Spinach and cheese


You're probably getting a bit fed up with 'simple' and food combinations, so I will make this one the last for a while. But I wanted to cover it because of my cooking plans for today. I have a bunch of spinach in the fridge and if I don't use it soon it will have gone off. Indeed it may have done already. I'm sure it's gone well beyond what a 'real' cook would consider appropriate anyway. I also have some ricotta and some feta and they don't last long either. So I was going to make spanakopita - I have some filo pastry, and I bought some dill this morning.


But then, for some reason which I can't quite quantify now I went off the idea. I don't think David is a huge fan of spanakopita and stupid though it is I am still nervous about serving him something he doesn't really like - and that's an increasing number of things it seems to me. So instead I am going to make an old Robert Carrier favourite from Great Dishes of the World which he calls Italian Spinach Pie. The link will take you to an adapted recipe - leave out the mushrooms and use ricotta instead of the sour cream and you are back to the original. Or leave them in if you prefer. It's not sacrosanct. It's pretty delicious though and I did see somewhere somebody say that it was the most delicious version he had come across of this type of thing. I'm not sure why it is in the Great Dishes of the World book as I don't really think that it is an actual Italian dish. But anyway this is what we are having for dinner and it occurred to me that having a brief look at spinach + cheese might be worth a brief post.


So I had a look and do have lots of kinds of things to report but nothing way out like Heston's Cheese Toastie ice cream. The tomato and cheese toasties by the way were great. And I took a couple of the tips I learnt along the way to heart. Well not quite. One was to drain the tomato slices on paper towels. Well worth doing - they were still juicy in the finished dish. Then there was the tip to cover the frying pan whilst the toasts were cooking. I think this helped the melting of the cheese and the cooking of the tomatoes. I didn't take up Jamie's recommendation of putting something heavy on the top to compress it all - well I couldn't really because of the lid - but I did squash them down a bit, and I think that helped. And I didn't use the mayonnaise, mostly because of my in-built and prejudiced opinion about shop-bought mayonnaise.


But back to spinach and cheese. It's a match made in heaven. Any kind of cheese really. Depending on whose cuisine you are looking at you have several different choices of cheese. Tonight it will be ricotta, because this is supposedly Italian and you need a kind of cream cheese for this dish. But if I had made a spanakopita or a Middle-eastern dish it would have been feta. If it was an Indian Saag paneer - well it would have been paneer.


Spinach was first cultivated in Persia in the fourth century and then went to China, and via the Arabs to Europe. Nobody's quite sure who took it to America. Most of the world's cuisines use spinach extensively but I think the Asian cuisines probably don't mix it with cheese - well they don't do cheese do they? Excepting India of course, which has countless dishes that combine spinach and paneer.

Ditto for the Middle-east, Greece and Turkey. Georgia too which has a kind of stuffed bread.

The Italians do gnocchi, cannelloni, and lasagna and probably lots more things too - like pizza.

Then there's the rest - soups, soufflés, pancakes, salads, bread, scones, macaroni cheese ...

Apologies - this is just turning into a list. Yet again. No wonder my numbers are dropping. Not that I care about that, that much. I guess it comes from realising over the years I have been doing this blog, that with certain matchings of ingredients the world is completely open. Almost anything can be done. Most of the things that I found for this very traditional pairing were indeed, just that. There did not seem to be a lot more invention out there. No Heston thinking laterally about spinach and cheese. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, and within those traditional limits there is invention - as in Nigel Slater's salad which combines, spinach with fennel, beans and parmesan. Indeed it is probably in the salads that you will find the greatest invention. I didn't really find anything sweet though. Well not with cheese. There are desserts with spinach - most notably a Provençal tart.


Besides I can't talk. I have chickened out of spanakopita in favour of the tried and true Robert Carrier and his kind of quiche. But then as a child I had never heard of quiche. What a long, long way we have come. And now what to do with the feta?

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