Cooking and gardening with Sam
The hot summer days have really taken a toll on my mini-garden: tomato vines are starting to turn yellow, and the pepper plants are still producing only a few peppers a day. Rainwater is what we need; you can water all day from a hose, but it is not the same. My dad called rainwater, “real water.”
I was thinking about the fall gardens we had on the farm and the wonderful turnip greens, kale and mustard greens that they would plant in late August. They had just a little taste, as the summer greens did; it was getting cooler when they were large enough to eat.
One green that a lot of people did not plant was spinach. Fall spinach has much darker leaves and, to me, a richer taste.
Some spinach varieties bear smooth leaves while others have crinkled, or savoyed, leaves. The ruffling tends to become more pronounced in fall – one reason I prefer the thicker, juicier savored varieties as temperatures drop. The leaves get darker and the flavor more concentrated because the plants convert their starches into sugars to lower their freezing temperature in order to survive the cold.
It is common to have spinach produce beautiful leaves well past frost and, if protected by a cloche or floating row cover, well into winter. The longer days of late spring and summer prompt the plants to bolt, which makes the leaves less flavorful. The key to success with winter spinach is planting the seeds early enough so they reach maturity before the first frost. Depending on the variety, spinach will begin to be ready to harvest in five to eight weeks.
Spinach will keep for weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator, so you may pick and hold for a while. It needs to be washed because of the network of veins and crinkled leaves – savoyed spinach will always need thorough cleaning to wash out every last speck of dirt. With the spinach placed in a large pan, I wash in the sink, run cool water and completely dry. Move the leaves around, and the dirt will fall to the bottom of sink.
Spinach is mostly water, so it will wilt down when cooking. When you think you have a lot, it will wilt down ¾ in size, so you need a lot to feed your family.
I like to cook washed spinach in a skillet very simply. First, put about a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet. Add a little onion and some fresh herbs – whatever you have on hand. This is a dish you just make up as you go along. Wilt the spinach with a cover on the skillet, stirring so it will not burn. It’s a very simple and wonderful side dish.
Winter Spinach Sformato
1 teaspoon of butter
1 clove of garlic finely minced
10 ounces spinach washed and drained
5 oz. of firm tofu
1-1/2 cups of whole milk
½ cup of parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of pepper
Preheat oven. In skillet, add butter and garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
Add the spinach, a handful at a time, and cook 3 minutes.
In blender, place tofu, milk and cheese and puree until smooth.
Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Makes 3-1/2 cups.
Spray ramekins; pour in batter; place on pan with a little water on bottom. Bake 35-40 minutes; cool and garnish with fresh herbs.