Friday, April 8, 2011

I’m strong to da finish cuz I eats me spinach……

Photo by
Picture this….1947….Columbia, Missouri….Grant School.Cafeteria A lovely young 1st grader (okay, maybe not lovely in her glasses and braids, but sort of cute…) was standing in line, tray in hand. The unsmiling cooks, and I use the term loosely, were standing behind the steam table, dishing up the “torture du jour” that they referred to as “lunch”. The little girl hesitantly raises her tray to receive her plate….Oh God! There it is….a hotdog (gray and wrinkled, pulled from a huge vat of his gray and wrinkled brothers), no bun or catsup, no mustard or relish. (sigh….)
Moving down the line, a pot of evil looking brownish red stuff waited for her to lift her tray once again…..
”NO thank you!”
“Young Lady, hold your tray up NOW!”
“But I don’t like stewed tomatoes”
A large spoonful of overcooked tomatoes was “slopped” onto her plate, the juices running over to the gray hotdog, swirling around her plate as she moved forward again.
Her least favorite food in the entire world loomed ahead….NO, NOT AGAIN!
SPINACH! She didn’t care what Popeye said, Spinach was horrible! GAG!
Plop….now, gray hot dog and brownish red tomatoes swam in a pool of olive drab spinach juice….
One last addition to her tray…a slice of pasty white bread, carelessly tossed into the swirling liquids.
Yuck! Could she possibly survive through the lunch? Would they poison her here in the cafeteria? Would she ever see her parents again?

Yes, I did survive….but I have never forgotten the menu, the appearance, the taste of those school lunches. It is a strong possibility that those lunches influenced me in my career choice. A good chef would never NEVER serve such food! No chef would ever EVER let food look like those lunches!
Spinach was such a dreaded veggie when I was a little girl. It came in a can, all brownish green and drab. Today, both fresh and frozen spinach are available 12 months of the year. And there are thousands of ways to prepare it.

Here are some of my favorite recipes using spinach, fresh or frozen.
First, my very favorite recipe using spinach. This is a Northern Italian recipe, from around Lake Como where my ancestors are from.

Estes Italian Savory Pie
2 cups flour
5 ounces cold butter, cut in pieces
1 pinch salt
1 large egg
1/3 cup cold Somerset Ridge Chardonnay (up to ½ cup)
1 large egg, beaten
1 large jar roasted red bell peppers, cut into wedges
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
½ pound thinly sliced ham
½ pound sliced salami
½ pound sliced provolone cheese

For the crust: Place the flour into the food processor with the 5 ounces of cold butter and a pinch of salt. Pulse the machine repeatedly to cut in the butter. Add 1 egg, pulse to lightly blend. Add cold wine. Barely blend.
On a floured surface, work the dough with your hands to pull it together into a block. Do Not Knead!
Chill for at least 1 hour. Butter a 9” springform pan.
When dough is chilled, roll out half of it into a round large enough to cover bottom of pan and up the sides of the prepared pan. Leave an overhang of dough at top of pan. Brush entire surface of dough with beaten egg..
To assemble the pie: Drain the red peppers. In a bowl, toss the chopped and well drained spinach with 2 tablespoons of melted butter, 1/3 cup of cream and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese.
In the following order, line the bottom of the pie with 1/3 of the sliced ham, 1/3 of the spinach mixture, 1/3 of the salami, 1/3 of the red peppers, 1/3 of the provolone.
Repeat layering in same order two more times.
Roll out the top crust. Moisten the overhang of the bottom crust before laying the top crust over the filling. Seal the crust by pinching the top and bottom crusts together, then carefully trim the excess of dough, not too closely to pan. If you wish to decorate the top of pie, use beaten egg to attach decorations cut from trimmings of dough. Brush entire top of crust with beaten egg, prick top of crust. Bake at 375 degrees until deep golden brown.
Allow to cool completely before serving. Slice into thin wedges as an appetizer, or thicker wedges for a light lunch entrée. Always serve at room temperature.

Two-Cheese and Spinach Twist
3 1/2 cups bread flour (3 1/2 to 4 cups)
4 teaspoons sugar
1 package Fleischmann's® Rapid Rise Yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup water
2 eggs, divided
1 cup finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
2/3 cup finely chopped fresh spinach leaves (patted dry and packed lightly)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, un-dissolved yeast and salt. Heat milk and water until very warm (120º to 130ºF); gradually stir into dry ingredients. Stir in 1 egg and enough remaining flour to make soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 4 to 6 minutes. Cover; let rest 10 minutes.

