Spinach

Spinach

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From
Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

If you ask in an Australian greengrocer’s simply for ‘spinach’, you are likely to get silverbeet, which has larger and tougher leaves than true spinach. True spinach, with thin, tender, arrowhead-shaped leaves, is usually sold as ‘English spinach’. There is also an Italian spinach, similar to the English type but a little stronger in flavour, which is often available at Italian greengrocers. The three vegetables are similar in flavour and can be used in the same way.

Here, the word ‘spinach’ will be used to cover all types, and instructions and recipes may be applied to any one. Any can serve as an excellent accompanying vegetable, as a bed for other foods such as eggs and fish, as the basis of a soufflé, tart filling, mould, salad or stuffing, or as partner to other vegetables, pasta, rice, cheese, meats, seafood and poultry in scores of savoury dishes. Baby spinach leaves are used in salads or folded into hot pasta or rice. Spinach in a dish is often given the name ‘florentine’ (alla fiorentina in Italian), a tribute to the skill with which the Italians raise this vegetable and the imagination with which they use it.

Choose spinach which is bright, intense green and unwilted. The ends of the stems should be unwithered. Since it shrinks greatly in cooking, allow 250 g raw spinach per person. Cut stems short and store unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper until required. Stems can be stored separately, then boiled and served with cheese sauce as a vegetable in their own right.

Basic preparation: If spinach is young and tender, cut off stems at base of leaves. If it is more mature, fold each leaf inwards and pull off stem towards the tip. Wash, immediately before cooking, by plunging up and down in several changes of cold water until there is no grit to be seen in the bottom of the sink or bowl. Shake to remove most of the water.

To cook: Unless it is to be served en branche (whole), chop coarsely. Drop into a heavy saucepan, season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg and cover tightly. Do not add water. Cook over low heat, lifting the lid and stirring frequently until steam has formed and spinach has begun to wilt, then cook, covered, for 1–2 minutes more. Spinach is cooked when it is wilted and tender.

Drain in a colander, refresh under cold running water, then squeeze well to remove as much moisture as possible. This preparation may be carried out ahead of time and the spinach refrigerated, covered, until required. It can be reheated gently in butter to be served as a vegetable, or used as directed in recipes.

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