Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts -- Catalonia

I recently acquired a copy of A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford A. Wright.  This book is a tome!  At 8 inches by 10 inches by 2 inches in size and over 800 pages, it is impressive just to hold.  But when you open it up and start perusing, you find out it is much more than a collection of recipes.
ISBN 0-688-15305-4
 The inside cover says this:
A groundbreaking culinary work of extraordinary depth and scope that spans more than one thousand years of history, A Mediterranean Feast tells the sweeping story of the birth of the venerated and diverse cuisines of the Mediterranean. ...

The evolution of these cuisines is not simply the story of farming, herding, and fishing; rather, the story encompasses wars and plagues, political intrigue and pirates, the Silk Road and the discovery of the New World, the rise of capitalism and the birth of city-states, the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, and the obsession with spices.  The ebb and flow of empires, the movement of populations from country to city, and religion have all played a determining role in making each of these cuisines unique.
Yes, he teaches you the history of the regions as he presents recipes that typify the point he has been making.  Not every recipe is historical but he does make those connections when he can.  For instance, on page 19 he offers Espinacs amb Panses i Pinyons from Catalonia, and explains
This traditional Catalan dish, also popular in the Balearic Islands, is usually made with Swiss chard.  The dish reappears identically in Provence, Languedoc, Lazio ..., Liguria ..., Sicily, and Attica.  It is also an old recipe in Venice, and Iberian Jews know it as a favorite, too.
So I present to you Espinacs amb Panses i Pinyons, that is

Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

2 1/2 pounds spinach, heavy stems removed and washed well
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup golden raisins, soaked for 15 minutes in tepid water and drained
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Place the spinach in a pot with only the water adhering to it from its last rinsing.  Cover, turn the heat to medium-high, and cook until it wilts, about 5 minutes, turning a few times.  Drain well in a strainer, pushing out excess water with the back of a wooden spoon.  Chop the spinach and set aside.

2. In a medium-size skillet, heat the olive oil with the crushed garlic over medium-high heat until the garlic turns light brown, about 1 minute.  Remove and discard the garlic.  Add the pine nuts and drained raisins and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, then reduce the heat to medium, add the spinach, season with salt and pepper, and cook until hot and fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings

My Notes
I made a half recipe, using one bag of spinach that came prewashed so I just rinsed it and shook off the excess water in order to have "only the water adhering to it from its last rinsing."  That one bag filled my largest kettle!  I guess if I had made a full recipe I would have to wilt the spinach in batches.

It is important to press out the excess water as the recipe directs.  The spinach was a clump and it held a lot of water, which would have made the dish soggy.

Beware that the hot oil will splatter when you put the drained raisins in -- that can hurt.

I thought that my stove was set to medium-high heat but it seemed too hot when I started cooking the nuts and raisins -- the nuts browned quickly and the raisins puffed up like grapes.  That 2 minutes seemed like an eternity and I was working hard to stop any scorching.  In fact, it was cooking so quickly even after I turned the fire down that I didn't really taste for seasoning and it needed more of both salt and pepper at the table.  Next time I would use a lower heat.

The Verdict
Wow, tasty!  I usually eat spinach raw in salads, so this was a very different experience for me.  I enjoyed the leafy taste of the greens but I really liked how their flavor was balanced by the sweet of the raisins and the toasted, creamy, almost meaty flavor of the pine nuts.  I don't think I even noticed the olive oil in it.  The pepper gave a subtle tingling aftertaste on my tongue.  Success!

What was really nice was how easy it was to prepare and still make a lovely side dish.  Simple yet classy.  I served it with the Icelandic Chicken (see the April 1, 2014 post) for a tasty and filling meal.

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