6.14.10 Green Light

Spinach 790 xxx
photo by george billard
Spinach plucked fresh from the garden is one of the great joys at this time of year. Thought to have originated in ancient Persia, Arab traders carried spinach into India, from where it was introduced to China. The earliest record of spinach is in Chinese from around 647 AD. When Catherine de’Medici, born in Florence, became queen of France, she insisted that spinach be served at every meal. That’s why, to this day, dishes made with spinach are known as "Florentine."Highly nutritious and full of antioxidants, spinach is a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, folate, betaine, iron, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, protein, phosphorous, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. No wonder it made Popeye so strong! Consider this: a 180 gram serving of boiled spinach contains 6.43 mg of iron, versus the 4.42 mg in a 170 gram ground beef patty. However, spinach contains oxalic acid, which binds with iron and prevents its absorption, so it is best eaten with foods high in vitamin C and calcium that help it be absorbed by the body. These include meat, fish, poultry, dairy, citrus, cantaloupe, strawberries, broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomato, potato, red peppers and white wine. The dark green, crinkly spinach is called Savoy; there is also a kind with flat, smoother leaves; and there is a hybrid type that is somewhere in between. To maximize its nutrients, spinach is best eaten when fresh, lightly steamed or blanched. But I also love it creamed (which means somewhat more cooked down) and raw in salads.
Here are a few different ways to enjoy this powerful green vegetable:EGGS EN COCOTTE WITH SPINACH serves 21 large bunch fresh spinach4 fresh eggs1/4 cup heavy creamsea saltspicy pimentónPreheat oven to 375 degrees.Wash spinach and remove any stems and thick ribs; roughly chop. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat in a large pot that has a lid.Add spinach, stir to coat, and cover. After 2-3 minutes, spinach should be thoroughly wilted. Drain off as much liquid as possible, and spread cooked spinach on the bottom of a small casserole or other shallow baking dish.Make 4 little wells in the spinach and crack an egg into each one. Pour cream on top, covering egg whites. Sprinkle with sea salt and pimentón. Bake until whites are set, leaving yolks slightly runny (if you like that).GARLIC-SCENTED SPINACH PANNA COTTAfrom Merrill Stubbs at Food52serves 4 1 cup heavy cream 1 1/2 cups whole milk 1 fat clove garlic, peeled and smashed 1 bay leaf 1/4 cup  blanched fresh spinach, chopped Large pinch freshly ground nutmeg 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin 1/2 teaspoon salt Freshly ground pepper Combine cream, 1/2 cup milk, garlic and bay leaf and bring to a boil over medium low heat. When it just starts to simmer, turn off the heat and let infuse for 15 to 20 minutes.Combine 3/4 cup milk, spinach and nutmeg in a blender and blitz until smooth. Put the remaining 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the top and let it soften for about 5 minutes.Stir the gelatin and milk into the infused cream and gently reheat over a low flame, stirring constantly, until the gelatin is dissolved. Stir in the spinach mixture, salt and ground pepper to taste. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to get all of the liquid, and pour into 4 ramekins. Refrigerate for several hours, until set. To unmold, dip the ramekins in a bowl of hot water for about 10 seconds and turn each panna cotta onto its own plate.WILTED SPINACH SALAD  WITH STRAWBERRIES & WARM FETA DRESSINGadapted from Epicuriousserves 2-41 9-ounce bag fresh spinach leaves5 tablespoons olive oil, divided1 medium red onion, halved, cut into 1/3-inch-thick wedges with some core attached1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered7 ounces fresh feta, coarsely crumbled2 tablespoons sherry vinegarPlace spinach and strawberries in large bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat. Add onion; sauté until brown and softened, about 7 minutes. Transfer to bowl with spinach. Remove skillet from heat. Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil and cheese to skillet. Stir to melt cheese slightly, about 1 minute. Stir in vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over spinach; toss to coat and wilt slightly


I do spinach twice a week. I buy the frozen chopped version, put it through a strainer, and season with butter, salt, pepper and freshly ground nutmeg. And I don't throw away the water -- that stuff is the true Vitamin water!
Vetivresse on June 14, 2010 at 8:49 am —
I have never heard this story about Catherine de'Medici and her love of spinach! Thanks for the culinary history, as well as a collection of spinach recipes that appear to be just the thing for my healthier cravings. ~ Allison
Feeding the Saints (A. C. Parker) on June 14, 2010 at 5:18 pm —