Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Spinach growing in the garden is a welcome sign of spring. It is a great source of Vitamin A. It is rich in iron, calcium and protein. Spinach can be grown as a spring and a fall crop. Crinkled leaved varieties tend to catch soil during rainfalls. Plant a plain leaved variety to avoid a "gritty" spinach when chewed.

When cooked, the volume of spinach is decreased by three quarters.

Spinach is thought to have originated in ancient Persia (Iran). Spinach made its way to China in the 7th century when the king of Nepal sent it as a gift. Spinach has a much more recent history in Europe than many other vegetables. It was only brought to that continent in the 11th century, when the Moors introduced it into Spain. In fact, for a while, spinach was known as "the Spanish vegetable" in England. Spinach was the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici, a historical figure in the 16th century. When she left her home of Florence, Italy, to marry the king of France, she brought along her own cooks, who could prepare spinach the ways that she especially liked. Since this time, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as "a la Florentine.”


Spinach is known as a rich source of iron and calcium. According to the USDA, a 180 gram serving of boiled spinach contains 6.43 mg of iron, whereas one 6 oz. (170 gram) ground hamburger patty contains at most 4.42 mg. Thus spinach does contain a relatively high level of iron, compared to other vegetable and meat sources. Spinach also has a high calcium content. However, the oxalate content in spinach binds with calcium decreasing its absorption. By way of comparison, the body can absorb about half of the calcium present in broccoli, yet only around 5% of the calcium in spinach.
Spinach still has a large nutritional value, especially when fresh, steamed, or quickly boiled. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, and vitamin B6. It is a very good source of dietary fiber, copper, protein, phosphorous, zinc and vitamin E. In addition, it is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, niacin and selenium.


The first planting can be made as soon as the soil is prepared in the spring. If the soil was prepared in the fall, seeds can be broadcast over frozen ground or snow cover in late winter and they will germinate as the soil thaws. Plant successive crops for several weeks after the initial sowing to keep the harvest going until hot weather. Seed spinach again in late summer for fall and early winter harvest. Chill seeds for summer or fall plantings in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 weeks before planting. In southern locations, immature spinach seedlings survive over winter on well-drained soils and resume growth in spring for early harvest. With mulch, borderline gardeners should be able to coax seedlings through the winter for an early spring harvest. Spinach can be grown in hotbeds, sunrooms or protected cold frames for winter salads.

Sow 12 to 15 seeds per foot of row. Cover 1/2 inch deep. When the plants are one inch tall, thin to 2 to 4 inches apart. Closer spacing (no thinning) is satisfactory when the entire plants are to be harvested. The rows may be as close as 12 inches apart, depending upon the method used for keeping weeds down. In beds, plants may be thinned to stand 4 to 6 inches apart in all directions. Little cultivation is necessary.


Spinach grows best with ample moisture and a fertile, well-drained soil. Under these conditions, no supplemental fertilizer is needed. If growth is slow or the plants are light green, side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer.


The plants may be harvested whenever the leaves are large enough to use (a rosette of at least five or six leaves). Late thinnings may be harvested as whole plants and eaten. Cut the plants at or just below the soil surface. Spinach is of best quality if cut while young. Two or three separate seedings of short rows can provide harvest over an extended period. Some gardeners prefer to pick the outer leaves when they are 3 inches long and allow the younger leaves to develop for later harvest. Harvest the entire remaining crop when seedstalk formation begins because leaves quickly deteriorate as flowering begins.

Cucumber mosaic virus causes a condition in spinach called blight.  Downy mildew and other fungal leaf diseases are a problem, especially in seasons that are wet, humid or both. Some resistance is available through variety selection. Raised beds create excellent air and water drainage in the spinach bed, which also helps prevent infections.


Spinach Salad

Spinach is one of those cool weather crops that elicits a strong reaction from some people with it’s cooked. I like using spinach fresh in salads.

2 bundles of fresh spinach
2 boiled eggs sliced
1/2 pound chopped crisp bacon
1 cup walnuts (or substitute pecans or almonds)

Start by rinsing and removing the stems from the fresh spinach. Add a couple of boiled eggs thinly sliced. Top with crisp bacon. To give the salad some extra crunch toast walnuts on a baking sheet. It only takes about 15 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees. You can use either walnuts, pecans or almonds.  Top with simple vinegar and oil dressing.

