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Usually quite gritty, fresh spinach must be thoroughly washed before using. Flatter-leafed varieties are gaining popularity at the market because they're much easier to clean.
With dark green leaves and a slightly bitter taste, this versatile vegetable is a favorite for dips, salads, side dishes and pasta fillings. Depending on the variety, spinach leaves may be small and smooth or broad and crinkly, but they all pack a nutritious punch. This leafy green that made Popeye "strong to the finish" is loaded with potassium, iron, riboflavin and vitamins A and C. And while it's true spinach loses some of its nutrients when cooked, it's still one of the healthiest (and tastiest) greens around.
HistorySpinach was the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici in the 16th century. When she left her Florence, Italy home to marry the future King Henry II of France, she brought along her own chefs to prepare her favorite spinach dishes. Since that time, recipes presented on a bed of spinach have been referred to as "a la Florentine."
VarietiesThe three main varieties of spinach vary in the type of leaves that they have. Savoy spinach has broad leaves with a curly, crinkly texture, while semi-savoy is only partially crinkled. Smaller flat-leaf varieties have smoother, slightly plump leaves that may be covered with a fine fuzz. Often called New Zealand spinach at the market, it has a less sweet flavor.
Buying TipsSpinach is available year-round, but is has the best flavor during peak season (March through May; September through October). Choose spinach leaves with a nice dark green color and fresh fragrance. They should be crisp; not wilted, bruised or yellowed.
Spinach is also available canned or frozen (convenient for dips, soups and stuffed pastas).
Storage TipsLoosely wrap spinach in paper towels, tightly seal in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to three days.
Usage TipsSpinach is usually very gritty and must be thoroughly rinsed before using. If them stems are particularly tough, they may be pulled or cut off first. Then place the leaves in a sink or large container full of cold water. Swish them around and let stand for a few minutes so the dirt sinks to the bottom. Lift the leaves out of the water and repeat the process (if necessary) until the spinach is no longer gritty. Shake off the excess moisture and cook as desired. When using in salads, spinach should be dried thoroughly. Lay the leaves on paper towels and blot or place them in a salad spinner.
Cooking Tips• Spinach reacts adversely to many metals. Avoid cooking in aluminum pans or serving on silver.
• For the best flavor, cook spinach only until it begins to turn limp.
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