Thursday, January 17, 2013

Spinach Provencal

I always liked spinach, but I never knew it could be so exciting until I tried my friend's grandmother Edith's spinach. I was visiting them over the holidays last year, and Edith made a lovely, typically Provencal baked spinach dish that I took several helpings of. It was wow.

What I make may not be a faithful representation of her dish, but this is the best I could remember. It's pretty good, and I don't remember if Edith used any herbs, but I don't. If you have any suggestions on what herbs would go well with this, I'd be glad to hear it!

You need:

tons of spinach (ok, this is about two and a half pounds, or just over a kilo)
1 cup green olives
10 to 12 cloves of garlic
olive oil - 4 tablespoons
salt and pepper (the pepper is buried behind the leaves)
1 and a half tablespoon of flour
1/2 cup of milk (not shown because I forgot)
1 and a half tablespoons of butter

Choose very good green olives that you like. The last time I made this, I didn't really like the taste of the olives I bought, and that effectively decides the taste of the whole dish. Best choose a green olive with a clean sharp saltiness.

First, wash your spinach. Don't put them in a colander and pour water over them; that will not get all the dirt out. Dunk them in small bunches into a large bowl full of water and shake them in the water vigorously, removing roots and red stems if still attached. Pull them out of the water, rinse under running water and put on a large colander.

Put about half and inch of water (in my case that was about 2 cups) in a heavy large pot over high heat. When the water is boiling, sprinkle some salt (half a teaspoon will do) then shove the spinach leaves in. My spinach required a lot of wrestling, but eventually I got it in and clapped on the lid.

After five minutes, open the lid and try to turn over the leaves. The bottom half will already be cooked , so just try to shove the raw leaves down and pull up the cooked ones on top. Put on the lid and wait two or three minutes more.

Remove from the pot and drain. Let water drip from the colander and lightly push the water out.

Give it a rough chop - I chopped it into sections about half an inch wide.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat with two tablespoons of olive oil and sliced garlic. When the oil starts simmering (but the garlic should not be browned) add the chopped spinach, squeezing the water out a little if dripping. You don't have to squeeze very hard, just enough so that it doesn't drip.

Saute for two or three minutes until the garlicky goodness is all over the spinach.

Put the spinach to one side of the frying pan and put the pat of butter and flour in the empty space. Let the butter melt, then mix the two to form a paste.

It doesn't matter if some spinach gets caught in it. Add the milk and stir with an wooden spoon until the paste is more or less dissolved.

Alternatively, if you have bechamel sauce on hand, you can just add about half a cup of that.

Now, mix the spinach in the bechamel sauce until evenly coated. If it seems a bit too dry/tacky/sticky, add a splash of water or milk, a spoon or two at a time. There should be a little liquid left at the bottom of the pan and nothing should be burning or sticking. Sprinkle a little salt - I used a quarter of a teaspoon. The spinach should be under-salted, to balance the strong salt of the olives. Do not over-salt the spinach!

Take the spinach off the heat, add the olives and stir. You can leave the olives whole, slice them or cut them lengthwise as I did - whatever you like. Take a taste and see if the salt is well balanced between the spinach and the olives.

Grease a baking pan with two tablespoons of olive oil. Pour the spinach mixture in and bake in an oven at 375 F for 15 minutes or until bubbly and starting to dry out on the surface. You can also add a few thin slices of toast or baguette on the top to make a crunch. Take care not to let the bread burn.

It goes well as an accompaniment to any meat or fish, but I can have this all by itself as lunch. A baguette and good cheese would make perfect companions.


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