It was a cold, rainy evening early this spring. I’d spent the whole day wrapped in a blanket, writing. I hadn’t bothered to change out of the pajamas I’d worn the night before (no judgment, people, I DID hit the deadline). Disinclined to get dressed and run to the store, I had to make dinner from what I had on hand. Little did I know I was about to stumble upon what would become my new favorite meal starter while raiding the crisper in my fridge for something to bulk up the pound of local sausage I always have in my freezer.

The crisper was full of hearty greens – Lacinato kale, rainbow chard, baby spinach – because they are good for me, they hold well, and they are so readily available in Maine. Local farmers are producing greens pretty much year-round now, given season-extending high-tunnels used by many and a growing number of hydroponic operations employed by others.

I roughly chopped the mixed greens and they amounted to about six cups, loosely packed. I pulled out my trusty cast iron skillet, slicked it with a glug of olive oil and added a pound of thawed rosemary and lamb sausage from Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham, using a pair of wooden spoons to break up the meat as it cooked and then browned over medium high heat. I stirred in a cup of diced onions and reduced the heat to let them become translucent slowly for about ten minutes before adding a handful of thinly sliced garlic (yes, that’s a lot of garlic!).

I prefer tender steamed greens to quickly sautéed ones, which are tougher. So once I tipped the chopped greens into the pan and stirred to coat them in the flavorful fat, I poured in water (about a half cup) and covered the skillet to let them steam a few minutes. Then I seasoned the lot with salt, Aleppo pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. The overall yield was about four cups of flavorful food.

Mise en place for pizza: the sautéed greens and sausage mix, tomato sauce, and grated pecorino. Michele McDonald/Staff photographer

That night I topped a cup of the greens and sausage sauté with a fried egg and swabbed the plate clean with a piece of crusty bread. Fully satisfied, I started to plan what I could do with the leftovers over the next few days.

The leftovers can go in myriad directions. You can continue with the egg theme to make a frittata, quiche or quick pan scramble. Maybe use the greens and sausage as a stuffing for freshly baked Maine spuds for jacket potatoes or cut up a cold baked sweet potato and add it to make hash. Cheese is a natural pairing for both greens and sausage. So stir the mixture into a pot of warm parmesan broth with cooked white beans for a filling, savory soup. You could toss the sauté mix with hot ziti, some of its pasta cooking water and grated cheese for a balanced pasta meal, use it as the meat layer in lasagna, or scatter it to top your next grilled pizza. It is also great stuffed into pasta for ravioli or into prepared dumpling wrappers.

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Do keep in mind a few things when you’re making the mixture. Start with raw sausages, not fully cooked or smoked ones. Cooking any sausage too many times can give it a grainy texture. Remember that chicken or turkey sausage may require a bit more oil in the pan than fattier pork or lamb sausage. Since sausage usually contains salt, don’t add more salt until you’ve steamed the greens, then taste the mix first to avoid oversalting. The same goes with adding chili and garlic if your sausage is already spiced with those things. The greens-sausage mixture keeps well in the fridge for about five days but don’t freeze it because the greens can turn a bit slimy once they’re thawed.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

After flipping the pizza dough, sprinkle its second side with toppings, including cheese, before you finish grilling it. Michele McDonald/Staff photographer

Grilled Sausage and Hearty Greens Pizza

Raw dough for 1 (12-inch) pizza
Olive oil
Flour
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 cup sautéed sausage and greens
1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into strips
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese

Prepare the grill for high, direct heat. Pour some olive oil in a small bowl, and place it next to the grill.

On a floured surface, shape the pizza dough into a 12-inch circle. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then push out the edges with your fingers as raised edges will interfere with the grilling process. Slide the dough onto a rimless baking sheet or a pizza peel dusted with flour.

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Dip a folded paper towel in the olive oil and use tongs to grease the grill grates. Gently slide the dough off the baking sheet or peel onto the hot grill grates. Close the lid of the grill and let the pizza cook for 2 minutes. Check the bottom of the dough to see if it is browning evenly. Rotate the dough if it’s necessary. Close the lid and cook for 1 more minute.

Slide the cookie sheet or peel under the dough and remove it from the grill. Use a spatula to flip the dough over so that the grilled side is facing up. Close the grill to help retain the heat.

Brush the grilled side of the dough with olive oil. Spread the tomato sauce all over the dough. Scatter the cooked greens and sausage over the sauce. Sprinkle the red pepper over the greens and sausage. Finish with an even distribution of the cheeses. Slide the pizza back onto the grill.

If you are using a gas grill, reduce the heat to medium. If you are using a charcoal grill, close the vents on the cover almost all the way. Close the lid and cook  until the bottom begins to char and the cheese bubbles. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board and rest for 2 minutes before cutting it.


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