Chicken Spinach Salad with Ginger Dressing Salad

9 oz young spinach leaves
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, cut into thin rounds
1 leek, cut into thin rounds and punched through to make rings
3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
12 oz (or two medium to large) cooked boneless-skinless chicken breast

2 inches ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
6 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. salad vinegar
2 tbsp.  honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)
Salt and white pepper to taste
Toasted almonds

Cook chicken. For this recipe, the chicken was seasoned with Montreal seasoning then baked for approximately 30-minutes at 350 degrees.

If you did not purchase pre-washed spinach, then wash leaves and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside while you dice the celery into thin pieces, cut cucumbers into rounds and cut leek into rounds. Punch out the leek rounds with your thumbs/fingers to make rings. Toss all vegetables together in a salad bowl and set aside.

Begin making dressing. In a food processor or blender pour in olive oil, vinegar, honey, add thin slices of ginger root, and season with salt and white pepper. Blend the dressing until you can no longer see the ginger root.
When chicken is done, dice and toss into salad. Lay almonds on an un-greased baking sheet for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until lightly toasted.  Serve with dressing and top with almonds.

Hot Spinach Dip

1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained, finely chopped
1 (10 ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained
3/4 cup  Grated Parmesan Cheese
3/4 cup Light Mayonnaise
1/2 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix all ingredients until well blended.  Spoon into 9-inch pie plate or quiche dish.

Bake 20 min. or until heated through. Serve in bread bowl and use bread that you tore out of the bowl for dipping.   Reduced Fat Crackers and assorted cut-up fresh vegetables also work well.  Yield: 22 servings

Variation - Spinach and Mushroom Dip  -  substitute 1 cup chopped mushrooms for the artichoke hearts. 

Spinach Casserole

2 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 tsp. seasoning salt
1 cup dried bread crumbs, seasoned

Thaw spinach and squeeze out water. Soften cream cheese.  In a mixing bowl, combine spinach, cream cheese and seasoning salt. Mix well and spoon into 2 quart casserole dish.  Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

Spinach and Pasta Shells

1 pound seashell pasta
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
2 tbsp. olive oil
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and spinach and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until pasta is al dente; drain and reserve.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes; sauté for 5 minutes or until the garlic turns light gold. Add cooked pasta and spinach to the skillet and mix well. Season with salt and toss; serve.

Pork Loin Stuffed with Spinach

1/2 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
3 tbsp. margarine
1/2 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
3 pounds pork tenderloin
2 tbsp. ketchup
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tbsp.  teriyaki sauce
1/2 tsp. ground cumin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  Sauté spinach, butter, onions and garlic over medium heat until soft. Add bread crumbs. Cut tenderloin in half lengthwise. Stuff with spinach mixture and secure with kitchen twine.

In a bowl, mix ketchup, orange juice and teriyaki sauce. Baste tenderloin with 1/2 of the mixture. Sprinkle pork with cumin. Place in shallow roaster and bake at 350 degrees uncovered for one hour. Baste with reserved marinade and cook one more hour covered. Use meat thermometer to check for doneness. Thermometer should read 160 to 170 degrees F.

Bacon Wrapped Chicken Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 (10 ounce) bag washed fresh spinach
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
8 slices thick sliced bacon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9x13 inch baking dish.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook and stir until it begins to brown, about 30 seconds. Quickly stir in spinach, and continue cooking until the spinach has wilted. Transfer the mixture into a bowl, and set aside to cool.

Slice through the chicken breast horizontally to within 1/2 inch of one long edge, then open the meat like a book. Place each opened chicken breast in between two pieces of plastic wrap, and pound with a meat mallet to a thickness of 1/4 inch.

