Spinach like an Italian Mamma

I love spring! The market suddenly blossoms with all manner of fresh, interesting vegetables and I browse the stalls with intense interest to see who has the biggest, brightest and crunchiest examples of my favourites. Piles of plump red and yellow peppers show off next to luscious purple brinjals. Nonnas and Mammas gently squeeze their flesh to gauge their freshness, exchanging opinions in the weak spring sunshine. No, these are not the best, they are rubbery and soft. Best to try the farmer’s stalls at the end of the piazza.

My weekly visit to the Friday market this week saw me returning home with 1,5 kilos of fresh young spinach. These are not the large Swiss chard leaves that we ate in South Africa when I was a child, They are small, young, dark green leaves with the most delicious taste. But if you want the best from your veges, you have to treat them right. Here’s what an Italian Mamma does with her spinach.

The leaves are bound to be dusty, even if they have been washed, so as soon as you get them home, give them a good wash under running water. Then dump them in a deep sink or bowl filled with fresh cold water. Take a large pot or deep pan and trim the roots and any unhealthy leaves from the spinach, dropping the leaves into the pot as you go. Look out for the initial leaves of the plant. They are long and narrow and must be thrown out as they will be starting to deteriorate. When the pot or pan is full, put it on the stove and start cooking the leaves. You can add a little salt to the leaves if you like. Do not add water as they cook in the water left on them. When the leaves are wilted, the spinach is done. It only takes a few minutes. Drain the leaves in a colander. Repeat the process untill all the leaves are cooked. Leave the spinach to cool.

This is what it looks like.

When the spinach is cool, ask a big, hairy husband to squeeze the hell out of that spinach, forming small balls that you can put in the fridge (or do it yourself). The more water you squeeze out, the better the spinach keeps. It will keep in the fridge for between 3 and 5 days.

This is a common way for an Italian Mamma to store spinach. In fact, you can even buy balls of cooked spinach from the supermarkets here. It can now be chopped and served as a salad with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. Delicious! Or if you like, it can be gently fried after chopping. Depressions are made in the spinach and eggs lightly poached in them. A delicious brunch with bacon and toast. A  perrenial favourite at Easter is the “Easter tart”. The filling is a delicious blend of spinach, ricotta cheese, parmesan, eggs and nutmeg wrapped in puff pastry – one of my favourites!

Hmmm… which one shall I make this week? And what’s your favourite spinach dish? Let me know in the comments.


Asparagus tips

Reading a post on Behind the Willows made me think about the way I make asparagus. It’s asparagus season in Northern Italy now, and all over the market there are fat, crisp spears just waiting to be cooked and eaten.
How do you cook asparagus? I mean other than in special recipes. I tend to boil/steam them and then keep them in the fridge to use as I want. They’re a really difficult vegetable to cook because uou want to keep the heads out of the water to steam but have the legs in the water to cook through. I saw this tip somewhere on the Net and this is how I do them. I place the spears upright in my milk frother (you know, the one where you heat the milk and froth it to make cappucino). I fill it with water almost to the top. To make a lid, I put a breakfast cup upside down on top. It makes a perfect space for the heads and allows them to steam. Voila’!
Here’s a photo or two.

Another thing I’ve learnt from experience is that it’s not necessary to throw away the bits you break off from the bottom of the leg. Trim them and peel them if the asparagus are big. Those offcuts are delicious in salads or on sandwhiches. Look how much I would have thrown away!



Do you like asparagus? What’s your favourite asparagus recipe?