Truth be told, I’ve always found creamed spinach a little blah. Why sully healthy spinach with cream when you could steam or saute it and season the wilted greens with exactly the same ingredients used in the creamed spinach?
Enter Parmesan and Emmental, a smooth Swiss cheese, and my attitude towards creamed spinach is transformed as profoundly as the dish’s flavor.
Yes, the cheeses are rich. But so is creamed spinach, naturally, as it contains heavy cream and, often, whole milk. The difference is that the flavor from the cheeses makes the spinach much more flavorful and creamy and totally worth the caloric splurge.
While Emeril’s original recipe was superb, I made a few changes to keep more nutrients intact. After all, if you’re going to be indulging in a creamy, cheesy dish, you probably shouldn’t boil the spinach (sorry, Emeril!) and deprive the leafy greens of all the wonderful nutrients they naturally contain. So rather than boil it, I steamed the spinach.
Speaking of healthfulness, but also of convenience, I substituted 1% milk for whole milk because that’s what I had on hand … and because I figured that, between the heavy cream, the Parmesan, and the Swiss cheese, the spinach would still come out tasting thick, rich, and creamy.
Finally, I changed the order around a bit to make this recipe much more do-ahead friendly. Rather than adding the cheese to the cream mixture and then the spinach, I thought it prudent to add the spinach to the cream mixture first; then you can prepare everything in advance up to that point, store it in the refrigerator, and just add grated cheese to the reheated mixture right before serving to optimize the flavor and make sure you don’t end up with an odd, reheated cheese texture in the creamed spinach.
Creamed spinach is a great substitute for a pasta side dish (especially one with cream sauce – you really won’t miss the pasta when you serve these creamy greens!), and it goes particularly well with red meat dishes, including steak or roasted lamb, and even with chicken and pork. And for entertaining purposes, it can be altered slightly (add artichokes, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes!) to form a more decadent version of this dip.
Ultimate Creamed Spinach (adapted from Emeril Lagasse)
Serves 4 to 6
2 lbs. fresh spinach, tough stems removed
1/4 c. heavy cream
4 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp. garlic, minced
6 Tbsp. flour
1 1/4 c. milk (I used 1%, but original recipe calls for whole milk)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, grated
1/4 c. Swiss cheese, grated
1/4 c. Parmesan, grated
In large pot, insert steamer basket, and pour in enough water to come just below the surface of the basket. Bring to boil over high heat. Add spinach, and steam until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain in fine mesh strainer, pressing spinach with large spoon to release as much water as possible. Finely chop, and set aside.
In small saucepan, bring cream to a low boil, and remove from heat (or just zap it in the microwave for a minute until hot).
In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add shallots and garlic, and cook until soft, about 1 minute. Add flour, and reduce heat to low. Stirring constantly, cook until light blond roux forms, about 2 minutes. Add milk in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Cook until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and simmer until thickened, about 4 minutes. Continuing to whisk constantly, add hot cream, and cook for 1 minute. Add chopped spinach, and mix well. Do ahead: at this point, spinach can be brought to room temperature, and stored in refrigerated container for up to 3 days. When ready to serve, reheat spinach mixture until very warm, and continue.
Fold in Swiss and Parmesan cheeses to hot spinach-cream mixture, and mix until smooth. Remove from heat, and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot with my quick and easy roasted rack of lamb.