Eat Your (Fresh) Spinach!

March 26, 2012

Poor Popeye, relegated to eating spinach in a can, which all but destroyed its nutritional value. Instead he could have been getting his iron intake from eating fresh spinach, one of the first most welcome vegetables of spring. This plant is native to Asia and has many health benefits associated with it. It provides folic acid, calcium, iron, vitamins K and C, fiber and antioxidants. The folate in spinach can help reduce high blood pressure too.

When purchasing this low calorie veggie look for sturdy, not limp leaves, that are dark green with no brown spots. If possible buy it in loose bunches instead of the packaged variety and use within 3 to 4 days.

A pound of fresh spinach cooks down to about 1 cup. The best way to cook it is to steam it, not boil it. The leaves are so tender to begin with and spinach is mostly water, so why add more and destroy valuable nutrients in the process?

Cleaning spinach can be tricky because so much dirt can lurk on its leaves and stems. Put the leaves in a large container of cold water and slosh the leaves around a few times. Let the leaves soak for about 5 minutes, then drain and re-fill the container with fresh water and soak again until no sandy grit remains.

Transfer the leaves to a salad spinner and spin dry or wrap the leaves in paper towels to remove the excess water.
There are so many ways to cook with spinach; here are some of my favorites; you can find more spinach recipes here.

  1. Mix cooked, drained and squeezed 1 cup spinach with mashed potatoes flavored with olive oil, salt, pepper and grated cheese. Spread in a pie plate and bake until the top is crusty. Serve as a side dish.
  2. Mix cooked, drained and well squeezed ½ cup spinach into your favorite bread dough. Add chunks of your favorite cheese; form into a loaf; let rise and bake. Moist and different.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan. Add a minced clove of garlic and 2 pounds cooked and squeezed spinach. Cook 1 minute then spread the spinach out in the pan creating four indentations with the back of a spoon and crack an egg into each indentation.  Cover and cook over medium heat until the eggs set. Spoon a few tablespoons tomato sauce over each egg and divide and serve as a lunch or easy supper dish.
  4. Stir ½ cup well squeezed and finely chopped spinach into your favorite risotto.
  5. Spinach and ricotta gnocchi are a traditional Tuscan favorite! These have a vibrant forest green color and are light and fluffy. As with most dough preparations for gnocchi, it is the amount of flour used that will determine if their texture is light or leaden. Be sure to really squeeze as much water as possible out of the spinach or you will end up using too much flour. Patience is a virtue when making gnocchi.

Get my recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi here!

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