Spinach is great for salads, soups, pasta sauces and dips

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Spinach may have provided Popeye with superhuman strength, but its real-life potential is far less lofty. In fact, its nutritional reputation is somewhat inflated.

Spinach contains oxalic acid that inhibits the absorption of its calcium and iron. In addition, it contains other nutrients that are not fully absorbed when it is consumed raw.

This is not to say spinach is not good for you, but like many health and nutritional claims, the surface hype usually obscures the underlying scientific reality.

Spinach does have other nutritional benefits. It contains vitamins A, C, folic acid, magnesium and potassium.

Spinach originated in Persia, (modern day Iran), and the earliest records of its cultivation go back 2,000 years. By the 16th century, it was well established in Europe. The Spaniards brought it to America.

Spinach was the first vegetable frozen and was sold commercially by Clarence Birdseye in Springfield, Mass. in 1930.

Types of spinach

There are four main types of spinach: Savoy sports crinkled, dark green leaves; flat or smooth-leaf is self-descriptive; semi-savoy’s leaves are in-between savoy and flat; and baby spinach is a smaller Flat-Leaf variety.

The latter are very tender and desirable for salads. Choose spinach with crisp and vibrantly green leaves. Avoid specimens that are limp or discolored.

Spinach can be stored in the fridge in a bag for up to three days. It can be very gritty and must be rinsed thoroughly, even the so-called “pre-washed” type sold in packages.

Spinach is great for salads, soups, pasta sauces and dips. Spinach is very high in water. One pound of spinach will reduce to one cup cooked.

Spinach Artichoke Dip

14 oz jar artichoke hearts

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 cups freshly chopped spinach

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup of mayonnaise

Grated white cheese

Salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium bowl, mix everything except the grated cheese together. Place the mixture in an ovenproof dish; then top with the cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until spinach is tender and the cheese is melted. Serve with tortilla chips.

Creamy Spinach Soup

3 oz. Gnocchi Sardi pasta (or pasta of your choice)

1 small to medium onion, chopped

1 hot pepper, chopped, (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil as needed

1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped

16 oz. chicken broth

1 lb. baby spinach

4 oz. heavy cream

Boil the pasta separately from the soup. While the pasta is cooking, sweat the onion and hot pepper with salt and pepper in the olive oil. Do not brown the vegetables; merely soften them.

Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the spinach in bunches until it all wilts. Add the cream, simmer for a few minutes and add additional salt and pepper if need be.

Add the pasta and serve.

Bay Scallops with Spinach

2 lbs fresh spinach, stemmed and washed, not dried

1 lb. bay scallops

3 large cloves of garlic, peeled

1/4 cup white wine

2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice

2 tsps. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsps. salt

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

Freshly ground pepper to taste.

Heat one teaspoon olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemon zest and cook for 20 seconds, stirring continuously. Add the spinach and toss occasionally, until wilted. Drain off the liquid and season with one teaspoon of salt and pepper; keep warm.

Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallops and saut for one minute or until just cooked through. Remove the scallops from the pan and add the lemon juice and wine.

Cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, for 15 seconds. Remove from the heat, and then toss in the scallops and season with the remaining salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place a mound of spinach in the middle of each plate and surround with scallops. Makes 4 servings.

Turkey and Spinach Wraps

8 oz. cream cheese

8 flour tortillas

5 oz spinach leaves, trimmed

1 lb thickly sliced deli turkey

1 jar salsa.

Spread the cream cheese on the tortillas. Place some spinach and then turkey on each tortilla. Drizzle salsa over the top.

Fold in one end and roll up the tortilla to form a wrap.

Cheese Spinach Bake

3 medium eggs, beaten

20 oz. frozen chopped spinach

4 oz shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup cottage cheese

1/4 cup (one stick) of butter, softened

2 tsps. flour

Salt and pepper

Cook the spinach as directed on package; drain. In a bowl, add the spinach, cottage cheese, cheddar, butter, eggs, flour, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

Spoon into a greased baking dish and bake at 350-degrees for 50-60 minutes.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.