A few months ago, my friends Melanie and Troy came to visit with their little one. Melanie and Troy used to live in DC, and high on their to-do list was a stop at Ray’s The Steaks, an affordable, classic steakhouse in Arlington, Virginia. Ray’s has everything you want in a steakhouse — beefy cuts of meat, geriatric waiters, and bottomless sides. Creamed spinach and whipped potatoes accompany any steak order, and you can direct the waitstaff to fill ‘er up to your heart’s desire.
While Ge Ge (my four-year-old son) is many things when it comes to food, he’s never been a huge fan of spinach. That’s not to say I haven’t tried to serve it to him in a variety of forms — raw, steamed, sauteed, blanched — none of it has passed muster. On the night we visited Ray’s, with kids in tow, I pushed a heavy tureen of creamed spinach towards Ge Ge. “Try this spinach,” I pleaded, knowing full well that he’d probably look at me like I grew an extra head. “It’s got cheese and cream and all sorts of unhealthy things added into it. You might like it.”
Predictably, Ge Ge was not amused. He gave me a diatribe about the evils of spinach, about how it coats the roof of his mouth and tastes slimy. I didn’t push it. “Okay,” I said, after several minutes of haranguing. “I think you should keep an open mind and try it, but if you’re not going to, that’s fine. I mean, we’re at this nice restaurant, and if you can’t try new things, maybe we just won’t come to many nice restaurants in the future.” I always like to surrender with a nice heavy dose of guilt on the side.
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Ge Ge sighed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him timidly pick up his spoon and dive it into the heap I’d ladled onto his plate. As an oldest child myself, I know how much he wants to please the hubby and me. He was going to try that creamed spinach just so I’d lay off him already. He snaked his tongue out and touched the very 1/100th tip to his spoon, letting just the tiniest drop of spinach rest onto it. He closed his eyes and sighed again.
“Mom! This is really good!” He quickly re-positioned his spoon and shoveled a heaving mound onto it.
As it turns out, dosing large amounts of heavy cream, butter, and Parmesan cheese is the way to get Ge Ge to down a ton of spinach. In the months since, he’s regularly asked me for creamed spinach, and I’ve been happy to oblige. Sure, it’s not the healthiest side, and so we don’t have it all that often. But the richness of creamed spinach is homey and comforting, and it’s a hearty accompaniment for our meat main dishes.
The recipe I found that I like the most is an adaptation from this recipe by Pioneer Woman Cooks. I add grated Parmesan to mine because I like the nutty, savory flavor it adds to the spinach. Using fresh spinach (I always use baby spinach) is key here. Frozen chopped spinach, of course, works in a pinch, but I find that there’s a nice crisp flavor that’s more potent when the spinach you’re using is fresh. Of course, if you’re going to sell your kids on it, it helps to sprinkle some Parmesan on top just before serving.
The last time I made this creamed spinach, Ge Ge’s eyes widened when he saw it on the table. “Mom, mom, mom! You made me creamed spinach?! You know how to make everything!”
Of course I don’t know how to make everything, and I won’t, ever. Not even close. But I didn’t have the heart to tell him how easy it is to make creamed spinach, and besides, I really like his superhero treatment of his dad and me right now. One day, he’s not even going to come to the dinner table when I call him, and he’s going to spend hours in his room, blaring music while full of angst. I know my days of hero-worship from this guy are numbered, so for now, I’m going to drink it up.
“Yup,” I replied.
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 8 tbsps. flour
- ½ onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups skim milk
- ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg (freshly grated, if you have it)
- 4 tbsps. freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
- 1 ttbsp. olive oil
- 3 bags (8 ounces each) baby spinach, triple-washed
- Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring until onion is slightly softened. Add flour and continue to stir, coating onion thoroughly. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
- Slowly whisk in milk, breaking up flour/onion/garlic mixture. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until you have a smooth white sauce. Reduce heat to low and add nutmeg and cheese. Remove from heat.
- Heat olive oil in a large stockpot. Add spinach and stir constantly to saute until spinach is cooked down and wilted (the volume will dramatically decrease). Remove from heat and add to cheese mixture. Stir thoroughly to incorporate. Serve immediately.