“[Do] you really love it?” asked Miss Patty. “Girls nowadays indulge in such exaggerated statements that one never can tell what they do mean. In my young days, a girl did not say she loved turnips, in just the same tone, as she might have said she loved her mother or her Savior.” –From Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery
I really do love spinach. I always have. As a child, I’d eat so much of my grandmother’s German creamed – although it’s creamless – spinach that I’d get a stomachache. I’d eat leftovers for breakfast – and still do. Even when so small I had to stand on a chair, I was given the privilege (as I saw it) of mincing the spinach, bread and scallions, my knife held in two hands as I carefully chopped vertical lines into the mixture on the cutting board, then horizontal ones, forming a perfect square. (Nana’s spinach recipe is available at illinoistimes.com.)
I still love spinach, both my grandmother’s recipe and in many other guises. Over the years I’ve accumulated lots of wonderful ways to use this versatile green. These two recipes are also longtime favorites, ones that I first made in the early days of my marriage. For years they were constants on our dinner party menus, and I still make them frequently. Both originated in the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine, though over time I’ve modified them substantially.
Spinach soup with salmon quenelles
With today’s blenders and food processors, this springtime soup is a snap to make. Quenelles are classic French dumplings. Most often made with fish (though there are chicken, meat and vegetables versions), they’re light as air – actually a mousse made with fish, and a bit of cream lightened with egg white. In times past, making quenelles involved pounding and forcing through fine sieves; now food processors do it in seconds. Forming the classic oval shapes with spoons is fun, but takes some practice; use a small ice cream scoop or spoons to form balls if you’d rather. And the spinach soup is also delicious without quenelles, perhaps topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
• 1 bunch scallions
• 6 c. chicken stock
• 3 c. peeled and diced boiling potatoes
• 1 lb. young spinach, washed and any thick stems removed
• Salt, freshly ground pepper, and nutmeg to taste
• Salmon quenelles, recipe follows
Finely mince the scallions, separating the white and green parts.
Bring the chicken stock to a simmer, and add the potatoes and white part of the scallions. Simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the spinach and green parts of the scallions, and simmer just until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Purée in a blender or with a hand-held blender. Serve in shallow soup plates with 3 of the quenelles in each individual plate and drizzled with the sour cream. If the soup is not going to be served immediately, plunge the pot in which it was cooked into a vat of cold water to stop the cooking process. Otherwise the soup may turn a khaki green instead of a bright green.
For the salmon quenelles
• 1/4 lb. EACH skinned, uncooked salmon and smoked salmon
OR 1/2 lb. uncooked, skinned salmon
• 1/3 c. heavy cream
• 1 large egg white
• 1 T. tomato paste
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
• kosher or sea salt to taste
• 1 T. white vinegar
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the salmon, cream, egg white, tomato paste and pepper. If you’re using smoked salmon, extra salt may not be needed. Otherwise add a half teaspoon kosher salt to the mixture, and process until smooth. Either way, test the mixture by sautéing a tablespoon in a skillet to taste; add more salt if needed.
Bring a large, wide pot or skillet of water 2-3 inches deep to a bare simmer; add 1 T. white vinegar. Use 2 large spoons to form oval mounds of the paste by scraping the contents of one spoon into the other. Gently drop the quenelles one by one into the simmering water. Poach until they float to the top and have stayed there for about a minute. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. They can be made ahead and reheated, covered with plastic wrap, in the microwave on low heat before placing into the soup. Serves 6.
Chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta and spinach
This is a fantastic dish for entertaining. Not only is it delicious, the overlapping pancetta topping the chicken makes a gorgeous mosaic design (it’s one of the ways I modified the original recipe). And most of the preparation can be done hours, or even a couple days, ahead of time.
• 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
• 1/4 c. kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
• 2 c. ricotta, whole milk preferred, or substitute 1 c. fresh goat cheese for half the ricotta
• 3/4 c. cooked chopped spinach
• 1 T. lemon juice
• 1 tsp. minced garlic, or to taste
• 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
• 1/2 c. freshly grated parmagianno reggiano or similar type cheese
• 3/4 c. minced prosciutto or other ham
• Freshly ground pepper to taste
• 12 paper thin slices rolled pancetta, or substitute very thinly sliced bacon
• Approximately 1 c. chicken stock
• Approximately 1 c. dry white wine or vermouth
• 6 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into bits
• Coarsely chopped fresh parsley, preferably flat-leafed, for garnish, optional
Place the ¼ c. salt in a large resealable plastic bag and add 4 c. cool or cold water. Seal the bag and shake gently until the salt dissolves. Add the chicken, press out as much air as possible, then refrigerate for 2 hours.
In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, lemon juice, garlic nutmeg, cheese, and proscuitto. Season to taste with salt and pepper; divide into 6 equal portions.
Drain the chicken breasts, then pat dry with a paper towel. Place each breast between sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap and pound to an equal thickness (approximately ½ inch) with a mallet or heavy skillet. It’s OK if there are some ragged edges.
Shape a portion of the ricotta mixture into a flat oval in the middle of each piece of a flattened breast and fold the sides and ends over to make a package that will look a little like a baking potato, tucking in any ragged ends. It needn’t be completely sealed. They can be made a day or two ahead at this point, put into the baking vessel (see below), tightly covered and refrigerated. Bring back to room temperature before continuing.
Preheat the oven to 450º. Lightly butter an ovenproof/stovetop-proof vessel that will comfortably hold the stuffed chicken breasts without crowding. (Use two vessels rather than one that’s too small.)
Place the chicken breasts, seam side down, in the container. Top with the pancetta slices, overlapping them slightly.
Pour in equal parts of chicken stock and wine so that the liquid comes up to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch in the baking pan. The pancetta should not be submerged.
Bake until the chicken is cooked but still moist and the stuffing is hot, basting occasionally to keep the pancetta from drying out and curling up, approximately 20-30 minutes depending on the chicken breasts’ size.
Remove the chicken breasts to a platter, cover, and keep warm.
Strain the pan juices or not, as you prefer. Place the pan(s) on the stove over high heat and reduce the liquid by about half. You will see and hear a change in the bubbles when it’s just right.
Remove the pan from the heat and let set until the bubbles have subsided. Whisk in the chilled butter, a few pieces at a time. The butter should emulsify into the liquid, but not completely melt, creating a creamy sauce. Season to taste.
Drizzle some sauce over the chicken breasts (I often serve them atop a wild rice or other pilaf), sprinkle with the parsley and serve; pass extra sauce on the side. Serves 6.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.