One of my favorite sub-genres of cookbooks are those that fix a laser-focused lens on a single ingredient, preferably produce. The shelves at Myopic Books in Chicago's Wicker Park are packed with little, tattered paperback gems that have one-word titles like "Corn" or "Broccoli." That selection is one of the reasons I could spend hours combing through the shelves.
And when I'm back at home and find myself faced with a crisper drawer of produce that I desperately need to use up, I try to channel those authors' enthusiasm for whatever vegetable or green is lying at my feet. Most recently, I made an online grocery order and the courier provided me with an extra bundle of spinach.
It doesn't sound like a lot, but if you've ever cooked with spinach, you know that the clock is ticking before it turns into a pool of limp, sludgy leaves. If one of those author's was faced with an extra bundle, I asked myself, what would they do? Obviously, they would make it the star of the show.
I considered some of my favorite spinach-forward preparations and one kept coming to mind: old-school creamed spinach. It's, of course, decadent, but not to the point of overpowering the mild and slightly sweet spinach. That sweetness is, instead, amplified by the tiniest pinch of nutmeg.
What if you took that tremendous balance of flavor and transformed it into a pasta dish? The result is delectable — and surprisingly low-ingredient. Not accounting for pantry staples like olive oil and salt, you have a five-ingredient meal that comes together in about 30 minutes and shines a spotlight on spinach.
While I kept this recipe purposefully minimal, you can, of course, augment with some other ingredients. For a gratin-like feel, incorporate a heaping tablespoon of parmesan cheese into the pasta and top with toasted Panko breadcrumbs (and perhaps more parmesan cheese?). Jarred and prepared artichoke hearts would also be a lovely addition to the pot.
Recipe: Creamed spinach-inspired pasta
1 pound of pasta
1 cup of roughly chopped, fresh spinach
½ cup of full-fat ricotta (this also works surprisingly well with Kite Hill's almond milk ricotta for a vegan option)
1 shallot, minced
1 1/3 teaspoons of nutmeg
- Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving at least one cup of pasta water. Set aside.
- Using a blender or food processor, pulse the spinach, ricotta, shallot and nutmeg with a few tablespoons of olive oil until it looks thick, creamy and light green. Continue to blend and add the pasta water a tablespoon at a time. When the mixture has the same consistency as alfredo sauce, season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Combine the cooked pasta and spinach sauce in a shallow pot or pan and cook over medium heat until warmed through (feel free to add another tablespoon of pasta water or ricotta to adjust the consistency of the sauce to your liking).
- Divide among four bowls and, if desired, garish with another pinch or two of nutmeg
More recipes for pasta night: