Spinach can be served raw in sandwiches and salads. Just add a little lemon juice.
It can be served with a basic béchamel sauce or a rich Mornay sauce.
Spinach can be baked au gratin or puréed.
It equally accompanies veal, poultry, fish, aged cheese, cream cheese, eggs, egg noodles, garlic, mushrooms, nutmeg, onions, shallots or sour cream.
There are two main types of spinach: flat-leafed and savoy or crinkle-leafed. The more tender and mild tasting of the two is flat-leafed, especially the baby varieties. Savoy spinach has a stronger flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Spinach grows as a rosette of dark green leaves to about 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) tall and about 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm) across. Smooth leaf varieties have thin, tender, sweetly flavored leaves. Crinkle or savoy-leaved spinaches have broader, thicker leaves which hold up better when cooked.
Spinach originated in the Iranian desert near Dasht-e-Kavir and was transplanted to Persian gardens in about the fourth century. The name spinach derives from an old Persian name aspanākh—isfanakh—which means “a green hand”.
Choose. Select spinach with crisp and dark green leaves that have a fresh fragrance. Avoid leaves that are limp, damaged or discolored. Small baby spinach will have the most flavor and tender texture; older leaves will tend to be bitterer in flavor and have a chewier texture.
Store. Spinach can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 3 days.
Prepare. Spinach leaves should be separated and cleaned in a bowl of cold water to loosen grit and dirt or soaked in a bowl of salty water for 10 minutes to remove bugs and then rinsed under cold running water to remove dirt. Wash spinach just before using it so that it does not become soft. Remove the stems once washed unless the spinach is very young. Spinach will shrink when cooled.
Serve. The dark green leaves of fresh spinach will add color to a lettuce salad.
- Add orange segments and almonds to a fresh spinach salad and toss in a sweet-sour dressing.
- Add cubes of cheese and sliced fresh peppers and mushrooms to a spinach lunch salad.
- The classic spinach salad includes bacon, mushrooms, hard-boiled egg quarters with warm mustard and bacon fat dressing.
- A spinach salad can be topped with grilled Portobello mushrooms and strips of spice-marinated grilled chicken.
- Cook spinach in a saucepan or a skillet with just the water that clings to the leaves after washing. Add a sprinkling of salt and place the pan over a low heat. Cover the pan so that the spinach steams in its own liquid. Shake the pan occasionally to prevent the spinach from sticking to the bottom. Spinach will cook in 4 to 6 minutes wilting down to about an eighth of its volume. Drain and press out the remaining liquid. Chop and serve with lots of butter.
- Try spinach with a horseradish sauce or with melted butter and a little garlic.
- Serve spinach with spring vegetables such as baby carrots and young fava beans.
- Eggs, fish, poultry, and meats that are served on a bed of spinach, usually with a sauce, are often appended with the phrase à la Florentine. The term originated in 1533 when Caterina de Medici traveled from Florence to marry the king of France. She brought along her favorite Florentine cooks who used spinach in many royal dishes.
Nutrition. Spinach is a rich source of vitamins A and C and B, but it contains oxalic acid which inhibits the body’s absorption of calcium and iron. One cup of fresh spinach contains about 10 calories.
Spinach facts and trivia. Spinach was brought to Spain by the Arab conquerors as early as the eighth century and from there spread to the rest of Europe. The Arabic name for spinach was esbanash; in Spanish the name became espinaca. The first English cookbook reference to spinnedge came in the fourteenth century and referred to it as the Spanish vegetable.
Popeye the sailor made his first appearance in American comics in January 1929, the creation of E.C. Segar. Popeye’s strength was derived from spinach. He often quipped, “I’m strong to the finish ‘cause I eats my spinach.” American consumption of spinach grew by 33 percent in the years immediately following the first appearance of Popeye.
The botanical name for spinach is Spinacia oleracea.