Spinach puree

Fresh spinach puree is the equivalent of kitchen gold, a handy refrigerator staple that can be repurposed in sundry ways.

Thanks to a recent stretch of mild sun-filled days and cool nights, fresh spinach is back in town. These early weeks of spring have been extremely welcoming to my backyard seedlings, now about an inch high. In the meantime, I’m turning to several local growers with the leafy goods, and I cannot get enough. I’m not talking about the triple-washed baby spinach in oversized clamshell containers, but instead big sandy bunches fastened with a rubber band and in need of a really good rinse. Spinach that tastes like it means it.

Until the spears and pearls of spring (asparagus and peas) arrive, I invite you to explore their incredibly versatile leafy friend. There is a big world beyond more-bacon-than-spinach salad and it starts with a cooking hack in the form of spinach puree. In this case, puree means a pulverized blank-slate state that presents the cook with infinite possibilities. You can make the puree a few days in advance, which gives you a leg up during meal prep time. Members of the frozen spinach club, I know what you’re thinking: This is why I have frozen spinach on hand at all times. It’s true; the fresh puree is frozen spinach in disguise, but what’s different is the flavor, one that’s rich and earthy, but that can also hold space for assertive flavors.

What follows are four different directions to take your spinach puree. Once you get going, you will quickly discover how fun it is to play and cook up your own creations. Send me an email and share your discoveries, pretty please!

Spinach Puree

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups fresh spinach, thoroughly washed and stemmed as needed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

1. Steam the spinach. You can do this with a stovetop steamer insert or basket or in a microwave. If using a microwave, cook for about 90 seconds.

2. Turn with tongs and let cool. You do not need to drain.

3. Place in a stand blender or food processer with the oil and blend until pulverized.

4. Use right away or store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator.

Spinach risotto

A risotto reminiscent of a forest, thanks to the deeply pigmented leaves of fresh spinach, now in season.

Spinach Risotto

Recipe by Kim O’Donnel.

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (Plan B: Substitute olive oil.)
  • 1/2 cup very finely chopped onion (about 1/4 medium onion)
  • 1 cup short-grained white rice (Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano or sushi are all good options)
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • 3 to 4 cups broth
  • 1 cup spinach puree
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • A dusting of grated nutmeg (optional)

Directions:

1. Heat a 10- or 12-inch skillet (think wide and shallow versus tall and deep) over medium heat and add the oil and butter until the butter is melted.

2. Add the onion, stirring with a wooden spoon and being mindful not to let it brown, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat as needed.

3. Add the rice, stirring until coated with the onion mixture, about 1 minute.

4. Add the wine (if using) and let it boil off, about 1 minute.

5. Ladle in 1 cup of the broth and stir the rice until the liquid is almost completely absorbed.

6. Continue to add broth in 1/2-cup increments, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking and help it release its starch. With each addition of liquid, you will notice the rice being coaxed from hard pellets to creamy yet al dente grains. This should take 20 to 25 minutes. The rice should be creamy and firm, but not mushy.

7. Add the spinach puree, stirring until completely integrated with the rice. If the mixture seems dry, add a ladleful of broth, giving it a minute for some of the liquid to be absorbed. You are looking for a wet result but not soupy.

8. Off the heat, stir in the cheese, then taste for salt, adding as needed. Add ground black pepper to taste and some nutmeg (if using).

9. Serve hot.

Spinach pancakes

A short stack of spinach and herb pancakes made with chickpea flour.

Spinach Pancakes

Adapted from “PNW Veg” by Kim O’Donnel.

Makes about 8 pancakes.

My friend Trine, who lives in Denmark, frequently makes a batch of these savory pancakes for the week and reheats them for lunch or packs them in her kid’s lunchbox. With the addition of chickpea flour, they are gluten-free and remarkably sturdy. I highly recommend whipping some feta into “butter” (details follow the main recipe) to slather on top or eat all by its lonesome.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chickpea flour (also sold as gram or garbanzo flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup spinach puree
  • 1/2 cup leafy herbs: Any combination of cilantro, dill, mint or parley, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • Neutral oil, for frying
  • Topping ideas: 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes; chopped Kalamata olives, roasted peppers.

Directions:

1. Place the chickpea flour, salt, baking powder and oregano in a large bowl. Add the water and whisk with a fork until well blended.

2. Stir in the spinach puree, herbs, lemon zest and pepper.

3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add to the batter, stirring until the consistency is thick yet still pourable. If the mixture seems too thick, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water.

4. Over medium-high heat, preheat an 8-inch nonstick skillet or large griddle; the pan is ready when a bead of water vaporizes upon contact.

5. Generously brush the skillet with oil.

6. Using a 1/4-cup measure, pour the batter into the pan, cooking the pancakes one at a time (or more than that, if using a griddle).

7. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the first side (you will see bubbles emerge on the surface), then flip and cook the second side for an additional 2 minutes. The pancakes will turn golden and become sturdy when cooked through.

8. Keep warm in a 225 F oven while you cook the remaining batter, brushing the skillet with oil in in between batches.

9. Serve smeared with the feta “butter” as a short stack or tucked into a sandwich with any of the suggested toppings.

Feta 'Butter'

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup feta, drained as needed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions:

1. Place the feta, oil, oregano and red pepper flakes in a food processor and pulse a few times.

2. Add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice gradually, processing until well blended. Taste for acidity, adding more as needed. Can be made in advance and stored in a lidded jar in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Seasoned Side Dish, Two Ways

With your puree at the ready, you can make a side dish in mere moments. The first variation is inspired by a go-to recipe in “World Vegetarian” by Madhur Jaffrey and is a good partner with lentils, rice, roasted potatoes or alongside a piece of grilled fish. The second variation is a riff of a recipe from Israeli-British chef and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi.

Option No. 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
  • 1/2 jalapeno chile pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove finely chopped
  • 1 cup spinach puree
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Place the oil in a large skillet, tilting until the surface is coated, and set over medium heat.

2. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes.

3. Add the garlic and chile pepper, stirring until mixed, about 1 minute. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the spinach puree, stirring until well coated. Cook uncovered, until the liquid has nearly disappeared, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and serve hot.

Option No. 2

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and add the spinach puree, turning until coated. Cook until the liquid has nearly disappeared. Season with 1 tablespoon sumac and/or za’atar, plus salt as needed. Smooth on top of pizza dough or pita bread and garnish with shaved pecorino or crumbled feta. Consider a fried egg as a finishing crown (and dinner in minutes). Rice, quinoa or bulgur all make friendly companions.

This article originally ran on lancasteronline.com.

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