Epinards sautés à l’ail

Baby spinach lightly sautéd in olive oil with garlic is one of my favorite ways of preparing this versatile veggie. Add a dash of lemon juice and you have a treat with a southern French edge. In northern France you’re more likely to find spinach prepared with cream or butter, the leaves most often served whole in a generous pile. I use spinach in maybe a dozen ways — in salads, in omelets, in savory tarts and as a side dish, as in the photo.

Epinards sauté à l’ail / Fresh spinach sautéd with garlic

Yet until today this site has not included a recipe for cooked spinach — an anomaly that is now rectified. Spinach, a popular vegetable in France, has become much easier to prepare with the introduction by supermarkets of prewashed baby leaves. Sometimes I start with spinach straight from the garden, never mind the time it takes to wash away the sand clinging to the leaves and to trim away the thick stems. But often I opt for convenience.

After already writing up and photographing this week’s recipe, I was surprised last weekend to see a feature on spinach in the glossy weekend magazine of Le Monde. This most authoritative of French newspapers reported that spinach was unknown in Europe before the Middle Ages and arrived via Iran and Central Asia around the 12th century during the Crusades. It is considered a spring vegetable here, being most often planted in the autumn, but these days one can find it throughout the year.

Le Monde included some culinary suggestions: a salad of freshly picked young spinach with chopped spring onions, sliced apples and roasted hazelnuts in a lemony sauce; freshly squeezed spinach juice; spinach sautéd quickly with a lump of salted butter; or spinach-stuffed crepes. It noted that spinach historically was served during Lent in various forms, including preserved in clay pots — presumably a forerunner to canned spinach.

Ah, canned spinach. I remember it all too well. It was a dark gray-green and tasted of — well, I’d rather not go there. It’s understandable why this healthy, flavorful veggie acquired a bad rep for a time among children ordered to eat their spinach. In the postwar years, even Hollywood got into the act, summoning American kids to heed Popeye’s famous words: ‘I’m strong to the finish cause I eats me spinach…’

We’ve come a long way. If you like spinach as much as I do, here are more recipes: Mediterranean spinach-feta pie, French pizza with mushrooms and baby spinach, spinach soup with garlic cream, spinach quiche with pine nuts and parmesan, spinach salad with egg and red onion, smoked salmon omelet with spinach, spinach salad with strawberries and pine nuts, oysters gratinéed with spinach and spinach salad with pancetta.

Happy cooking.

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6 Responses to Epinards sautés à l’ail

  1. Rita Lugrine says:

    Though I like baby spinach, I love the spinach that is large leafed, ribbed and has wrinkles. It’s so hard to find anymore. I miss it. This type of spinach makes a great side dish and holds up with pasta and sausage.

    • Meg says:

      Rita, I agree! I love good old thick, ribbed, wrinkly spinach, which is great with the dishes you mention and also in soups and purées. If full-grown spinach is hard to find, maybe there’s a local farmers market you could check out? Here in France the adult variety is rarely sold now in supermarkets, but the street markets have it in abundance in season. Cheers, Meg

  2. Ann says:

    Yum, I love sauteed spinach, but it’s always so deflating to clean a massive bunch of it, only to have it wilt down to nothing! I also like frozen spinach as a shortcut for so many dishes!

    • Meg says:

      Hi Ann. Yes, I also use frozen spinach sometimes for dishes like soup, quiche, risotto and just on its own. But one never gets the same effect as with fresh — the barely cooked leaves, the slightly mineral edge. Try taking your massive bunch off the heat before it wilts entirely. You’ll have more, and may find it tastier!

  3. Bill Hable says:

    I’ve always loved sauteed spinach but kept quiet about it. It appears that I can now come out of the closet. Thanks. Bill

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