Unglamorous vegetables: spinach

Unglamorous vegetables: spinach

by Anna Tobias 04 June 2019

Spinach is undeniably good for you, but that potent iron flavour means it's often shunned in favour of more palatable baby spinach. Here are a few recipes that breathe life back into the humble spinach leaf, courtesy of Anna Tobias.

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Previously guest head chef at East London favourite P. Franco, Anna Tobias has built a career on simple but effective cookery.

Previously guest head chef at East London favourite P. Franco, Anna Tobias has built a career on simple but effective cookery.

What do you say about spinach? This green seems to be universally loved, its success easily measured by its appearance as a ‘side dish’ on most menus, along with fine green beans and rocket salad. In some ways this is good news as spinach is both delicious and also very good for you, as Popeye taught us so well. Where spinach has suffered, perhaps, is that it is often tacked onto a meal as the token healthy element – probably a sad heap of microwaved green.

The challenge with spinach is to come up with recipes and ideas that are a little more unusual and give some new life to this familiar ingredient. Spinach is usually bought as baby spinach, pre-washed in plastic bags. What is less commonly found in supermarkets is the large-leafed spinach, almost akin to chard. This is the spinach I’m using in the recipes as it has far more flavour and better structure than its ubiquitous baby sibling. You should be able to find the large variety at most good greengrocers.

Spinach and porcini risotto

This recipe has a deep earthiness from both the dried porcini and the irony spinach. These flavours are mellowed and balanced by the addition of the butter, Parmesan and mascarpone at the end, leaving you with a rich and unctuous plate of food. Please don’t be put off by the quantity of butter in this recipe! As I see it, risotto is a treat so if you’re going to make it, then throw caution to the wind and use plenty of butter – it does make a difference. I would also say that the quality of any risotto relies on the stock you use so if possible, use a good, deeply flavoured stock. A watery, insipid stock will give you a lifeless risotto.

Spinach, mussels and orzo

This recipe requires a little bit of work but is worth it. It is somewhere between a pasta dish and soup. The orzo slurps up the salty liquor from the mussels and brings together the irony spinach and sweet shellfish. This is a bright and pretty dish that delivers on flavour as well as looks.

Spinach and curd roulade

This is a very old-fashioned, dare I say slightly naff but delicious canapé that my mum often makes. The flavour combinations are indisputable: spinach, soft cheese and nutmeg. Impossible to go wrong. I imagine the reason this might have gone out of favour is due to its almost comical roly-poly look. Sliced thin these make excellent canapés either cold or warm, or else it makes a lovely light lunch.