The preschool that my kids attend is outfitted with a miniature kitchen so they can learn “practical life.” My youngest spends the bulk of her time there, making lemonade and then cleaning her own cup, spooning her own yogurt for snack, and one on spectacular day, grating nutmeg. After all my years in the kitchen, I’d never seen a whole nutmeg until I saw her pick one up and begin to scrape it against the diminutive grater. All winter they’ve been asking to repeat this project at home. This week, I finally let them. I needed nutmeg for a spinach tart. I also needed to occupy them while I got the rest of dinner ready. Grating nutmeg happily solved both.
Parents might wonder about the safety of little hands using a box grater. I know I did. (And obviously trust your instinct with your own children – this is not Fisher Price, and accidents can happen.) I reminded them how to hold the nutmeg so their knuckles wouldn’t accidentally hit, told them to go slowly, and did a quick demo. If my son had been older, he would’ve rolled his eyes. Instead, he said “I knowww, mom. We do this at school,” in a voice much older than his five years. At school, they use a clean (i.e. never-painted-with) paintbrush and sweep the fragrant powder into a thimble-sized bowl. We scooped it into my measuring spoon and dumped it into the bowl, me delighting in the extra flavor the freshly-ground spice would impart, them in the pride at being allowed to help in such a grown-up way.
There are other ways for kids to help with this recipe. Washing spinach is always a favorite. They can crack eggs and measure cottage cheese and stir. After all this helping, they might be so invested in the recipe, they’ll actually eat the tart.
Speaking of which, I make this in spring and early summer with fresh spinach, and substitute beet greens in the fall and winter. This one was made with beet greens from a huge crop of beets I picked at last fall’s CSA harvest festival. I blanched and froze them in 10-ounce packages specifically for this recipe. I opted to use the whole leaf, stem and all, but if you’re serving it to friends or have picky kids, I’d suggest chopping off all but the green leaves. The stems, like the beet to which they used to be attached, turn everything they touch red.
1 9-inch pie shell, unbaked (I make one with 100% whole-wheat flour)
10 ounces of chopped cooked spinach or other greens (weight after cooking)
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/16 tsp grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 425. Make pie crust using your favorite recipe, prick all over and bake for 12 minutes. Remove and set aside. Turn heat to 375. Cook spinach (or thaw a package of frozen) and press out all the water. Mix eggs, cheeses, buttermilk and spices. Add spinach and mix well. Pour into pie shell and bake 40 minutes or until filling is set.