We all know that eating vegetables is good for us, but let’s face it: plain vegetables can really be boring! What I love about spinach, besides the taste, is its versatility. From an easy raw spinach salad with bacon and eggs, to soups, to more complex dishes such as triangles of Greek spanakopita in flaky phyllo pastry, this green, leafy vegetable adapts in many appetizing ways and, as Popeye always knew, provides healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants as well. I thought that today I’d share some of my favorite spinach recipes.
One new favorite around here is Greek Spinach Focaccia. To make this, you start out by letting a ball of pizza dough rise for a couple of hours coated with olive oil in a bowl which you cover with a tea towel. (You may need to help it along on cooler days by placing it in a warm--not hot--oven with the heat turned off.) Meanwhile steam a 12-oz. package of fresh spinach until it wilts with just the water that clings to the leaves after washing it. In a skillet, slowly brown 3 tablespoons of pine nuts; be careful because they could easily burn. Then cook ½ of a chopped onion and 3 cloves of minced garlic in about a tablespoon of olive oil. When you’re ready to assemble the focaccia, pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees and roll out the pizza dough. Top ½ of the dough with the spinach (squeezed out of excess water), pine nuts, onion, and garlic, leaving about a one-inch border on the edge. Crumble ¾ cup of feta cheese, a tablespoon or two of lemon juice, and some dried oregano on top of the mixture. Add salt and a little cayenne pepper to taste, then fold the top half of the dough over the filling, pressing the two sides together with a fork. Brush with one tablespoon milk mixed with the same amount of water, and sprinkle with ¼ cup of Parmesan cheese. Cut 5 one-inch slits in the top of the dough and bake in the hot oven for about 15 minutes, until golden. Yum!
A somewhat elegant dish I found years ago in an issue of Bon Appétit magazine is called Spinach Timbales. You’re supposed to have 8 to 10 6-oz. ramekins to make individual servings of this recipe, but it can be adjusted to smaller containers like glass Pyrex bowls. First, you sauté ½ cup of minced green onions in 3 tablespoons of butter for about 5 minutes. When the scallions have cooled, mix in either 2 10-oz. packages of frozen spinach (thawed) or 2 packages of cooked fresh spinach--either way be sure to squeeze out the water. Add in 3 beaten eggs and 2 egg yolks, 1½ cups of half-and-half (or cream), ¾ cup dry bread crumbs, and ¼ cup Parmesan. Sprinkle in salt, white pepper, and grated nutmeg to taste. Place the mixture into the buttered bowls which you place onto a tea towel in a large baking pan and pour one inch of hot water around them. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. I've even served this rich, custard-like creation at our house as a special side dish at Thanksgiving.
I just love spinach and serve it in so many different ways. There’s an old favorite, the ill-named Spinach Brownie, which is not a dessert at all, but a vegetable dish baked with mozzarella or cheddar, which makes a great vegetarian meal. Rachael Ray also has some interesting artichoke and spinach recipes, one in combination with mac and cheese. Recently I found something called Spaghetti, Spinach, and Gorgonzola, that I might just have to try someday soon.