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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Spinach...Redux

A couple Sunday’s ago, I tore out yet another recipe from the New York Times Magazine section. I’ve stopped stuffing them in the bulging 3-ring binder where I keep such things and now have a new ‘system’…stuff them in cookbooks where similar recipes reside. Crazy…yes. Disorganized…I know. But it’s working, for now.

Anyway, this recipe is part of Amanda Hesser’s Recipe Redux series which runs in the Sunday Magazine and features a recipe from the Times’ files, usually decades-old, paired with a new interpretation or variation, usually from a chef. In most cases, I seem to be drawn to the original recipe, and this time was no different. What caught my eye was the star ingredient: spinach.

I'm a spinach lover and have been for a long time. Remember those wonderful 80's spinach salads, with their slices of egg, crunchy bacon bits and mustard dressing? So, last fall, when one of my favorite greens was cast as the villain and all but disappeared from the produce section, I kept thinking that there would have to be a comeback. I started buying the unwashed, bundled spinach the way I used to and was meticulous about washing. I laughed as the marketing people jumped on the case, slapping labels -- DOES NOT CONTAIN SPINACH -- on my favorite brand of mache. Ridiculous!!

The Times' recipe is for Spinach Roman Style. I cook a variation on this idea from one of my favorite cookbooks (and restaurants): The Union Square Cafe. The idea is that you're quickly sauteeing the still damp leaves in some olive oil, where they wilt and shrink dramatically. The simplicity of the Union Square version makes it my go-to side when roast chicken, or fish is the main course. Here it is in a nutshell.

Lemon-Garlic Spinach from Union Square Cafe
A garlic clove -- peeled and split in half, length-wise, and attached to the end of a fork
One tablespoon of olive oil
One large bunch of spinach -- well washed, and spun somewhat dry.
half a lemon
salt/pepper

Use the biggest saute pan you've got -- it helps with the initial volume of the spinach. Heat the olive oil until shimmering and then drop handfuls of spinach in the hot oil, stirring quickly with the garlic-fork. Once the spinach is wilted, remove from heat and squeeze lemon juice over the spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Voila!


I must tell you that The Times version was a huge hit the other night with some Copper River salmon we had for dinner and is now the new favorite in our household. Apparently it was originally adapted from "The Food of Southern Italy," by Carlo Middione back in 1989.

The thing to remember is to be bold with your quantity of spinach. It really does shrink down to practically nothing. One large bunch, or pre-washed container, can feed two hungry adults. This recipe includes pine nuts and raisins -- aah, that southern Italian thing! -- and it is a flavor combination I'm crazy about. If there's one thing I've learned over the years...toasted pine nuts make everything better! I sprinkle them over salads and on dips and they're wonderful with store-bought squash ravioli and brown butter sauce. The other thing to be careful with here is to really keep close watch on the pan as you're cooking the pine nuts and the garlic...the stuff can burn, or turn too brown, in the blink of an eye.

Be prepared: the combination of the deep emerald of the spinach, the golden raisins and honey-colored pine nuts makes for a gorgeous-looking plate.

Spinach is Back!

adapted from 1989: Spinach Roman Style from The New York Times Magazine
(serves 2)

2 T. golden raisins
1 large container of pre-washed spinach, or two large bunches
1-2 T. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, flattened until they resemble a crushed flower
3 T. pine nuts
pinch of salt/coarse ground fresh pepper

1. Soak the raisins in warm water to cover, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
2. Cook the wet spinach in a large frying pan (no oil!), cooking until it collapses -- stirring constantly. Transfer to a colander and wipe out the pan if it is wet.
3. Over med-high heat, add olive oil to the pan, and brown the garlic 'flowers'. Be careful not to burn them. Remove and discard the garlic.
4. Lower the heat to medium, drain the raisins, squeeze them dry and add to the oil WITH the pine nuts. Cook until the pine nuts are golden -- again, be careful not to burn them.
5. Return the spinach to the pan and stir everything, adding salt and pepper to taste.
(If the spinach looks dry, you can add a little more olive oil here. Mine seemed to be fine and didn't need any additional oil.)

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