Friday, January 21, 2011

Creamed Spinach

Here we are, three weeks into the New Year. Isn't it crazy how time flies? Snowpocalypse 2011 really shook things up here for a while, but this week definitely marked a return to normalcy, with busy mornings and nights, homework and quizzes, and slightly higher temperatures.

All of this has made it more difficult to post here, but today I bring you one of my favorite vegetable side dishes. Traditional creamed spinach is a dish that, while undoubtedly delicious, I can't justify eating regularly because of its inherent richness. Sure, spinach contains lots of healthy vitamins and minerals, but when covered in a cream sauce often enhanced with some kind of meat, any nutritional benefits that it offers are virtually erased.

Enter a healthier version of creamed spinach. Like all white sauces, this one begins with roux of fat and flour. However, instead of adding heavy cream or half and half to the roux, this sauce uses a combination of skim milk and chicken broth, which is then reduced down to a creamy consistency. The milk provides the familiar, slightly sweet dairy flavor while the broth adds a savory element to the otherwise meatless dish.

Sauteed shallots provide a sweet onion flavor and nutmeg, customary in many dishes with a white sauce or greens (or both), gives the sauce a wonderful fragrant spice and a certain warmth. (If I was Rachael Ray, I'd tell you that the nutmeg will make people go, "Hmmm... what is that?" Since I am not, I will tell you that the nutmeg really boosts this dish up. You wouldn't immediately recognize it, but you'd notice if it was absent.)

Perhaps my favorite thing about this dish is the ease versus payoff factor. I'm a huge fan of things that go together quickly or with minimal effort but that really impress (ahem, cheesecake). The use of frozen spinach makes this dish one you can make any time, since all of the ingredients are pantry staples. The sauce comes together practically by itself, which allows you to attend to more important kitchen matters (ahem, cheesecake). What I'm trying to say is that you should make this, now, because nothing is stopping you. You will be greatly rewarded for your (not so) hard work with a dish that you can feel good about eating and serving.

Healthier Creamed Spinach
Adapted from Ellie Krieger

When we first discovered this recipe in 2009, we made it often and served it several ways. The creamed spinach is perfectly fine on its own, but we've also added sliced mushrooms to the sauce to bulk it up. If you opt to do this, slice a few cremini mushrooms and saute them along with the shallots. The creamed spinach (with or without mushrooms) also makes a great pasta sauce. We used it with butternut squash ravioli, which was a wonderful foil to the earthier flavor of the mushrooms and spinach. In addition to ravioli or plain pasta (I'd go with a short-cut pasta like penne or rigatoni to trap more of the sauce), the spinach would also go wonderfully with gnocchi. (To make the creamed spinach a bit "saucier," either add less spinach or more milk/broth. If you add more milk/broth, just cook the sauce longer to reduce it down to the correct consistency.) I've made this with both skim and low-fat milk, and both work equally well. If you can, use freshly grated nutmeg, which is much more fragrant and flavorful than pre-grated nutmeg.

Yield: 4-6 servings

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 small shallots, minced
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Once the spinach is thawed (I usually do this in the microwave), squeeze all of the water from the spinach. A clean kitchen towel or multiple layers of paper towels are ideal for this job.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. (If you opt to add mushrooms, now would be the time to add them.) Add the flour to the pan and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Cooking the flour now gets rid of that pasty, raw flour taste.

Add the milk and chicken broth and cook, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring ocassionally, until the sauce is reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. When the sauce is ready, it will coat the back of the spoon.

Add the spinach to the sauce and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve hot, either alone or alongside pasta or gnocchi.

The creamed spinach can be stored in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week, if it lasts that long.


  1. beautiful photos of one of my favorite vegetable dishes!

  2. thanks for not going all rachel ray on us, and if i had some spinach i'd make this, but alas, i will just have to remember that you've got this posted. i love the banner, and i just made an awesome pot of portabello mushroom soup-soup for me is like cheesecake for you-i love food that makes your heart flutter

  3. This looks great. I usually avoid making creamed spinach because of the high fat content.

  4. Mmmmm...creamed spinach is super yummy! We have not had it as a side dish in a long time, thanks for the reminder! :)

  5. Yum! I love creamed spinach. Your version sounds very good. And, you know, it would go well with cheesecake;)

  6. I love creamed spinach and I haven't had it in so long! This dish looks absolutely beautiful and I think I definitely need to make it pronto!