Spinach

Flavorful, easy to cook and seriously nutritious, local spinach arrives with the spring weather.



Photo by Laura Petrilla

This month, the first true green of spring brightens backyard gardens and growers’ fields as emerald spinach leaves unfurl from the soil. While temperatures remain cool and even, the plant grows quickly and can be harvested as early as six weeks after sowing. Planting this much-loved vegetable is an annual ritual that dates back throughout history. Spinach first took root in central Asia and was cultivated in Persia as long ago as the fourth century A.D.

Several hundred years later, spinach was a prized foreign import along with other delicacies like wine and white-sugar cakes. When the Arabs swept into Spain during the 11th century, they introduced Europeans to spinach. Some of its first uses were in sweets such as tarts or flans, combining with eggs, honey, almonds and spices; spinach flavored with nutmeg—a feature of classic Greek Spanakopita—echoes this early practice. Over time, spinach was embraced by European cooks—from Italy to France and England.

In classic French cuisine, it was referred to as “cire-vierge” (or virgin beeswax) because of its ability to meld with other ingredients instead of dominating a dish with its own flavors. During the 16th century, when Catherine de Medici, of Florence, Italy, married the king of France, she brought her own cooks to prepare one of her favorite foods: spinach. This launched the term “Florentine,” which is still used to describe any dish made with the leafy green. The vegetable is known to be one of the healthiest—and for good reason: It’s a source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps reduce potential cancer-causing damage to our DNA, and lutein, which helps reduce the risk of developing cataracts. It’s our richest source of folic acid and an excellent source of vitamin A. When served raw, it’s packed with vitamin C; however, most of the vitamin is lost if you overcook it.

On the other hand, since the volume of spinach is dramatically reduced when cooked on the stovetop, its fiber and nutrients become concentrated and even healthier after cooking. Bringing these nutritional benefits to the table is easy when spinach tastes so delicious. This month, visit one of the many farmers markets (citiparks.net) to remember how good spinach tastes when it’s locally grown.

Whether you want to make the most of using spinach in your recipes or find out the latest on food safety, read on to find out everything you need to know.
 

Selecting

As the most widely grown green in the country, spinach is an everyday grocery item that can be found year-round. But its quality can decline quickly after prolonged shipping or storage, resulting in past-prime leaves that are wilted or yellowed; another sign that it’s over-the-hill is an unpleasant mineral flavor that increases with cooking. Now that spring is here, you can buy locally grown spinach and avoid quality problems: Plants in the flush of first growth yield spinach with a fresh, clean taste and great crunch. Varieties include so-called “savoy” types like Bloomsdale (that’s very easy to grow in your garden at home), which have a heavy, crinkly texture; and kinds such as Melody or Wolter, which are flat-leafed and slightly more delicate. At the farmers market, large-leafed bunches are often a better bargain than small baby leaves, which can wilt quickly.
 

Cooking

Spinach salads are delicious when served cold—try one with fresh strawberries, slivered almonds and poppy-seed dressing—or slightly warm and wilted, tossed with crumbled bacon and goat cheese. There seem to be endless popular dishes—from Southern-style creamed spinach to the classic spinach dip that no Super Bowl party should be without. This green is easy to quickly sauté, although it shrinks dramatically during cooking: A saucepan full of raw spinach will dwindle to about one-tenth the volume after cooking. Spinach is a natural match for savory egg dishes, including omelets or quiche, and a key ingredient in classic recipes.
 

Food Safety

It wasn’t long ago that bagged spinach looked downright scary—during the 2006 E. coli spinach foodborne illness outbreak, to be exact. The event sickened more than 200 people nationwide. The episode’s repercussions were huge, and the industry continues to rebuild today after consumer confidence plummeted and more than $100 million was lost in reduced leafy green sales. So, how safe is spinach now? In 2007, the California LGMA, a strict leafy-greens oversight program, was implemented, and, soon after, Arizona (which, after California, is the nation’s second largest producer) adopted the same standards. Since the programs were enacted, more than 100 billion servings of leafy greens have been grown without any reported contamination episodes. Further protections will come with the FDA Food Modernization Act signed in 2010 by President Obama, although funding for the new law—which will take three years to implement—may be in jeopardy, given the strong anti-spending currents taking hold in Washington, D.C.
 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

With so many options in and around the city, every couple can find the special space that feels just right — whether they’re looking for nature, rustic charm, fairytale romance, stained-glass beauty, treasured religious ritual or classic tradition.
Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Delve below the surface to explore the underground areas that serve as vital pathways to our region.
Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Chefs who grew up in Pittsburgh are shaping the culinary scene in other cities across the country — and gaining national recognition in the process.
Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

