Baked Spinach

by Susan on April 3, 2011

Back in January I shared my feelings about vegetable dishes that are rendered unhealthy by bad-for-you ingredients. In that post, I failed to mention my affair with creamed spinach (only with the really good kind, as there are many an imposter). I’ve never attempted to make this bastardized green at home, considering it a steakhouse-only treat.

It was this lovely cook who brought Julia Child’s somewhat healthful Baked Spinach recipe to my attention. I made a couple changes and would do so again the next time I make it. And yes, there will most certainly be a next time.

I could not believe how creamy it was, despite not actually containing any cream, so much so that I started to wonder if my beloved steakhouse spinach might actually be healthy (I know, I know, that’s a whole new level of wishful thinking). The spinach starts to break down into creamy goodness when you add the broth. The transformation will amaze you.

And while this recipe does have some cheese, a bit of butter, and the option to add a single tablespoon of cream, as a whole, it’s pretty damn okay for you. One could even use less cheese and spice it up with some red pepper flake or cayenne.

My only complaint about this recipe is the workload. Spinach is one of those pesky greens where pounds and pounds of the raw goods translate to ounces of final product. Three pounds of spinach is also a lot to clean and trim. I thought I was cutting out significant time by buying pre-washed leaves, but this dish was still an undertaking. Next time I’m definitely using the frozen and chopped variety and would urge you to do the same.

Baked Spinach
Adapted from Julia Child and Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4 moderate eaters, I would make more if you’ve got hungry diners.
Gratin can be assembled before and stored in the fridge before following baking instructions.

3 pounds fresh spinach (I used pre-washed)
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup stock (I used low sodium chicken)
1 Tablespoon heavy cream, Half & Half, or milk (optional)
3/4 cup grated Gruyere
2 tablespoons fine, dry breadcrumbs (I used some homemade ones I had tucked away)

*As I mentioned in the post, next time I’d try this with frozen chopped spinach. If you do the same, skip the washing and stemming steps below.

I used pre-washed spinach. If you don’t, you’ll need to wash it and then proceed. The good news is you don’t have to dry it.

Stem your spinach. I followed Julia’s Tips as per Smitten Kitchen (see below). Place spinach in a large pot over high heat and sprinkle with water if your leaves were pre-washed and therefore dry. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 2 to 4 minutes for baby spinach and 4 to 6 minutes for regular spinach. Transfer to a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water to stop it from cooking, 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. Note: With large amounts of spinach you’ll likely have to do some of the above in batches.

Wipe out pot then melt 2 tablespoons butter over moderately high heat and stir in the spinach. Cook until all of the moisture from the spinach has boiled off and the spinach begins to stick to the pan, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Lower the heat and sprinkle with flour. Stir for 2 minutes to cook the flour. Slowly add 2/3 of your stock, scraping any spinach that adheres to the bottom or sides. Once the liquid is added, simmer for another minute or two, stirring frequently. Here you have the option to stir in another tablespoon of butter, cream, or milk (I used heavy cream). If needed, add all or some of the remaining liquid. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter 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 tablespoon remaining butter and pour it over the top. Bake until heated through and slightly brown on the top, about 30 minutes.

To stem spinach, as per Julia and Smitten Kitchen: 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. You canalso fold it in half and thn cut along the stem. Discard any wilted or yellow leaves.

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