Creamed Spinach 101

September 12, 2008

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So what does it say about me that I am filled with glee when friends ask me to go grocery shopping with them….

That I have no life?

That the slightly “ripe” scent in, say, Gristedes, causes my heart to fill with lush orchestral music and that I literally dance through the aisles? [And for those of you not in the metro area, I’ll try and snap a picture or two of what passes as a grocery store here. But be warned, it’s not a pretty sight!]

That the process of man-handling all the produce to find that perfect tri-color pepper for a salad is my idea of the perfect after-brunch activity?

Yeah. I guess it’s that last one! *smile*

On Sunday, I met “Ben Franklin” and “The Boys” at our favorite neighborhood cafe-con-leche-and-eggs-with-rice-and-beans place, La Rosita. [Rosita is one of those fabulous slightly- worn, family-owned, great-value-for-the money places that is getting priced out of Manhattan–which is such a shame. In fact, Rosita is closing in December, so if you get the chance to head up there before then, it’s worth it, just for the memory. And the amazing food and cafe con leche, too, of course!]

Once the usual ‘what kind of trouble did you get up to this weekend’ catch-up was over, talk, not surprisingly, turned to food. The Boys were hosting a dinner party the following evening and needed help picking out salad things. Would I be willing to visit the local bodega produce market and help them pick out what they need? Would I?! I couldn’t wait to down my cafe con leche and get to it.

I won’t bore you with the exciting salad-choosing details….but I will post pictures later of the amazing tri-color peppers we found. And for only 99 cents a pound! [See, I wasn’t kidding about that last part. And you probably thought I was. You did, didn’t you? It’s ok, you can admit it. I know just how big a food geek I am… *smile*]

The other big find…and the true inspiration for this post….was the HUGE bag–must be 5 lbs in there–of baby spinach. For only $3.00! All beautiful baby leaves, pre-washed and ready to go! Ben Franklin and I each grabbed one–mine was promptly turned into the most decadent pile of sautéed spinach and garlic. [Yes, decadent, because you never have that much sautéed spinach at once. Ever!]

Ben Franklin decided that he wanted to turn his into creamed spinach. But he doesn’t know how to make creamed spinach. So, I started rattling off how to make it:

Josie: “…….once the roux has cooked, whisk in the cream and milk..”

BF: “What? There’s both cream and milk in there?”

Josie: “Yes. But you can use only one if you prefer…”

BF: “What about using half-and-half? I know I have half-and-half…”

Josie: “Sure, we’ll use half-and-half then…”

BF: “And when do you add the cream cheese?”

Josie: “Oh! You want to use cream cheese? Ok, then we’ll just change the amount of cream…”

BF: “No, no, Josie! You’re taking my questions like they’re preferences–I’m just surprised….. I have no idea what goes in it….Just tell me how you would do it, ok?”

And since, yet again, this is something I usually just throw together, I sat down to write out another one of my (soon-to-be famous!) “never-seen-the inside-of-a-kitchen” versions of the recipe. For my beloved Ben Franklin.

Here it is:

Creamed Spinach

3 lbs. baby Spinach
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
4 Tablespoons of Butter
4 Tablespoons of All-Purpose Flour
2 1/4 cups warm Whole Milk*
4 Tablespoons Grated Romano Cheese (can substitute Parmesan)
1 Teaspoon Salt
4 dashes Tabasco (or other hot sauce)**
Pinch of Nutmeg
Black Pepper to taste

To cook the spinach:

Either steam or boil for 1-2 minutes until wilted. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water to cool. Squeeze small handfuls of the spinach at a time—you want to remove as much water as humanly possible otherwise the final dish may be too runny. Set the squeezed spinach clumps aside until all are done, then coarsely chop.

To make the Roux:

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat (do not allow to brown), then add the onion and cook, stirring until softened (but not browned). Should take about 4-5 minutes. Add the minced garlic, cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Slowly add the warm milk and simmer, whisking continuously, for 4 to 5 minutes.

Bringing it together:

Whisk in the cheese, salt, Tabasco, nutmeg and pepper. Add the spinach and cook, stirring until heated through. Check for seasonings and adjust if necessary.

At this point, you can serve as is, or tip the mixture into a gratin dish, sprinkle with a bit more cheese or breadcrumbs*** or a mixture of both, and pop into the oven (350 degrees) for a few minutes until the topping is lightly browned. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

* To warm milk, either zap in the microwave for approx 45 seconds, or heat in a small pan on the stove. You can substitute anything from skim milk to evaporated milk to cream, depending on how creamy you want it.

** Do not overdue the hot sauce! You don’t want to taste it in the finished dish, but a dash or two can really bring out the other flavors.

** You can use dried breadcrumbs from a can, or you can make your own fresh ones by whizzing a couple of pieces of fresh bread in your mini-chopper or food processor. If you use fresh breadcrumbs, mix them with a couple of tablespoons of melted butter before sprinkling over the spinach.

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Filed Under: Recipe, Savory, Sides, Vegetarian-Friendly

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