It was a busy Saturday recently, filled with lots of garden work (me), garage reorganizing (my husband), and room cleaning/packing (youngest son, prior to departing for college). Dinner time rolled around and so did the realization that there wasn’t much food in the house. I had planned to cook that evening, except that I didn’t actually plan anything (a not uncommon occurrence). And seeing as I was still in my gardening outfit (ie, my old painting pants and shirt–the very ones my husband keeps threatening to burn), with streaks of dirt across my forehead, my enthusiasm for a quick trip to the grocery store was nonexistent.
Surely there was something in the cupboards/refrigerator/freezer/garden that could be pulled together for dinner. The freezer yielded some Italian turkey sausages. The refrigerator revealed lots of baby spinach that needed to be used immediately, mozzarella from a recent pizza night, and the Pecorino Romano cheese that always occupies a special spot. The cupboards contained onions, olive oil, and pasta, and the trusty garlic bowl on the counter was full. And there were (and still are) more tomatoes than I know what to do with in the garden.
I immediately envisioned a zesty penne-sausage dish–only to remember we had had pasta the night before. Shucks. I was willing to forget this fact, but the Greek chorus in our house probably would not. And then I saw the wheat berries I had recently bought, and an idea formed…. [Note: this can easily be made vegetarian by eliminating the turkey sausage and adding more veggies.]
Wheat Berry Casserole with Italian Sausage, Spinach, and Mozzarella
1 lb. fresh baby spinach (about 12 c.)
1 large white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1.25 lb. Italian turkey sausages, removed from their casings
3 c. cooked wheat berries (see Note below)
3/4 c. seeded and diced tomato (about 5-6 small Roma tomatoes)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 c. grated mozzarella
1/2 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1. Cook wheat berries as indicated in the Note below; set aside.
2. Heat a skillet over high heat and add the spinach; cook until it has reduced in size and has released most of its liquid; remove from the skillet and drain, pressing as much liquid out as possible. Set aside.
3. In the same skillet, also over high heat, add the olive oil, then the onions. Cook until the onions have softened and are turning golden at the edges. Add the garlic and cook a few more minutes.
4. Add the sausage and cook until no longer pink, breaking up clumps with a spatula. Turn off the heat. Add the reserved spinach and the wheat berries, and mix in well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
6. Layer half the wheat berry/sausage mixture into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Repeat, and sprinkle the Pecorino Romano over the top of the casserole. (See photo below, taken halfway through doing the top layer.)
7. Bake casserole for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and slightly golden.
NOTE: Cooking Wheat Berries
Wheat berries triple in volume when cooked. For this recipe, you will need 1 c. uncooked wheat berries. (I double that amount and save the rest of the cooked wheat berries for salads or other recipes later in the week.)
1. For best flavor, toast the wheat berries over high heat in a dry skillet (no oil), stirring constantly, until some of the berries are beginning to turn golden brown and the berries emit a nice, nutty aroma.
2. While the berries are toasting, bring the 3c. water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the bouillon cube.
3. When the wheat berries are toasted, pour them into the boiling water and cook over high heat for about 50-60 minutes, adding more water as needed (no need to cover the pot, but keep an eye on it). When done, the berries will be al dente.
4. Drain the berries; there should be about 3 c. cooked berries.