Don’t be afraid of the spinach sold in the market stalls. It is a little muddy, a bit wilty, tied into a shabby bundle, two for a pound. It might require a little more effort picking and washing, but it is immeasurably better than the sterile supermarket bags, let alone the ‘washed & ready to eat’.
Apart from its price which is about five times what the market traders charge, those baby leaves are washed in bleach. They are soaked in a chlorine mix, which the food industry claim ain’t no different from rinsing it in tap water at home. Really? I’d rather do the rinsing myself than trust them.
Plus, soaking in whatever the mixture is means the leaves soak up water and subsequently shrink and shrivel to absolutely nothing when cooked. A bunch of spinach leaves from the market or a farm shop, picked off the stems, will yield a sensible portion for two. A 100g bag of ‘baby leaves’ – a pathetic teaspoonful.
I buy three or four bunches at a time from my weekly market. I pick the leaves off the stems because stems are nasty to eat, wash them in the sink just so they're clear of the sand, soil and a random snail, then I spin them in a salad spinner, in batches, and pack tightly into bags. Prepped like that, spinach will keep for a week in the fridge, easily. The supermarket bags? Don’t make me laugh.
And it is such a versatile produce! Which we easily forget because restaurants try to convince us that its place is only in a boring mixed leaf salad (that’s probably because they buy the baby bagged stuff).
First of all, it’s the best side dish for fish. Buttered spinach is easy and gorgeous, but you can actually cook the fish in creamy spinach and it's magnificent!
As a filling, it works well in a spinach empanada and the classic, spinach and ricotta lasagne. Greek pies with spinach are unbeatable: spanakopita or a lamb and spinach filo pie.
Spinach and cheese are the perfect couple: just try spinach and mozzarella balls or the cheesy spinach casserole. And it’s good for breakfast too, as a spinach and cheese omelette.
You can make an exquisite vegetarian dish of celeriac, mushroom and spinach wellington, or put together great Provencal courgette and spinach tian.
Hope this gives some ideas especially to those home gardeners who sowed 'perpetual spinach’ which grows back so quickly, that once you’ve finished picking a row the previous one is a ready crop again!