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Exploring the Power and Versatility of Spinach

Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in fiber, flavonoids, antioxidants, and vitamins. Eating spinach can protect your eyesight, lower your blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, maintain strong bones, and promote a healthy cardiovascular and nervous system. If that isn’t enough, it’s also delicious and easy to grow yourself.

Spinach tolerates cooler weather well, which makes it ideal for planting in the spring and fall. Heat-resistant varieties are also available for summer planting. I grow mine right on my front steps, in large repurposed whiskey barrel filled with organic potting soil and rich compost. Successive plantings ensure plenty of spinach for salads, soups, pastas and smoothies throughout the growing season. Just make sure the location you choose has at least six hours of sunlight a day.

After planting, spinach should be thinned as soon as the leaves are big enough to handle. Enjoy those first tiny, tender leaves in a salad, then let the remaining plants mature to about 40 days. For maximum yield, harvest your spinach by pinching off the outer leaves, leaving the central cluster intact to keep growing. Hot weather may cause your spinach to bolt (flower and go to seed), so if you notice a tall central stem, harvest everything, steam blanch and freeze for later use.

To get supper on the table in a flash, try Spinach with Whole Wheat Spaghetti, Cherry Tomatoes, Chick Peas and Green Garlic. This dish is packed with flavor and nutrition, and will be done in the time it takes to boil water and cook your pasta! If you have access to fresh green garlic, buy some immediately, and don’t be afraid to use the entire bulb in whatever you are making. You will find it much milder than mature garlic, and those with sensitive stomachs will appreciate its gentle qualities.

For Sunday dinner or a special meal for company, try Spinach and Rice Stuffed Tomatoes. These plump and delicious tomatoes are my love letter to Italian rice balls, made light and healthy. They are filled with spinach, Arborio rice, green garlic, onions and vegan mozzarella. To round out the meal, I served these with a simple salad of fresh baby greens, topped with chilled cannellini beans marinated in red wine vinegar, olive oil, and a little crushed red pepper. Fresh seasonal fruit, such as juicy strawberries, and a glass of wine are all you need to make this meal into a celebration of the growing season.

Spinach with Whole Wheat Spaghetti, Cherry Tomatoes, Chick Peas and Green Garlic

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bulb fresh green garlic (or 2 cloves mature garlic), thinly sliced
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound spinach, washed in several changes of cold water, thick stems removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 15.5 oz. can of chick peas, rinsed and drained
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup chopped Italian parsley leaves

Preparation:

  1. Bring water to a rolling boil, season with salt, and cook spaghetti until tender and firm to the bite (al dente). It should finish cooking just as your sauce is ready. If not, reserve ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain well and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a wide sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until it just begins to turn golden, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add cherry tomatoes and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until tomatoes begin to soften. Add spinach, toss well, and cook for another minute or two, until spinach is wilted.
  4. Add chick peas, lemon juice and zest, and chopped parsley. Stir and toss mixture together until heated through, about 1 more minute. Add pasta and toss well to combine. If it looks very dry, add a little bit of the pasta cooking water.
  5. Remove from heat, season with a little more salt and freshly ground pepper, and serve immediately.

Spinach and Rice Stuffed Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • ¾ cup Arborio rice
  • A pinch of salt
  • 6 large beefsteak tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
  • 1 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bulb fresh green garlic (or 2 cloves mature garlic), thinly sliced
  • 1 pound spinach, washed in several changes of cold water, thick stems removed, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup vegan mozzarella, diced or shredded
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons torn or sliced basil leaves, plus more basil for garnish
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring water to a boil, add Arborio rice, and cook for exactly 10 minutes. Drain immediately, and set aside in a large bowl to cool.
  3. Heat olive oil in a wide sauté pan over medium heat. Add red onion, season with a little salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and beginning to color (about 5-7 minutes).
  4. Add garlic, and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Increase heat to high, and add spinach all at once. Toss well and stir frequently, until spinach is cooked and excess liquid has boiled away, about 3 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  7. Drizzle an ovenproof baking dish large enough to accommodate the tomatoes with a generous amount of olive oil.
  8. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Cut the core from the top of each tomato, then scoop the pulp and seeds from each tomato into the strainer, using a melon baller or sharp spoon. Leave the outer flesh and skin of the tomato intact. Press down on the seeds and pulp in the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard remaining pulp in strainer, and reserve the liquid left in the bowl. Place the scooped out tomatoes into the prepared baking dish.
  9. Combine rice, spinach mixture, vegan mozzarella, parsley and basil. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Lightly spoon the filling into the tomatoes, filling each to the top.
  10. Pour the tomato liquid over and around the tomatoes. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 25 minutes, or until liquid is hot and bubbling. Remove foil and bake for another five minutes.
  11. Serve hot or warm, with a little of the pan sauce spooned over each serving, garnished with fresh basil leaves. Be sure to have plenty of crusty bread to soak up the delicious juices!

Read a recent interview with Trish on the art of eating close to home.

This content provided above is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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