Friday, June 11, 2010

Spinach Cake

So far the name sounds more delicious than the final product.


The recipe is from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis. I was optimistic, as I had great success with his vibrant carrot salad and delectable Indian-spiced halibut.

Although Fe would argue the point vigorously, this was sadly not quite the home run the others were. With a couple of adjustments though, this spinach cake might actually be a solid brunch or picnic dish.

Somewhere between a custard and a frittata, this cake puts to good use the extra eggs and milk in the refrigerator. Throw in about two pounds of spinach, a couple of leeks, and some seasonings and you have brunch. Or, in our case, a late night supper.

The cake is tasty and a gorgeous emerald green. Considering the recipe calls for a whole sink-full of spinach, it is not surprising how -- well -- spinachy this dish is.

I thought I had taken Tanis' advice to highly season the spinach seriously, but he is not joking around here. I felt the final product needed even more salt, pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg. The flavor was just too one-dimensional. It's spinach, period.

Next time I will add some chopped garlic to the leeks.

My only other criticism, aside from the seasoning problem, would be the issue of wateriness.

After you wash the spinach, you place it in a colander to drain. There is a lot of water on that spinach, and without spinning at least some of it dry or letting it drain in the colander for quite a while, you have a lot of moisture in your dish.

The water clinging to the leaves is important. When cooking, it steams the spinach. And Tanis wants us to reserve all of the liquid and add it to the final batter. This didn't seem like a problem until later.

After slicing, the water seeps out of the spinach cake onto the plate. I found a small puddle at the bottom of my baking dish. But it's not really a presentation issue -- the biggest problem is that the spinach cake just tastes and feels watery in the mouth.

The solution must be to spin dry at least half of the leaves or pour off some of the liquid before adding the vegetable mixture to the batter.

With those adjustments -- oh yes, and add a bit more Parmigiano! -- this really would make an excellent dish for a weekend brunch. It must be made ahead, which is actually convenient, as it needs to be served at room temperature. Undoubtedly, it presents beautifully.

A citrusy herb salad on the side as Tanis suggests and a loaf of no-knead bread would be the perfect complements.

Spinach Cake

2 bunches spinach, about 2 pounds
2 medium leeks
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
2 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons or more grated Parmigiano

Cut the spinach into 1-inch wide ribbons (I just used baby spinach), discarding any tough stems. Wash the spinach in a large basin of water, then lift them out to a colander. Repeat until there is no sand or dirt in the water.

Trim the leeks and peel off any tough outer layers. Cut the leeks into a small dice. Rinse in a bowl of warm water until the sand and dirt has settled to the bottom. Scoop the leeks out of the water. Repeat as necessary.

Melt the butter in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until tender, about five minutes.

Turn up the heat and scrape a little nutmeg over the leeks. Add the drained spinach in layers, sprinkling each layer with a little salt. Cover tightly, and let steam rapidly over the leeks, stirring once or twice. The water clinging to the spinach will provide enough moisture for steaming (and how!). When the spinach is just barely wilted, 2 minutes or less, turn out the contents of the pot onto a platter and let cool. Be sure to save any cooking juices that have accumulated.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When the spinach-leek mixture is cool, taste for seasoning and adjust. It should be highly seasoned. In a blender or food processor, puree the cooked vegetables with the milk and eggs in batches, adding a little more salt and pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. Add any remaining cooking juices to one of the batches and puree again.

Pour the soupy green batter into a buttered baking dish or a 9- or 10- inch deep-dish pie pan. Grate a scant 2 tablespoons Parmigiano over the top, and bake uncovered for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Cut into wedges and serve.

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