Not me, I like squalor. Squalor, and creamed spinach.
I get creamed spinach whenever I go to a steakhouse, which is roughly as often as I vote in presidential elections. I’ll sometimes make a simplified version at home with some sauteed greens and a touch of reduced cream, but never the gut-busting steakhouse version.
Until tonight. Let guts be busted across the land!
I started off with baby spinach, and lots of it. You need an ass-ton of spinach because it wilts down to 1/100th its original volume, which is why frozen spinach is such a good deal. Come to think of it, I probably could have saved some time and dough had I gone that route, but instead I bought local, organic baby greens gently grown in a field into which classical music was piped every day. In other words, I went to Whole Foods.
I threw sixteen ounces of fresh baby spinach into a hot saute pan with a wee bit of butter and cooked ’em on down.
When totally wilted, the spinach barely filled this relatively small mesh strainer. I let the veg sit in the strainer while I got the rest of the ingredients together, because one certainly does not want excess spinach juice diluting one’s dairy mixture. Fie, spinach juice, fie!
Said ingredients included an exceptionally dry, nutty and salty aged gouda. Not enough to make a true cheese sauce, just enough to lend a bit of flavataste.
This particular gouda was approved by two out of two household dogs, so you know it’s good stuff. I mean, these are uncommonly discriminating hounds, hounds who will eat no vegetables other than asparagus tips and who have to be coerced into eating scraps off the floor like normal dogs. So you can trust them. If you don’t have any three-year gouda lying around, feel free to use parm; it’s still nutty and salty and approved by area canines.
I started the dairy component with a roux. I suppose I could have just reduced heavy cream, which is probably what the steakhouse does to make their creamed spinach so rich and addictive and, yes, deadly; instead, I decided to be kinder to my girlish figure by thickening and enhancing a bit of plain old whole milk. I JUST fit into the super-cute dress I bought to wear to my niece’s wedding later this month, so we can take no chances.
Yes, I have a niece who is getting married, because I am OLD AS DIRT. Although not as old as my sister is, ha ha!
After the milk was whisked into the roux, came up to a simmer and thickened, I fortified it with the gouda, some nutmeg – best friend of dairy AND dark greens, so a no-brainer – a bit of white pepper and a soupçon of garlic powder. Were I more industrious, I would have sauteed fresh garlic with the spinach in the first place, but sadly I (1) am not industrious in the least and (2) just thought of that now.
The combined spinach-and-dairy mixture went into wee individual serving dishes, because let’s face it: even though this isn’t made with heavy cream, it’s still heavy. If this were the steakhouse, they would serve you creamed spinach in a trough with a side of drawn butter just to be safe, but the steakhouse this is not.
Still, you can be somewhat heartened by the fact that you are eating your veg and the knowledge that heat unlocks all of spinach’s vitaminy goodness.
One does want a bit of textural contrast with one’s creamed vegetables, so I topped the ramekins with a combination of more grated gouda and panko breadcrumbs. I totally admit that I briefly considered and then discarded the idea of topping them with crushed sour cream and cheddar potato chip crumbs. (I bet that would have been good, too.)
I set them aside while I waited for Brian to get home from work, whiling away the time with an episode of Iron Chef I fervently hope Bobby Flay lost, even though the challenger made raw trout ice cream. I reheated them in a hot oven while I seared off the ribeye with which they would be paired, turning on the broiler for the last few moments to crisp the tops.
It’s DANGEROUS that this shit is so easy to make, yo. DANGEROUS. Look, it’s so dangerous it’s made me go all “street.” Creamed spinach is up in the hizzouse!
Aged gouda and nutmeg were made to go with spinach. The gentle minerality of the baby spinach came through loud and clear, and was layered perfectly with the other flavors. The overall dish was definitely rich but not a killer, although I don’t think I could have eaten more than one small ramekin. It’s not a side dish for every weeknight, but once in a while, when you splurge on a nice piece of beef? Yeah, that.
1 tbsp. + 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
16 oz. fresh baby spinach
1 1/2 c. whole milk
3 tbsp. AP flour
1/3 c. + 2 tbsp. grated aged gouda (or parm)
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
salt to taste
2 tbsp. panko breadcrumbs
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp. of the butter. Wilt the spinach in batches, adding more as the previous batch cooks down; each batch will only take a few minutes. Put the cooked spinach side in a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. Press some of the water out with a spoon, then let it sit and drain.
In the same pan, heat the other 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour to make a roux and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, which will activate the Full Thickening Power of the roux.
Whisk 1/3 of a cup of the gouda and the nutmeg, pepper and garlic into the sauce; taste and add salt as needed (the cheese will bring quite a bit). Cook for 2-3 minutes to bring all the flavors together, then toss in the drained spinach and combine well.
Portion the spinach mixture into four ramekins.
Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of gouda with the panko and sprinkle over the ramekins.
If serving immediately, simply run under the broiler to brown the topping. If serving later, re-heat in a 400 degree oven, using the broiler in the last couple of minutes.