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Cooking spinach my way

Spinach at its best is quite simply sublime. Unfortunately, a great deal of less-than-sublime spinach appears in the markets and shops these days.

Rule One: if you think you have enough you probably havenít. It takes a mountain of the raw vegetable to produce a molehill when cooked, so always buy more than you think youíre going to need.

Rule Two: cook spinach with as little water as possible and then get rid of as much as possible of whatís left, because the part of the mountain that doesnít end up in the molehill is - you guessed it - water.

When I was in Tuscany a few years ago I found very useful balls of pre-cooked spinach. Someone had obviously done all the dreary bits - trimming, washing and cooking, and then squeezed conveniently-sized dollops in a cloth to get rid of all that water. You could get these spinach balls, wrapped in clingfilm, in the greengrocerís shop at the next crossroads on the Siena ring-road from our place, and even at the Siena Co-op supermarket (this is not a joke).

They were brilliant. You just melted some butter in a saucepan, dropped in the ball of spinach and mashed it around with a wooden spoon until hot, finally seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Magic.

Living as I do in a less civilised country, I usually end up buying big cellophane (or whatever the stuff is) bags from the supermarket. Sometimes this is pre-washed with the recommendation that you microwave it in the bag. Other bags are labelled with the warning to ĎWash well before cookingí. The reason for this will be obvious to anyone familiar with raw spinach: it seems to have endless places in which soil and grit can hide. So hereís what I do with spinach bought bagged or loose...

Method

  • Trim off any obviously grotty bits from the spinach but leave the stalks on.
  • Fill the sink with cold water and tip the spinach in. Swirl it around vigorously with your hands (a little hot water to take the chill off is permissible in winter).
  • Lift out enough to fill the basket of your salad spinner. If you donít have a salad spinner, go out and buy one - itís much more efficient that tossing leaves around in a tea-towel. If you donít have time before the meal, write it on your shopping list now and toss the spinach leaves around in a tea-towel (for a sensible amount of spinach youíll need several tea-towels).
  • Put the leaves in a microwavable container - I use a Pyrex casserole with a lid.
  • Repeat the previous two steps, ramming the spinach down in the bowl, until itís all in. It will fit if you are ruthless enough.
  • Cover with a plate, a lid or clingfilm with a few holes punched in it.
  • Put the container in the microwave. If, like me, you have a microwave with an automatic program for vegetables, set it to undercook. If you havenít, set it on high. The idea is simply to wilt the spinach until itís reduced to manageable proportions - not actually to cook it - so if youíre doing this by eye rather than by microelectronics watch the spinach and rescue it as soon as it begins to fall away from the plate, lid or clingfilm (you obviously need a transparent container to do this).
  • Tip into a colander and leave to drain for a few minutes.
  • When the spinach is cool enough to handle, chop it fairly small and put it back in the colander.
  • When it stops draining, try pressing it down to extract as much water as possible.
  • Leave it in the colander until youíre ready to finish cooking it.
  • As in the Italian method, melt what seems a reasonable quantity of butter in a large saucepan, put the spinach in and stir it around until hot. If a load of green juice appears, keep going until it boils off and make a note to drain your spinach more thoroughly next time because the excess cooking isnít improving it.

When the spinach is hot, season to taste with salt (not too much - I once had to leave a portion of superb spinach in a local Italian restaurant because it had been over-salted) and pepper.

If the spinach doesnít have much of that wonderful spinach flavour, there isnít a great deal you can do about it. However, a generous addition of freshly-grated nutmeg will make it less boring.

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.