One vegetable that has seem to have fallen by the wayside in the US is fresh spinach. I’m not talking about baby spinach which is ubiquitous enough. I mean the deep-green, large-leafed mature spinach that used to be sold in great piles—I used to help my grandmother stuff handfuls of it into paper bags to take home to cook. That spinach was curled, crinkly and firm; it needed several rinsings to remove the grit that had worked its way into the leaves, plus further attention at the sink to remove each and every one of the reddish stems. The only full-leafed spinach I’ve found recently has been tied into neat little bundles at the bottom of some produce case (occasionally in water) that look like they’ve undergone a rough journey. I haven’t even tried them.
And baby spinach just depresses me. The flat, pale, uniformly-sized little leaves packed into plastic bags and clamshell boxes taste like a whole lotta nothin’—raw or (especially) cooked.
In France you can still find the mountains of fresh, mature spinach, though their numbers are dwindling. (Sadly, there’s now baby spinach in the salad case at the supermarchés year-round) Whenever I see one, I grab a pound, which will yield 2 to 3 cups of cooked spinach, or enough for four people.
I suggest you (and everyone do the same). The incredible flavor makes the rinsing and stemming so very worth it. And maybe, just maybe, if we all start buying fresh spinach, it will spur a comeback.
Sizzled Spinach with Crispy Shallots
You know those French-fried onions that get sprinkled on green bean casserole at the holidays? Well, quickly-fried crispy shallots are their tastier, better-for you (no palm oil or added sugars) cousins. After you’ve made them once, you’ll want to sprinkle them on everything—salads, main dishes, and vegetable sides like this one.
The spinach here is seasoned with flavored oil from cooking the shallots, cider vinegar, and hot sauce for a dish that’s got a flavorful bite to go along with the crunch of the shallots.
6 medium shallots, peeled and sliced lengthwise (not into rings)
2 Tbs. cornstarch
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp. olive oil or reserved shallot oil
1/2 tsp. cider vinegar
hot sauce, to taste
1 lb. fresh spinach
To make the Crispy Shallots: Toss the shallots with the cornstarch in a medium bowl. Place a metal strainer over a heat-proof bowl.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, and cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until they are golden brown, stirring frequently. Drain the shallots by pouring them into the strainer, and reserve the oil. Spread the cooked shallots on a clean paper towel or dish towel to drain and crisp. Season with salt.
To make the Sizzled Spinach: Stir together the oil, cider vinegar, and hot sauce in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Wipe out the skillet used to cook the shallots, and heat over medium-high heat. Add about one-quarter of the spinach, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until the leaves are bright green and wilted. Continue adding the spinach until all the leaves are cooked and wilted. Remove from the heat, and stir in the oil and vinegar mixture. Transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with the Crispy Shallots.