Divide dough in half. Knead Cheddar cheese into one half of dough; set aside. Knead spinach and Parmesan cheese into remaining half of dough. (Spinach dough may be slightly sticky and need additional flour.) Roll each to 15-inch rope. Arrange ropes side by side; twist together. Pinch ends to join. Place on greased large baking sheet. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Lightly beat remaining egg; brush on top of dough. Bake at 375ºF for 20 to 25 minutes or until done. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack. Leftover bread should be stored, wrapped airtight, in refrigerator or freezer.

Spinach and Cheese Strata
1 (10 ounce) loaf white bread, cubed
2 packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
3/4 pound Cheddar cheese, diced
14 large California Fresh Eggs
1 1/2 pints lowfat milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons dry mustard (optional)
3/4 pound shredded Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease a 9" × 12" baking dish. Make a single layer of bread cubes in dish. Cover evenly with spinach and sliced mushrooms. Sprinkle with Cheddar cheese. Make another layer of bread cubes. Whisk together eggs, milk and seasonings. Pour over layers making sure that all of top layer of bread is moistened. (At this point dish can be refrigerated overnight Bake for 1 hour until puffed and lightly browned. A knife inserted in the center should come out clean. 10 minutes before serving, sprinkle with jack cheese and return to oven to melt.
Makes 6-8 servings.

Pistachio Pasta Salad Florentine
6 ounces pasta, small tube shape
2 cups fresh spinach, torn
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup pistachio nuts, shelled
2 tablespoons honey
2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 egg white
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Thaw peas quickly by placing in a sieve and rinsing with hot water. Drop pasta into boiling water, return to boil. Cook 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Drain. Toss pasta, spinach, tomatoes, peas, pistachios and dressing (see below) in large bowl.
Makes 4 servings; 2 cups salad each.
Dressing: Combine 2 tablespoons honey, 2-1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 egg white, 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (crumbled) and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Makes 1/2 cup.

Harvest Salad
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 bunch spinach, rinsed and torn into bite- size pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 avocado - peeled, pitted and diced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons red raspberry jam (with seeds)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup walnut oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Arrange walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in oven for 5 minutes, or until nuts begin to brown.

.In a large bowl, toss together the spinach, walnuts, cranberries, blue cheese, tomatoes, avocado, and red onion.

.In a small bowl, whisk together jam, vinegar, walnut oil, pepper, and salt. Pour over the salad just before serving, and toss to coat.

Italian Meat and Spinach Pie
1 recipe pastry for a 9-inch pie crust
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound mild or hot turkey Italian sausage, casings removed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
10 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup chopped, seeded plum tomatoes
1 (6 ounce) can sliced black olives, drained


Line a 9-inch pie pan with the pastry and press the edges of the crust with a fork to seal it to the pie dish. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the sauce.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and stir in the ground beef, turkey sausage, and 1 clove of minced garlic. Cook and stir until the meat is crumbly, evenly browned, and no longer pink. Drain and discard any excess grease. Add the onion, red bell pepper, and mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent and the mushrooms have given off their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in the tomato paste, water, salt, basil, and oregano and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).

Line the chilled pie crust with a double thickness of aluminum foil. Bake for 9 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the bottom of the crust is set, about 7 more minutes (see Editor's Note for tips). Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Combine the spinach, ricotta, and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Spoon the filling into the baked crust. Top with the meat mixture. Cover the edges of the pie crust with foil to prevent over-browning, place the pie on a baking sheet, and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove the pie from the oven. Top the meat mixture with 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, chopped tomatoes, and sliced olives. Return it to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving

Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
1 lb. spinach
6 strips bacon, roughly chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1⁄3 cup malt vinegar
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
2 tsp. sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup fresh chives, chopped
2 tbsp. chopped fresh savory

Wash and trim spinach; transfer to a bowl.

Cook bacon in a small pot over medium-high heat, stirring often, until crisp, 8–10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel–lined plate.

Add shallots to pot with bacon fat and cook until just softened, 1–2 minutes. Whisk in vinegar, mustard, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue whisking until heated, about 30 seconds. Pour immediately over spinach and toss; sprinkle with crumbled bacon, 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh chives, and 2 tbsp. chopped fresh savory.

SERVES 4 – 6
Listen. Folks, I’ve got a million of them, but enough is enough!
…Eat Spinach!

Thanks, Popeye! Want more Popeye? click here!

No comments:

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
oil painting by Kay Tucker

Somerset Autumn on Wea Creek

Somerset Autumn on Wea Creek
Oil Painting by Kay Tucker, Private Collection


oil painting by Kay Tucker

Kansas Storm

Kansas Storm
oil painting by Kay Tucker, Private Collection

Watercolor Collage

Watercolor Collage

Tempo al Tempo....All in Good Time

Tempo al Tempo....All in Good Time
48"x36" sculptural painting by Kay Tucker