12 Mar 2013
As winter melts away, the earth slowly turns to green. Little by little the dry brown grass perks up, the green creeping in until one day you see none of the old and only the new. Here, in the Midwest, the return of spring and warmer air also means a return of CSA shares, backyard gardening, and farmers’ market days. Cold temperatures and blankets of fluffy white snow prevent the majority of local fare from growing during the winter months, and spring always means starting fresh, starting over.
For me it’s an exciting time, as fresh produce starts to be readily available again, rather than a seemingly rare and precious find. Spring and autumn have always been my favorite times of year, when you can feel the shift in the air as it distinctly changes from cold and cutting to brisk and then inviting. As a child, I would watch as the farm fields that surrounded our suburban neighborhood changed from snow-covered to hard packed dirt, to soft tilled soil, and then slowly the plants would start to pop through.
Heading to my local farmer’s market just makes sense to the way my family eats with an emphasis on real food recipes comprised of whole ingredients. Most healthy foods start as simple ingredients that are just as easily purchased from the farmer’s stand when they are in season. My children delight in getting to know the farmers, in knowing how to pick produce in its whole form.
The very first edible items to show up at our farmers’ market in the spring are spinach and asparagus. They follow just behind the seedlings and farm fresh eggs, and they sing of springtime with their bright fresh snap and color. This spinach bake is a lovely transition food, combining warm comfort food with freshly picked spinach. The cereal topping gives a bit of extra contrast and crunch to each bite. It is elegant enough to be baked up for a formal family dinner, but creamed spinach by its very nature is perfectly comfortable around a weeknight dinner table accompanying chicken legs or a bit of barbecue.
Creamed Spinach Bake
YIELD: 4 servings
1 pound fresh baby spinach
1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/3 cup cream cheese (make your own)
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons melted butter
Grease 6 ramekins or 1 small casserole dish/loaf pan and preheat the oven to 375º F.
Rinse the spinach and add to a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, just until the spinach is wilted. Pour the spinach into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Squeeze the spinach gently to release extra moisture and pat dry. Chop roughly and set aside.
Melt the butter in the same saucepan used for the spinach over medium heat. Add in the shallot and cook for 3 minutes, just until softened. Add the spinach back into the saucepan along with the cream cheese. Stir until the cream cheese has melted completely and coated the spinach. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper, if necessary. (Cream cheese and cheese should do the trick, but if you made your own cream cheese you might want to check the flavors to see if they need to be adjusted.)
Distribute the spinach mixture evenly between the ramekins or spread into the casserole dish. Stir together the melted butter and the cereal until the cereal is coated. Top the spinach with the cereal. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the center of the bake is set and firm when touched. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly before serving. Serve warm.
ShainaCheck out my latest posts here