Stir the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, garlic salt, and onion powder into the cooked spinach until blended. Evenly divide this mixture among the chicken breasts, then roll each into an oblong shape, like a burrito, tucking in the ends. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Wrap each breast with 2 strips of bacon, and secure with toothpicks. Place into the prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven until the bacon is brown and crispy, and the chicken is no longer pink, 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before removing toothpicks and serving.  4 Servings

Stuffed Large Pasta Shells

12  dried jumbo shell macaroni
1  10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2  eggs
1  8-ounce package shredded Italian cheese blend (2 cups)
1  cup ricotta cheese
1  26- to 32-ounce jar pasta sauce  (see page 15 for a simple homemade sauce)

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Rinse with cold water; drain again. Meanwhile, drain thawed spinach well, pressing out excess liquid.
For filling, in a medium bowl beat eggs. Stir in spinach, 1-1/2 cups of the Italian cheese blend, and the ricotta cheese. Spoon 2 rounded tablespoons of the filling into each jumbo shell. Place shells in 2-quart square baking dish. Pour pasta sauce over shells.
Cover and bake in a 350 degree F oven about 40 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Italian cheese blend before serving.  Makes 4 servings
Make-ahead directions: Cover casserole with plastic wrap, then foil. Chill for up to 24 hours. To serve, remove plastic wrap; cover with foil. Bake chilled shells in a 375 degree F oven for 50 to 55 minutes or until heated through.

Variation:  You may cover with an Alfredo Sauce

1/4 cup butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Add cream and simmer for 5 minutes, then add garlic and cheese and whisk quickly, heating through. Stir in parsley and serve.

Spinach and Shrimp Salad
1 lg. avocado, peeled and sliced into rings
1 tbsp. fresh orange juice
1 lb. fresh spinach, torn into pieces
1 lb. small boiled shrimp
3 oranges, sectioned

2/3 c. salad oil
1/3 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. hot pepper sauce (Optional)

To make dressing, combine salad oil, 1/3 cup orange juice, sugar, vinegar, orange peel, salt, mustard and hot pepper sauce in a jar. Shake well and chill.
Sprinkle avocado rings with 1 tablespoon of orange juice. Combine avocado, spinach, shrimp and orange sections in a large bowl. Toss with chilled dressing.  Makes 8 portions.

Shrimp and Spinach Salad

2 tablespoons butter
1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
4 cups fresh baby spinach
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add the shrimp. Cook and stir for 3-4 minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Add garlic and parsley; cook 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.
Place spinach in a salad bowl. Top with tomatoes, almonds and shrimp mixture. Drizzle dressing over salad. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  4 servings.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tsp. water
4 tsp. soy sauce
4 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground mustard
1 clove crushed garlic (or 1/4 rounded tsp. garlic powder)
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 rounded tsp. black pepper
2 squirts Tobasco sauce (Optional)
4 tbs. honey (Optional)

Mix all ingredients in a jar and shake thoroughly. Allow to flavors to combine for an hour or so before using, then taste and adjust seasonings. The dressing will keep for a couple of months in the refrigerator.

Spinach Dip

1 package Vegetable Soup Mix (Dry)
1 large container sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 small box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
1 small can tiny shrimp
1 small can crabmeat
Chopped green onions or chives (optional)
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
1 large round bread loaf

Add and mix all ingredients except bread. Cut the top off the bread, remove most of the inside bread to form a "bowl". Add the dip to the bread, replace the lid, refrigerate for 2 hrs. Serve dip with vegetable sticks or crackers.  I also use the cut out bread as an offering to dip.  Cut it up into bit sized pieces.

Variation:  You may leave out the shrimp and crab and replace it with artichoke hearts chopped finely for a spinach and artichoke dip. 

I love to take this as my offering at a pot luck or party.  

Spinach Quiche

1 frozen deep dish pie crust (9-inch), thawed
No-Stick Cooking Spray
1 medium onion, chopped (1 med = 1/2 cup)
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 pkg (10 oz each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
3/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce or a small amount of pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 450°F. Lightly prick side of pie crust with fork. Bake 5 minutes, or until lightly browned; set aside. Reduce oven to 350°F.

Spray medium skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat . Add onion and garlic; cook and stir 4 minutes, or until tender. Add spinach; mix well. Spoon into crust.

Combine eggs, milk, flour, basil and hot pepper sauce; pour over spinach mixture. Cover edge of crust with foil to prevent over browning.

Bake 50 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into 6 slices to serve.

Tomorrow we pick strawberries.  Some never make it to the table.

Be happy and may God bless you and yours.

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