The other day I was on the phone with Bilerico contributor Yasmin Nair, and she asked what Alberto and I had for dinner. We take cooking seriously, so I told her was a "train-wreck." We made our favorite spinach recipe, the only one I like that puts the greens center stage without making them perform a soliloquy, the one that's after the jump, and it didn't go well. The tomatoes we used were flavorless, the pasta was overcooked, and we were out of dill and used tarragon instead (I learned the hard way that tarragon is not a good dill substitute).
I could hear Yasmin rolling her eyes.
But we do take cooking seriously. Two months ago I made my mushroom risotto for the crew working on one of Alberto's plays (I get so much mileage out of that recipe), and everyone was all "Great!" "Wonderful!" "Perfect!" I knew that I had over-seasoned with black pepper, and, to my delight, Alberto said, "Well, you really have to like black pepper to eat this!" He was staying sharp, and I need him to because he's my team. I don't want him getting sloppy.
But I digress. This post is about spinach, a vegetable that lots of us have poor memories of as children, and I think that's mostly because people don't know what to do with it. Every time we have a bag I scour the internet for spinach recipes and other than salads, cooking it and serving it pretty much alone, or making it a component of a dish that focuses on other ingredients, there isn't much. So we make our incredibly simple spinach spaghetti every time, although we usually don't make so many mistakes. The recipe is after the jump.
What you'll need
- About two pounds of spinach leaves. We use fresh spinach but frozen spinach isn't that bad. If you're using frozen, a 12-ounce bag should be enough.
- Fresh dill. When we were in Greece we had spanakopita that was made with dill in it, and found that it was a great flavor to pair with spinach. Use fresh because I've bought dried and bottled dill and it has no flavor. The interaction between spinach and dill is the main attraction here, so look for fresh dill.
- 3 or 4 tomatoes. The common red round ones are best.
- 4 cloves of garlic.
- Olive oil, salt, and pepper. To taste.
- A one-pound box of spaghetti.
What you'll do
- If you're using fresh spinach, wash the leaves and throw away large stems and wilted parts. If you're using frozen, open the bag.
- Put the leaves in a large pot with some water and put it on high heat. Cover it.
- Check on it when you hear the water boiling. It's done when it's all shrunken.
- Drain the spinach in a colander. Don't just drain it, squeeze it with a wooden spoon. It's time to get dry. Mix it around and press it some more against the colander. Get all that water out.
- Now you can put on a pot of salted water for the pasta.
- Wash and peel the tomatoes, and dice into small pieces.
- Peel and crush, press, mince, or grind the garlic. Do something to it, but make it into small pieces.
- Cut two or three sprigs of dill into small pieces. I have a little coffee grinder that we don't use for coffee that I just put the peeled garlic and dill in together.
- Heat up some olive oil in a pan.
- Saute the dill and garlic for about a minute, then throw in the peeled and diced tomatoes.
- Let it cook and boil down. Let the tomatoes reduce. Have you checked your water? Is it time to put the pasta in? What about the spinach - want to press them a little more?
- When the tomatoes have released most of their water, put the spinach in. Poke it with a spoon to make it open and mix it with the tomato mixture.
- Put in some pepper. Add salt. Here's the problem I had with spinach before I started making it myself: it was never adequately seasoned. It needs quite a bit of salt before the flavors come out. So go for the glory or go home, this spinach needs some salt. But don't go crazy; salt, then taste, salt, then taste.
- If you timed it right, the spinach mixture will be ready before the pasta is done. You don't want to overcook the pasta (it's done when it's still firm but you can chew through it without breaking a tooth - the texture of spaghetti al dente with the soft spinach coated in olive oil is what makes this dish more than a good flavor combination), and you don't want it to be sitting in the sink waiting for the spinach, getting all stuck together. But when both components are done, mix them together.
- Taste and check the salt level and maybe add some more olive oil here.
That should make you want to support the spinach industry more often. If you have a good spinach recipe, feel free to leave it in the comments, as I'm always looking.