(Image by Fiona Hallinan)
The first leaves of summer spinach are being picked. If there are childhood prejudices you’d like to get the better of now is the time to do it.
As a kid I found trying to chow a side of stewed spinach something like what getting lost in a dark, rainy wood might be like. A squeeze of lemon and a grind of pepper and I’d cheer up though, the sun would burst through and the birds break out in song. I wouldn’t say I feel much differently about it today, the adult-y, mineral flavour can be a joy, but it needs a little harnessing.
The darker and crisper the leaf the more delicious + nutritious. It’s worth going through them and getting rid of any tough stalks. They’ll likely need a good wash too, best done just before cooking. If I’m serving them alongside a meat, I prefer to cook them hard in olive oil; it keeps the flavour fresh and intense. Frequent stirring will be required for them to cook evenly, for which garlic fans may wish to replace the wooden spoon with a fork pitched into a garlic clove.
Sheep’s cheese, spinach and hazelnuts
Soft, new season’s sheep cheese is in abundance at this time of year.
In a very hot pan, fry your spinach in olive oil, season a little and keep stirring so it cooks evenly. When it’s almost all wilted down (it will carry on cooking as it cools) slide it on to a breadboard. When it’s warm serve with the cheese – at room temperature – and hazelnuts on either side.
Serve also with some crusty bread. You might, depending on your mood, find it all just a bit too savoury. If so, a couple of drops of sherry vinegar on the spinach should do the trick.
Almost flourless spinach dumplings
An adaption of a recipe from the evocative voice of Simon Hopkinson in Roast Chicken and Other Stories. Yummy served floating in a clear garlic broth (wild if you can) with a raw egg yolk, chopped curly parsley and olive oil to garnish. Or, as Simon says, with crispy sage leaves fried in nut-brown butter, grated parmesan and a wedge of lemon.
Take the crust of a dry, old white loaf. Chop up and soak in milk.
Blanch your spinach in plenty of well salted, boiling water. As soon as the spinach is tender drain it and pop it in ice water.
When cool, squeeze the spinach in your hands or a clean tea towel to get it as dry as possible. Also strain out as much excess liquid as you can from the milky bread. Chop up the spinach until fairly fine and mix with the bread (there should be just a little more bread than spinach).
Add grated lemon zest, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg to taste.
Also add an egg yolk – with about 250 grams of raw spinach, one egg yolk was sufficient – and mix. Add flour to tighten the mixture up a little.
Leave in the fridge to chill and then scoop out a heaped spoon full at a time, rolling briefly in your hand and then in flour (make sure to gently shake off any excess flour, there should be a thin and even layer of flour around all of the outside of the dumpling. They’ll be fragile and pretty shapeless.
Cook in boiling salted water. When they rise to the surface of the water give them another two minutes, try one to make sure its cooked through – if it’s not you’ll taste the raw flour.
Scoop each dumpling out with a spoon rather than draining through a sieve.
A spinach and potato salad
Try and get hold of the waxiest potatoes you can for this one.
Be meticulous about getting rid of any tough stems from the spinach and make sure it’s completely dry after washing. A good trick is to pop the wet leaves in the middle of a tea towel, potatograb all four corners and swing like a sling.
If served when the potatoes are still a little steamy, it’s very happy on its own. Otherwise you might like a little yogurt mixed with sliced mint, white wine vinegar and salt, alongside it or drizzled over it.
Starting them off in cold, salty water, cook your potatoes, skin on, at the gentlest of simmers until tender.
Melt some butter in a pan and toast some coriander seeds in another.
Give the seeds a wham, wham and add them to the butter and as it begins to colour take it off the heat. This’ll be your dressing.
When you can handle the potatoes peel them with a knife and cut them in half at a diagonal. (It’s a pain for sure this peeling after cooking business but will make a difference as it means they release very little starch as they are cooked, remaining sturdy, waxy and rich).
Put potatoes into a bowl and pour over most of your butter (heated again until foaming) shake around and leave for a minute.
Then add your spinach leaves, the rest of the butter and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Toss, season with your best salt and serve.