When creating a great dish a chef will consider both the tangible (such as flavour, texture, aesthetics) and the intangible. Nostalgia, the art of making people revisit a memory they forgot to hold dear, absorbs most chefs. It is all the more elusive because there is no such thing as a standard childhood. And yet I challenge you to find someone who doesn’t remember their parents nagging them to eat their greens.
As adults we know it is leafy greens we should be chasing, and nothing is leafier or greener than spinach. Full of antioxidants and iron, spinach should feature in everyone’s diet. In Australia spinach tends to be at its best during winter.
The confusion that surrounds the name is akin to the spring onion, shallot, eschallot dilemma; to every country a different name and a different category. Spinach didn't come from England, silverbeet is not spinach, rainbow chard is silverbeet, New Zealand spinach is also known as warrigal greens and is native to both Australia and New Zealand.
The good news is that they all taste pretty similar: there's a metallic bitterness intrinsic to all and when cooked they are soft and gentle in your mouth, when raw they are juicy and tangy. They cook quickly and complement their surrounds. I encourage you to revisit your childhood, play with your greens and change your preconceptions.
Spinach loves –
Ricotta, nutmeg, pinenuts, olive oil, butter, cream, eggs, fresh pasta, lemon, garlic, ham, pumpkin, celeriac, chicken, parmesan.
Select and store -
Choose leaves that look fresh and are not wilted or slimy. Always buy more than you need, spinach disappears in a frying pan. Store unwashed spinach in a vegetable bag in the crisper in your fridge. Spinach will age quickly, so purchase the day of use or at most two days prior. Prepare your spinach with care. Remove the stems or, if you wish to have that added texture, chop them up and add to the frying pan first, following with the leaves a minute or two later. Always drain spinach on paper towel to avoid that horrid little horrid pool of green juice.
Cooking with spinach -
Wash your spinach. Gently warm some olive oil in a frying pan, add some finely chopped garlic, cook gently until soft. Add the spinach with the water still clinging to the leaves. Toss, add a little salt and turn the heat up a little. When the spinach has wilted remove from the heat, drain on paper towel, serve.
To make creamed spinach wash and the wilt spinach in a frying pan. Drain on paper towel and cool slightly before finely chopping. Meanwhile sweat (cook without any colour until it is soft) a brown onion you have finely diced, add chopped garlic, spinach, and some crème fraîche. Reduce until thick. Add a good handful of grated parmesan, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Ricotta and spinach are true lovers. Make your own ricotta by combining 1 litre milk, 250ml buttermilk, 125ml thickened cream, a teaspoon of salt and a couple of strips of lemon zest in a pot. Bring to the boil slowly and do not stir. Once it boils remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes. Spinach and ricotta are great in fresh pasta in ravioli or cannelloni, in a tart or frittata.