Summer wrapped in spinach
Growing up, whenever I wanted to cook spinach, I used to throw it in a big pot of boiling water and boil the bejazus out of it. I’d end with a Popeye lump of spinach that, while adequate, maybe did not do justice to the integrity of the beautiful spinach leaf.
I think it was my mum who first showed me the way of placing just washed spinach in a pan using only the water left on the leaves from washing. Put a lid on and cook over a medium heat until the spinach is broiled/steamed and serve with a knob of butter. Much better than my boiling bonanza!
Later, we both expanded our experiences and used washed spinach in a non-stick frying pan and lid to create sort of stir-fry combinations: Wilted spinach with soft fried eggs, spinach with grated ginger in olive oil and butter, fried spinach with caraway seeds as a dinner accompaniment and everyday reliables like fried red pepper strips, browned onions and wilted spinach.
The thing about spinach was that you never picked the whole plant, you just kept taking outside leaves after outside leaves and had the plant all through the summer. So my memory of summer growing months is wrapped up in spinach.
Later in life, I learnt some fancy things like spinach and salmon tart, creamed spinach and spinach soufflé, but forever in the memory of my mind, I will feel most benign towards and sentimental about the humble leaves that passed through our hands and mouths during those idyllic past summer months.
If you don’t have spinach in the garden, there are few things to look out for when you’re buying it. Assess its liveliness. It should almost crunch and squeak when put in the bag. Pick out any damaged pieces and always wash well.
Spinach stir fry
This is an exercise in you judging how you want your stir fry cooked – quick and crunchy, slow and softer, burnt… The key to a dish is knowing and gauging when to add things, and what level to cook them at. The spoon of honey in the last third of cooking time adds a brown caramel edge to the veggies that oozes flavour and richness.
What you need
> 1 onion
> 1 red pepper
> 4 mushrooms, washed and sliced
> 2 handfuls spinach
> ½ tspn turmeric
> Spoon honey
What you do
Add your onions to the pan, and over a ten minute period add all your ingredients, noticing how each cooks and intermingles with the other. Cooking with the lid on will steam the ingredients more, if that’s what you prefer. Serve with new potatoes, fish or fresh meat of your choice.
Mussel and spinach gratin
Great fresh ingredients you know, but put together in a way perhaps you are not familiar with. A great reason for trying it!
What you need
> 3kg mussels
> 1.5kg spinach
> 1 shallot/medium onion chopped
> 1 glass white wine
> 3 tbsp butter
> 2 tbsp flour
> 125ml cream
> Pinch saffron
> 150g grated cheese
What you do
Wash and prepare the mussels. Wash and cut the spinach into strips with a scissors. Place the shallot/onion in the wine in a large pan (you’ll need a large one for mussels). Add spinach on top, then add all the mussels and boil over high heat with the lid on for five minutes. Remove the mussels from their shell. Strain the spinach and cook a sauce made with the butter, flour and leftover juice. Add cream and saffron to the sauce, boiling lightly to release saffron. Season to taste.
Spread the spinach out in a buttered oven dish, add the mussels on top, pour the sauce over the top and complete with grated cheese. Cook at 190 degrees for eight mins, finishing under the grill if you like, to colour the cheese.