Spinach is one of those green leafy veg that mothers and grandmothers have exhorted us to eat for generations. Clearly they knew something, well before the age of nutritional research! Calorie for calorie, spinach provides more nutrients than any other food, topping the rankings for nutrient richness and diversity.
Bursting with high levels of a spectrum of vitamins and minerals, it’s also brimming with phytonutrients that provide powerful antioxidant protection. Although virtually all vegetables contain a wide variety of phytonutrients, spinach is prized for its flavonoids and carotenoids. Researchers have identified more than a dozen different compounds in spinach that function as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents, with exciting studies ongoing.
That old enemy, inflammation, has been shown to be quelled by eating spinach, particularly in the gut, while bones, blood pressure, circulation, nerves and eyes all benefit. Its high proportion of protein and essential fatty acids boost mood and motivation too.
With its delicate texture and jade colour, baby spinach can be enjoyed as a salad leaf, sandwich filling, or even as part of a fruit smoothie (yes, really!) Creamed spinach is one of my favourite ways to make this lovely leaf the star, but it’s such an accomplished mixer that it can go with almost anything. Despite its impressive nutrient profile, it’s true that the more variety you can squeeze into your eating, the better. So, here’s a classic pairing of tomato and mozzarella with a spinachy twist – heap onto sourdough toast for a gorgeous lunch, or accompany with meat or fish and a green salad for a main meal.
Spinach, Tomato and Mozzarella Gratin
1.5 kg of spinach, washed and drained well
175g baby plum tomatoes, halved
2 red onions, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
300g mozzarella, sliced
fresh aromatic herbs of your choice e.g. basil, oregano, marjoram
thickly sliced sourdough, toasted
rapeseed oil and extra virgin olive oil
In a large pan, add a little rapeseed oil and fry off the onions until golden, adding the garlic just before the end to avoid it burning. Season and set aside, then wilt the spinach in batches in the same pan in a little rapeseed oil, setting aside to cool. Season as you go to ensure the spinach is well seasoned while all the water is drawn out by the salt at this stage. When cool, put in a colander and squeeze out any excess water. Preheat the oven to 190 C fan/210 C. In a gratin dish (approx 30 cm oval or equivalent) layer the spinach, onions and mozzarella, then top with the tomatoes and herbs. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 25-30 mins until golden and bubbling. To serve, rub the toast with garlic, drizzle with a little olive oil, and top with a sizzling scoop of gratin.
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