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

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Ready for Takeoff: Pittsburgh Airport Hosts First 5K

Ready for Takeoff: Pittsburgh Airport Hosts First 5K

The course directs runners over taxiways usually reserved for incoming and departing planes.
Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

Remembering “Chilly Billy” Cardille

The longtime Pittsburgh television personality had been suffering from liver cancer.
Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Ladies Night: W Bowl Championship Football Game Comes to Pittsburgh

Co-owned by Franco Harris, the W Bowl brings together players from across the Women’s Football Alliance in a fierce competition.
Pittsburgh Health & Fitness Start-Up Expands Nationwide

Pittsburgh Health & Fitness Start-Up Expands Nationwide

For more than a year, Fitt has helped Pittsburghers discover new, local ways to exercise and eat healthy. Now, the ‘Burgh-based start-up is expanding its reach to a dozen new cities.

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

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

A Clear Head, A Cannon for an Arm

After his first taste of big-league ball, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow is ready for his close-up.
Edit Module

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Ready for Takeoff: Pittsburgh Airport Hosts First 5K

Ready for Takeoff: Pittsburgh Airport Hosts First 5K

The course directs runners over taxiways usually reserved for incoming and departing planes.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Thyme and Place

A Thyme and Place

Old friends Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves reconnect via Facebook and collaborate on a historical cookbook.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

After Dark Hall of Fame: Sharp Edge

The local pubs that fly the Sharp Edge banner remain a favorite for top-notch beer and tantalizing grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact

The Pirates did just enough in the days before the All-Star break to embrace the second half of the season with anticipation if not expectation.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

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.
The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

The New Ghostbusters Is a Worthy Addition to the Franchise

Reviews of "Ghostbusters" and "The Infiltrator," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Perfect Shot: Wedding Photographers’ Favorite Moments

The Perfect Shot: Wedding Photographers’ Favorite Moments

We asked these Pittsburgh wedding photographers to share some of their most-memorable photos — and the stories behind them.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

Ten Thousand Villages Celebrates Grand Reopening

The new, larger location in Squirrel Hill features an expanded selection of handcrafted merchandise.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments