General Description: Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a deep green leaf vegetable in the Chenopodiaceae family with mild flavor and soft texture. The Persians cultivated spinach as early as the 4th century. From Persia (now Iran), spinach was exported eastward to China where it is still known as “Persian vegetable.” The Arabs call it “the prince of vegetables.” In French haute cuisine, any dish “à la Florentine” includes spinach, due to Caterina de Medici’s Florentine cooks who brought their sophisticated methods of cooking this Italian favorite to France.
There are two main types of spinach: flat-leafed and curly (or savoy), although there is also semi-savoy, which is somewhere in between. Flat-leafed spinach is more tender and milder in flavor, especially the baby variety. The bouncing, firm, dark leaves of savoy spinach, usually sold in bunches, have a stronger “iron” flavor with a very slight bitter aftertaste and a crunchy texture.
Season: Spinach is in season year-round.
Purchase: Look for spinach with deeply colored, crisp, perky leaves that are unbroken.
Avoid: Do not purchase spinach with yellowed leaves. Spinach is tender and will spoil quickly. If it’s questionable, sniff it; you will quickly detect any unpleasant odor. Inspect the contents of bagged spinach; because it has been prewashed, it deteriorates quickly.
Storage: Store bunch spinach in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. To keep keep spinach a few days longer, steam it, chill it, and bag it.
Note: A lot of spinach goes but a little way; when cooked, spinach shrinks by about 90 percent.
- Pull off the leaves and discard the stems (in Italy the stems are often cooked separately like Swiss chard stalks).
- Fill a large bowl with cold water and swish the leaves in it. Scoop the spinach from the water. If you see a lot of sand on the bottom, wash the spinach again. Flat-leafed spinach is easier to clean, while savoy spinach must be washed two or even three times if especially sandy.
Serving Suggestions: Cook spinach in water till just wilted, drain, squeeze out excess water, and reheat with garlic and olive oil or shallots and butter. Make a classic spinach salad with bacon, mushrooms, and hard-boiled egg quarters with a warm mustard and bacon fat dressing. Top spinach salad with grilled portobello mushroom strips and spice-marinated grilled chicken. Make spinach dip for pita bread Persian-style by combining cooked spinach with browned onions, yogurt, salt, and pepper.
Flavor Affinities: Aged cheeses, chicken, cream cheese, egg noodles, garlic, mushrooms, nutmeg, onions, shallots, sour cream.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com