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Simple Spinach Dishes

One of the stalworts of the spring growing season is spinach. The recent cool weather has been perfect for farmers and you can tell by all the spinach that's available at the markets. In this episode of Radio Kitchen, Al and Chef Jerry give us recipes for spanikopita, shakshouka, spinach lasagna, lamb and spinach, and more! 

One of the stalwarts of the spring growing season is spinach. This relatively cool weather has been perfect for our Maryland farmers, and the results are right there to see at the market. And spinach is so easy to work with, there have to be a million ideas out there for cooking it up.

Because spinach loses so much volume during cooking, do NOT overcook it.  For most purposes, if you heat the spinach to the point where it wilts and starts to shrink, you've cooked it enough.  Remove the spinach from the pan, and plunge it into cold water. This will prevent that sense of loss that many of us experience when a pound of spinach shrinks to a mere spoonful.

Another way to avoid loss is to serve the spinach raw, which is the foundation of salads far to numerous to mention. This is one time where you want to look for baby spinach with its tender stems, which are very easy to munch on.

Spinach begs to be included in any brunch menu.  Light and flavorful, it pairs with so many things so well, especially eggs.  Al found a recipe from Epicurious that is inspired by a North African dish, "Shahshuka."  Essentially you cook a bunch of spicy, seasoned spinach in a skillet, spread it evenly across the bottom of the pan, then crack a few eggs into the bed and let them cook.  Sprinkle some feta cheese on top and you've got a lovely mid-day meal.  A nice variation would be to work some cooked spinach into your scrambled eggs and cheese.

The next time you make lasagna, add a few layers of spinach into the dish to give it great color and flavor.  Spinach and lamb pair nicely, so you can alternate layers of ground lamb, tomato sauce and spicy spinach to great effect.

If you have some left over ground lamb, here's something you can try: Sauté the lamb in a deep skillet.  Without draining it, add in some coarsely chopped onions, pre-cooked small chunks of potato, some cherry tomatoes, a dab of garlic and finally work in your spinach. Season with salt, pepper, cumin and fennel and you have a marvelous one pot dish.

Spinach and puff pastry go together very well.  You can make delightful dish by preparing a cooked spinach filling packed with onion, feta cheese and garlic. Place small squares of puff pastry into the cups of a muffin tin, fill with spinach, fold it all up and bake. The result is a fantastic little spinach puff that's as pretty as it is tasty.  If you can get your hands on some sorrel, you can add that to the spinach mixture for an extra dimension of flavor.

Staying with the pastry theme, try making a quiche with puréed spinach added to the egg and cheese mixture. It's so simple, but so dramatic. Or you can skip the purée bit and just whisk some cooked spinach into the pie.

Finally, spinach and pasta are fast friends. Improvising a sauce with olive oil, spinach, tomatoes, shrimp and basil sounds like a can't-miss idea. Al would serve it with something like penne or rigatoni pasta...and a good white wine. 

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.