22 January, 2007

sorry, frozen spinach

A few weeks ago I gave you my recipe for spinach casserole in which I uttered the immortal, and so foolish, words "Do not use fresh." I could just die.

Here's the original recipe, but then read on so I can change it for you. Yet another example of the unfortunate but true adage: if there's a way to make something more labor-intensive, you can bet your family will prefer it. Sigh.

Laurie Colwin's Spinach Casserole
(serves 8)

First of all, a word about the spinach itself. Do not use fresh. In my opinion, there is only one purpose in life for frozen spinach and this is it. Now, in America, frozen spinach comes in little square-ish flat boxes. You need two of these. In England, however, frozen spinach comes in bags, in which you will find intriguing sort of hockey-puck shapes. For this, you need about 1 pound.

1 lb frozen spinach
6 tbsps butter
4 tbsps flour
1 medium onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces evaporated milk
8 ounces any sharp cheese, like cheddar
sprinkling of chili flakes (or in America you can use jalapeno Monterey Jack cheese)
1 tbsp celery salt (essential!)
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3/4 cup grated parmesan

Spray a 9x9 glass dish with nonstick spray. Believe me, you don't want to skip this step. Then put the spinach in a saucepan, cover with water, and boil till cooked, but don't overcook. In the meantime, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and then add the flour, and let bubble for about two minutes to cook the floury taste away. Add the minced onion and garlic and saute till soft, but do not burn the floury butter. When your spinach is cooked, drain off the water, but into a measuring cup, till you have 1 cup liquid. Discard the remainder. Slowly add the liquid to the onion and garlic, and stir till thick. Add the evaporated milk, the cheese, the chili flakes, the celery salt, and stir until cheese is melted. Pour the mixture into the glass dish and top first with breadcrumbs and then with cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for half an hour, or until bubbly and browned on top. Heaven.


All right.

This afternoon, as I was having my finger acupunctured (more on that later, spinach is more important), I lay in darkness, Chinese music playing all round, candles flickering, and my thoughts turned naturally enough to... spinach. Namely, that I had a bag full of baby spinach leaves in my fridge, had used only a tiny number for my OCD chicken dish over the weekend, what to do? Spinach casserole? But, my nearly unconscious mind reiterated, "Do not use fresh." How to rebel from one's own recipe self? I knew it could be done.

So I rushed home and put a tablespoon of butter in my large skillet, threw in the spinach, which looked an enormous amount, poured on a 1/2 cup water, slapped a lid on and put the heat on under it. A scant two minutes later and there was NOTHING LEFT. All those leaves, nothing. So I went on with the rest of the recipe, only halving the amount of flour and evaporated milk, owing to the cowardly amount of spinach.

Then, I realized I had only gruyere cheese. Threw it in. The whole spinach leaves, too. Not chopped at all. I served it with trepidation but... howls of delight. Avery asks only that the stems be removed, because "they occupy a separate part of my mouth from the leaves," and I have to agree. Sorry, frozen spinach, your official LAST reason for existence has been... simmered away.

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