Wednesday, May 5

Rhapsody in Green: 17 Exquisite Shapes with Spinach | Food

SPinach is a tremendously versatile green vegetable, to the point that it can even send emails, as scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown. Your particular brand of Spinacia oleracea It was equipped with carbon nanotubes capable of detecting explosive chemicals in groundwater and then emailing you about it, and therefore may not be edible. But at least it was good at keeping in touch.

Fresh spinach leaves.
Fresh spinach leaves. Photograph: Getty Images

Spinach that is not ready for email is still known for being the least picky side dish in the world – prick the bag with a fork, microwave for two minutes, and serve. Yes, I see where it says “wash before use”. I ran my fork through the words. A little microwave-heated soil never hurts anyone. Once you’ve succumbed to this method, it’s tempting to cook spinach in no other way, but there are other ways, and here are 17 of them.

Felicity Cloake's spanakopita.
Felicity Cloake’s spanakopita. Photograph: Dan Matthews / The Guardian. Gastronomic styling: Jack Sargeson.

A classic spanakopita, it is a layered Greek tart of phyllo dough, spinach and cheese. Adult leaves are best for this, according to Felicity Cloake: Babies tend to cook until nothing is left.

Ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese.
Ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese. Photograph: IriGri8 / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Traditionally, the cheese in spanaikopita is feta, although Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes a version with ricotta, another common spinach pairing found in many Italian dishes, including Rachel Roddy’s baked ricotta and spinach and Cloake’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni. The combination is also useful ravioli filling if you’ve been given a pasta machine for Christmas and you’re still trying to figure out what to do with it. I got a gift of a pasta machine for Christmas, and I’m here to tell you that the spinach ravioli filling may be the only part that gets it right the first time.

Creamy spinach soup.
Creamy spinach soup. Photograph: sbossert / Getty Images

Spinach soup is one of the easiest soups to make by accident – just overcook the spinach, and voila! – but it’s not very difficult to do on purpose either. This simple spinach soup recipe Maxine Clark’s features two common affiliations: spinach and cream, and spinach and nutmeg, but other variations may also include leeks, fresh cream, yogurt, or celery. It usually also contains onion, potato, and a little lemon juice, and mixes gently at the end. Thomasina Miers’ Spicy Ethiopian Lentil and Spinach Soup adds chili, ginger, and tomatoes to the mix.

Yotam Ottolenghi's Bkeila, Potato and Bean Stew with Butter.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Bkeila, Potato and Bean Stew with Butter. Photograph: Louise Hagger / The Guardian. Food Styling: Emily Kydd. Prop Style: Jennifer Kay.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Bkeila Potato Butter Stew has a base of bkeila, also known as pkaila, a Tunisian Jewish seasoning made by cooking spinach in olive oil for hours until they turn almost black. Fortunately, Ottolenghi’s version reduces the time required. Sometimes you can also find a jarred version that is sold as confit d’├ępinards.

Spinach, fennel and parmesan from Nigel Slater.
Spinach, fennel and parmesan from Nigel Slater. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin / The Observer

Young spinach leaves are generally preferable for salads, if only for their size. This spinach, beans and feta salad ask for frozen lima beans, which is helpful because it’s too early for fresh, but only slightly. Nigel Slater’s new potato and spinach salad doesn’t contain much else besides capers and a little mint. For Slater’s other spinach salad, with fennel, Parmesan, and green beans, the main ingredients are cooked, but barely: the spinach wilts for a minute or two before dipping in ice water; fennel lightly roasted.

Vegan Aloo Saag by Meera Sodha.
Vegan Aloo Saag by Meera Sodha. Photograph: Lizzie Mayson / The Guardian. Gastronomic styling: Tamara Vos. Prop Style: Anna Wilkins

Spinach features in many Indian dishes, such as Meera Sodha’s vegan aloo saag or Madhur Jaffrey’s decidedly non-vegan paalag gosht. Technically, “saag” can mean any type of vegetable, while “paalag” (or “palak”) refers specifically to spinach.

Saag paneer by Asma Khan.
Saag paneer by Asma Khan. Photograph: Jean Cazals / The Observer

Asma Khan’s paneer saag combines spinach with chili, ginger, tomato and cream and ready-made paneer cheese. You can obviously make your own paneer too, but that’s another recipe for another time. Meanwhile, Ottolenghi has a recipe, originally invented to use the leftovers, to make spinach paneer cakes, adding the guts of a large baked potato to the standard ingredients, forming the result into patties and frying them in coconut oil.

Spinach and Chickpea Cakes by Nigel Slater.
Spinach and Chickpea Cakes by Nigel Slater. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin / The Observer

Nigel Slater has another tasty rainy day recipe for spinach cakes, this time with chickpeas, lemongrass, some herbs, and “a bag of spinach, a little past its expiration date.” I think if you only have spinach in your daily use it will still work.

Banana and spinach ice cream.
Banana and spinach ice cream. Photograph: Manuta / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Finally, there are many recipes online that tell you how to make spinach ice cream, but very few tell you why. The answer, apparently, is simply to turn it bright green – everyone insists that you can’t even taste spinach. The exact ingredients vary from devotee to devotee, but generally include a couple of bananas, some type of dairy product or its vegan equivalent, agave syrup or some other noble sweetener, and lots of ice cubes. Beyond these, all that is required is a few minutes of your time and a top-notch blender. This instructional video for “Popeye” ice cream Nicko’s Kitchen is worth watching, if only because Nicko has his own theme song. Remember: if you can taste spinach, you are doing it wrong.

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