You have to be of a certain age to really remember these cartoon characters. For those too young to remember and those who are suffering senior moments Popeye grew huge muscles by consuming copious quantities of spinach, and Olive Oil was his love interest (a female character not just the pressings of the olive)! Needless to say it is the culinary ingredient, particularly spinach that interests me.
One of my hobby horses is that people are put off foods simply by them being served badly cooked. Spinach is a classic for this. Many associate spinach with a bitter tasting green mush. It does not have to be like this. At this time of year it is plentiful and cheap to buy at Mirepoix market, the lively, weekly market a few minutes from Chez Maison Bleue. I love to cook with it for its vibrant green colour and the knowledge of the richness of the iron and vitamins it contains. The secret is do not overcook. Spinach is perfectly edible raw but lightly cooked it is delicious.
One of my favourite ways to cook spinach at the B&B is not to boil it at all! Simply melt some butter in a saucepan on a low/moderate heat, add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon or if you prefer grated nutmeg and allow the butter to absorb the flavours for a minute. Then add the freshly washed and drained spinach and toss in the butter and cook over a gentle heat for 1-2 minutes until the spinach “wilts” then stir again and serve. The spinach should be soft but not mushy.
The main drawback to this dish is it uses a separate pan! If you want to stick with the Chez Maison Bleue theme of one pot suppers you can add the spinach to a pan of roast vegetables for the last minute or two, the key here is to make sure the spinach is still wet from washing and I like to add a knob of butter too. For those who are dairy intolerant, for the butter substitute olive oil.
Which brings me back to the cartoon where we started. Whilst I can’t promise that the spinach cooked as I do here in the Languedoc will give the muscles it gives Popeye, it will certainly preserve far more of the goodness than cooked to death the way it usually was in my school dinners.