Foothill gourmet: Spinach makes the recipe

By From page B2 | April 28, 2014

Donna BrownMention the words a la Florentine to me and you have my immediate attention. The French phrase translates as “in the style of Florence” and refers to dishes that are accented with the flavor of spinach.

If the dish features fish, it will probably be topped with Mornay sauce, sprinkled with cheese and browned in the oven. If you get the chance to travel to Italy, the Italian term is alla Fiorentina.

I’m definitely not Popeye, but, as an adult, I find that adding the flavor and texture of spinach to egg or cheese dishes makes the dish irresistible. While recipes featuring a creamy egg and cheese filling are delicious, I have been known to add a handful of spinach to intensify the flavor of the dish. I just can’t resist.

Three-cheese manicotti Florentine is a fabulous egg and cheese filled entrée I created by adding thawed frozen spinach to the following three-cheese manicotti recipe.

To make three-cheese manicotti combine 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1 cup ricotta and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Add 2 beaten eggs, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Mix lightly. Stuff about 1/4 cup of the mixture in a manicotti shell or on a crepe. If using a crepe, roll up. Pour 1/2 cup of your favorite tomato sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange manicotti in dish and cover with more sauce. Sprinkle lightly with another ½ to 1 cup mozzarella. Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly. Try replacing regular mozzarella with a few cubes of fresh mozzarella during the last 10-15 minutes of baking. Makes 4-6 servings.

My variation uses frozen spinach instead of fresh to speed up preparation time. To the basic cheese manicotti recipe, add 1/2 package of thawed and drained frozen spinach. If you prefer to use fresh spinach, check any well-known Italian cookbook author and there will be a recipe. Stuff the shells or crepes and cook as above.

Recently a Florentine rice recipe caught my eye. Once I tried it I was hooked. The recipe is easily and quickly prepared. Since it is deliciously flavored with Dijon mustard, it truly is memorable. My husband and I enjoy its full-bodied flavor. I used it once elegantly beside a braised salmon with a light Thai curry sauce. I also use leftover rice Florentine when preparing Chinese fried rice which works for my family. I’m also thinking that it would be a wonderful bed for fish accompanied by a Mornay sauce.

Rice Florentine: heat to boiling 14 ½ ounces fat-free chicken broth and 1 clove crushed garlic in a medium saucepan over high heat. Stir in 1 cup long-grain rice and reduce heat. Cover and simmer 12 minutes. Discard garlic. Thaw and drain 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach. Add the spinach and 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard to the rice and return to simmer. Cover and simmer 6-8 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in 2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings with only 2 grams of fat per serving.

I’ve successfully made rice Florentine with 1 cup long grain brown rice by increasing the chicken stock to 2 cups and the rice cooking time to 32 minutes. All other ingredients in the recipe remain the same.

Enjoy these spinach-accented dishes in good health and since spinach has a modest supply of iron, you might just attain your next fitness goal without a Bluto in sight.

Donna Brown

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