Sunday, January 22, 2012

Baked Spinach

Adapted From: Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Julia Child

Yuuuu-uuuummmm!   This was really good.  I've been eating a lot of spinach lately (spinach salads, creamed spinach, etc) because it is a good source of iron.   I had a giant box of fresh spinach in the fridge, but that was only one pound.  3 pounds of fresh spinach is a LOT of fresh spinach.  So, I will admit that I cheated a little.  I used the 1 pound of fresh spinach that I had, and then I supplemented with a bag of frozen cut spinach.  I used beef stock and I really think that it added significantly to the deliciousness of this dish.  You can use other types of stock or cream instead, but if you have beef stock, I would recommend trying it.

Serves 6

3 pounds fresh spinach (or, a combo of fresh and frozen worked just fine for me)
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup stock (your choice; Julia recommends beef) or cream
3/4 cup grated Swiss cheese (I used a mix of random hard cheeses we had in the fridge)
2 tablespoons fine, dry breadcrumbs

Stem and wash your spinach (see Tips below) well but no need to spin or pat it dry. Place spinach in a large pot over high heat. Cook, covered, with just the water clinging to leaves, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 2 to 4 minutes for baby spinach and 4 to 6 minutes for regular spinach. Transfer to a colander, immediately fill pot with cold water, transfer it back to the pot of cold water to shock it (stop the cooking) and drain again. Squeeze a small amount of the spinach at a time in your hands to extract as much water as possible. Chop the spinach coarsely (I skipped this step - I left my fresh spinach whole, and then added a bag of frozen cut spinach). You should have about 3 cups of chopped spinach, or about 1 cup per pound.

In the same pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter over moderately high heat and stir in the spinach. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until all of the moisture from the spinach has boiled off — you’ll know you’re done when the spinach begins to stick to the pan.

Lower the heat and sprinkle with flour and stir for 2 minutes to cook the flour. Add 2/3 of your stock or cream, a tiny bit at a time, scraping up any stuck spinach as you do. Once the liquid is added, simmer for another minute or two, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. If you’re feeling especially indulgent, stir in one more tablespoon of butter. If needed, add all or part of remaining liquid. Season with salt (Smitten used 1/2 teaspoon table salt) and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter (or spray) a shallow 1-quart baking dish. Stir 1/2 cup cheese into the spinach and pour it into the baking dish. Mix the remaining cheese with breadcrumbs and sprinkle on spinach. Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons remaining butter and pour it over the top. Bake until heated through and slightly brown on the top, about 30 minutes.

Serve with steaks, chops, veal, chicken, broiled fish or, if you’re us, eggs, glorious eggs (you could even use this as a base for baked eggs - make a well in the spinach and break an egg into the well - bake until cooked to your desired doneness).

Do ahead: Spinach can be blanched and chopped several hours or a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Gratin can be fully assembled and 30 minutes before needed, placed in a preheated 375 degree oven to bake, then served.

To stem spinach, as per Julia: If spinach is young and tender, remove the stems at the base of the leaf. If more mature, fold the leaf vertically with its underside up, grasp the leaf in one hand and the stem in the other and and rip it off toward the tip of the leaf, removing the stem and the tough tendrils. Discard any wilted or yellow leaves.

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