Popeye would be so proud.
Not that I’d ever serve canned spinach (have you ever tried it? Central to the only meal I’ve ever thrown out 100% before eating without managing to save a morsel by re-making into something better) but I respect the guy for making greens seem so cool.
He should be my mascot.
This week’s Monday Mission was to incorporate more greens into your weekly menu planning, particularly appropriate for this time of year as spring greens begin to grow in abundance. (You can search the KS group at Plan to Eat for “greens” and also find this recipe all ready to go for you there!)
The goal of the mission was to encourage you to add greens into *whatever* you’re already making and really think outside the box, but it’s also handy to have some recipes that focus mainly on greens as well.
When it comes to a veggie side dish, 95% of the time or more I grab some fresh or frozen veggies, steam or saute them, and add some salt and pepper. I rarely use a recipe for a side dish, probably because I’m already doing enough for the main! But I cannot believe how well my children eat greens (and even the husband, who tends to pick them out of soup, the nerd) with this recipe.
It can be hit and miss – sometimes the 8-year-old boy would ask for seconds and thirds (be still, my beating heart!), other times he would pick at two bites and leave it, so experimenting with the right topping, enough salt and NOT overcooking the spinach has been really key to serving success.
Since it’s pretty simple to put this dish together, juggling one more recipe at dinnertime is really worth it for me on this one since there’s so much spinach involved. I hope you love it too!
Recipe: Cheesy Spinach BakePrint
- ½ c. butter, divided
- 1 small leek
- 1–2 cloves garlic, crushed
- topping options: about 1 cup non-extruded grain cereal*, buckwheaties**, almond cracker crumbs or almond flour, or go without crunch and use 1 c. shredded mozzarella, broiled on top
- 1/4 tsp. salt (at least)
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning (find on Amazon or Mountain Rose Herbs in bulk)
- 1/2–3/4 lb. fresh baby spinach, chopped roughly (about 5–7 packed cups. A 10-oz. bag will do fine)
- ½–3/4 c. ricotta cheese, yogurt cheese, or cream cheese
- ¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese
- optional: shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
- Wash the leek thoroughly and dice. For a milder flavor, just use about 4 inches of the white part, cut into half moons. Alternately, you can dice the entire thing, green top and all, and use it in the dish.
- Melt the butter over low heat in a Dutch oven or other oven-safe pot. Pour 3 Tbs. into a bowl for the topping. Saute the sliced/diced leeks in the remaining butter over medium heat about 5 minutes, until softened, then add the garlic for a minute. (Note: if using only cheese as the topping, don’t bother pulling the butter out. You can cut that 3 Tbs. out of the recipe entirely or leave it in the saute.)
- While the leeks are cooking, crush cereal or crackers and mix into the melted butter that you set aside with the Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. This is your topping for the side dish (unless you’re using cheese only, in which case incorporate the 3 seasonings when you add the ricotta cheese).
- Add all the spinach to the pot and stir around well, coating it in the butter (this is what all that butter is for!). Cover for one minute, then stir again. Cook for one more minute, then turn off the heat and leave the cover off.
- Stir in the ricotta/cream/yogurt cheese until fully incorporated into the spinach. Add the Parmesan cheese and additional salt and pepper to taste, if necessary.
- (Optional: sprinkle shredded cheese on top at this point.) Top with the buttery/crunchy mixture. Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 15-20 minutes. Serve warm, cooled slightly from coming directly out of the oven. (If you top with only cheese, you may want to turn the broiler on for a minute or two to really brown the cheese.)
If you don’t have a Dutch oven or oven-safe pot, use any large pan you have to cook the mixture then transfer to a greased 8×8 pan or similar proportions to bake (two small round casserole dishes or 4-6 individual ramekins work as well).
*I use Erewhon brown rice cereal (found on Amazon or your local health food store) for this recipe.
**How to make buckwheaties: Soak whole buckwheat groats in water at room temperature for 8 hours, rinse, soak again in fresh water for another 8 hours, then dehydrate until they pop in your mouth (6 hours on 125F should do it). Likely an hour or two at 200F in an oven would work as well, but I’ve never tried the oven method. If you do, watch them closely so they dry out without browning/burning.
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Keeping it Simple
I’m indebted to Shaina from Food for my Family for the recipe I used to adapt this one (original here), but I have to say, one to two pots, a colander, bowl and baking dish was WAY too many dishes to invest in for a side dish. The original called for moving the mixture to individual ramekins or a baking dish and rinsed the spinach in a colander, and along my path of adapting the recipe I used another pot entirely a few times to briefly steam the spinach separately.
Now it’s one pot and a little salad bowl for the topping which goes right into the dishwasher. Score one for Katie, zero for Mount Dishes!
You can also experiment as we did with various toppings, decrease the cheese if you’d like (I prefer the ricotta, by the way, and buy a big tub planning to use the rest for spaghetti squash lasagna later in the week) – but we’ve found that the cheese really helps the medicine go down, so to speak.
Once I steamed the spinach separately but left it in the pot just a minute or two too long, and my husband rightfully said it tasted like canned spinach. The same day I also unfortunately chose to use less cheese and had used an ample 3/4 pound + of the spinach, so it was a triple whammy. People just didn’t eat it that night, and I made changes the next time I cooked the recipe. More cheese is better! It gets people to eat spinach…
What’s your “side dish modus operandi?” (What do you usually do for a veggie side?)