loved to read. You gave me access to a never-ending stream of books I may not have ever seen otherwise, because I read lightning-fast and we would have spent millions on books. You helped me through my first actual research papers and science projects; I even made a diorama for a book report based on an illustration I found in your copy of Tom Sawyer.
You gave me summer reading clubs so I didn’t feel like I was the only wee nerd out there who wanted to read during summer vacation. I spent so much time there I could draw a fairly accurate map (circa 1985-ish) of the Cliff Cave branch. Listen, I never knew what magic you were performing by rubbing my book spines up against that weird metal box, or why your door alarm used to make a muffled quadruple-tap ever time I walked in or out, but I loved it all. Thanks, Library.
Tomorrow, we talk about how big a role my library played in my high school life. Can you believe it? When I went to high school, there was no Google; looking back, I’m pretty happy about that. For now, I’m going to give you my first recipe of the week: an appetizer, because it seemed appropriate. This one I found in the only cookbook I hadn’t pre-requested: as I walked by the features shelf to grab my requests, this book caught my eye and I couldn’t resist. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for packaging (this book is beautiful) but it’s got some fantastic recipes within its pages. Interested? Check and see if your local library has it in their stacks.
Adapted from Green Market Baking Book: 100 Delicious Recipes for Naturally Sweet & Savory Treats by Laura C. Martin. Seriously, some really great things in here; I know several of these recipes reminded me quite a bit of a few of you when I was thumbing through.
Spinach + Ricotta Turnovers
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 green onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 large handfuls of spinach, stemmed and roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (the creamy sort, not the crumbly ricotta salata)
- 1/4 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
- zest of 1 lemon
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (or homemade, Fancypants; whatever you have on hand)*
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
*The original recipe calls for phyllo to be used versus puff pastry. Although I admit, phyllo is always elegant and lovely, I can’t in good conscience recommend something I couldn’t seem to do. Blame the quality of phyllo or my impatience, but it wasn’t working for me with the phyllo (and I’ve used it several times before with success), so I substituted puff pastry. Both options will yield you delicious results, so pick whichever you would rather work with.
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
Set out your puff pastry (if you haven’t already) and thaw according to package instructions. I think it works best if you use the overnight thaw in the refrigerator, but if you must, setting it out at room temperature will work also.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the garlic at the end for about 20 seconds more, just until fragrant, being careful not to burn it.
Add the spinach and increase your heat to medium-high. Cook until spinach has wilted, about 3-4 minutes. Drain spinach mixture, using a wooden spoon to press out as much residual liquid as you can. Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool completely.
Once the spinach has cooled, add the ricotta, Parmesan, pine nuts, parsley, rosemary, and lemon zest. Stir together and season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
When your puff pastry is completely thawed, lay one sheet out on a lightly floured surface, so the seams are vertical to you. Using a floured rolling pin (and adding a bit more flour on the top of the dough as needed), gently roll out the pastry vertically. You want a total of 12 squares for this recipe; the seams already divide your pastry into three equal lengths, so focus on lengthening the pastry so you can make three cuts horizontally – once in the middle, two to divide those sections in half – to form 12 equal squares. Use a thin knife or pizza cutter to make your cuts.
Place a slightly heaped tablespoon of the spinach mixture on each square and fold over into a triangle, using your fingers to seal each side. With the tines of a fork, press to tightly seal the edges. Place on the prepared sheet pan.
Once all the turnovers are filled, whisk your egg yolk and water together. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the tops of each turnover. Using a small skewer or toothpick, poke a few holes in the top of each turnover to allow steam to escape.
Bake for 20-22 minutes, until turnovers are golden in color. Remove and let cool slightly before serving. These are just as delicious at room temperature as they are warm, so no rush to get them out if you’re making multiple batches.