The meat-centric restaurant in the Strip District is helping to redefine Pittsburgh's dining expectations.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Steelers' DeAngelo Williams Scores as Daughters' Hair Stylist

Steelers' DeAngelo Williams Scores as Daughters' Hair Stylist

In a pair of TV ads, watch the Steelers' running back tackle styling the hair of his two adorable daughters.
Greenlight for Girls Encourages Hands-On STEM Learning

Greenlight for Girls Encourages Hands-On STEM Learning

The international organization partnered with local materials science company Covestro to encourage scientific curiosity for girls.
Heinz Releases a ‘Wiener Stampede’ on The Super Bowl

Heinz Releases a ‘Wiener Stampede’ on The Super Bowl

Dozens of dachshunds wearing hot dog costumes star in what may be the cutest commercial this year.
Grove City College Team ‘Takes the Cake!’ on Cake Wars

Grove City College Team ‘Takes the Cake!’ on Cake Wars

Two former freshman roommates created a cake that was part sculpture, part spectacle to win $10,000 on the popular Food Network series.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

Goin' to the Chapel – Or Not?

With so many options in and around the city, every couple can find the special space that feels just right — whether they’re looking for nature, rustic charm, fairytale romance, stained-glass beauty, treasured religious ritual or classic tradition.
Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Underground Pittsburgh: Explore our City of Tunnels

Delve below the surface to explore the underground areas that serve as vital pathways to our region.
Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Kitchen Roots: Ruta, Solomonov and Ehland

Chefs who grew up in Pittsburgh are shaping the culinary scene in other cities across the country — and gaining national recognition in the process.
Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is Smokin'

The meat-centric restaurant in the Strip District is helping to redefine Pittsburgh's dining expectations.
Cranking Out Old School Valentines Sealed with a Quirk

Cranking Out Old School Valentines Sealed with a Quirk

In Lawrenceville, a love for letterpress leads to a business whose greeting cards reach audiences across the country.
Pittsburgh's Third Renaissance and Complaints from 2007

Pittsburgh's Third Renaissance and Complaints from 2007

This third Renaissance has allowed us to be spectators as Pittsburgh changed from a city suffering the damages wrought by the collapse of its steel industry to a vibrant, active place known for its academic, medical and technology sectors.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Steelers' DeAngelo Williams Scores as Daughters' Hair Stylist

Steelers' DeAngelo Williams Scores as Daughters' Hair Stylist

In a pair of TV ads, watch the Steelers' running back tackle styling the hair of his two adorable daughters.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: Yikes! Imagine This Instead of a Fountain at the Point

PittGirl: Yikes! Imagine This Instead of a Fountain at the Point

City leaders considered many options for Pittsburgh's confluence including something that looked like it was designed by the Jetsons, or an absolutely bonkers, batpoop insane idea by the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Wigle Whiskey Ripe for Expansion with Threadbare

Wigle Whiskey Ripe for Expansion with Threadbare

The Strip District distillers will launch a hard cider business this fall.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
7 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

7 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

Easy access from universities, wallet-friendly prices and really good food make these our favorite choices for the university set.

Comments


Head to 'Quick and Shameless' For an Unpredictable (and Essential) Night of Pittsburgh Comedy

Head to 'Quick and Shameless' For an Unpredictable (and Essential) Night of Pittsburgh Comedy

The LGBTQ-friendly variety show offers one of the city's most unusual (and often unforgettable) lineups of comedic talent.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
It's Simple This Time, Super Bowl 50 Won't Even be Close

It's Simple This Time, Super Bowl 50 Won't Even be Close

The Panthers are going to get to the Broncos eventually. When that happens, Peyton Manning is going to be forced to throw it. And once that happens, it’s going to get ugly.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Delicate Pieces for the Harsh Winter

Delicate Pieces for the Harsh Winter

Lighten up your look with a cheerful necklace.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
George Clooney, Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks and Some Zombies Walk Into a Multiplex

George Clooney, Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks and Some Zombies Walk Into a Multiplex

Our reviews of "Hail, Caesar!," "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and "The Choice."

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Sugar and Spice: Cookie Table Contest Winners

Sugar and Spice: Cookie Table Contest Winners

Pittsburgh has it all: a beautiful skyline, breathtaking bridges and the most gorgeous cookie tables we’ve ever seen.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Pillow Talk: Pittsburgh's Skyline Inspires New Design Line

Pillow Talk: Pittsburgh's Skyline Inspires New Design Line

Check out the new pillow collection from local interior designer Zach Mitchell. Plus, get the scoop on The Pittsburgh Christmas Carol Tour.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Mock Crime Scene to be Held at Waynesburg University

Mock Crime Scene to be Held at Waynesburg University

The event is for high school students who are interested in criminal justice, law enforcement and forensic science.

Comments