Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fall Fest -- Finally -- and It's All About Spinach!

Spinach. You can saute it, turn it into a salad, a quiche, a souffle, or spanakopita. Add it to an omelet or frittata. Use it in lasagna or a pasta sauce or soup. It's one of my favorite greens but it can sometimes seem a little tame these days, compared to the sharp spiciness of arugula or strong stemmed kale. Nevertheless, it's completely utilitarian, delicious, and so ridiculously nutritious (we're talking high levels of vitamins A and C, along with iron and calcium) that it's a frequent player in my kitchen and, no doubt, in yours, too.

I just finished reading the uncorrected proofs of a new cookbook by Terra chef/owner Jeff Rossman. Called From Terra's Table, the book will be out in November and I've already written it up for my Local Bounty column in San Diego Magazine. I don't want to step on that but when I came across Jeff's recipe for Mixed Mushroom Ragout with Herb-Polenta Cake and saw that it includes Swiss chard in the polenta, I thought, "Bingo!" because I knew I could swap out the chard for spinach and have a very cool recipe for this week. And, Jeff gave me his blessing to do it for this. I made it last week, using beautiful crinkled Bloomsdale spinach that I found at Specialty Produce. One of the reasons I really love and recommend this Savoy variety is that it holds up well to cooking instead of immediately collapsing like flat leaf spinach.

Specialty Produce also had several kinds of exotic mushrooms so I pulled out a mix of gorgeous red lobster mushrooms, a very lively looking hand of oyster mushrooms, and little fresh shitakes.*

Between the mushrooms, the spinach, and the polenta, you have an earthy vegetarian dish rich in flavor. And, the recipe is pretty easy for a home cook -- so long as you have everything prepped before you start cooking. It also makes a lot of food. I halved the recipe and still had many portions of the polenta.

Mixed Mushroom Ragout with Herb-Polenta Cake
from From Terra's Table by Jeff Rossman
Serves 4 to 6
Total Time: 4 hours, Active: 1 1/2 hours

Herb-Polenta Cakes
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups yellow onions, diced
2 cups assorted chard, cut into 2-inch pieces (I substituted spinach)
12 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 cups polenta or yellow corn meal
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup scallions, sliced
1 cup freshly grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Mushroom Ragout
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
1 pound mixed mushrooms
1/2 pound leeks, washed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine (any non-oaky kind that you would drink)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. In a large pot, saute the onions and chard (or spinach) in the oil until tender. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal slowly to avoid lumps. Stir over medium-high heat. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until thick. You can serve this creamy polenta now or continue to make the cakes. Pour the mixture into a plastic-lined baking dish or loaf pan (Note: I just coated the pan with oil) and chill (at least 2 to 3 hours). When ready to serve, cut the polenta into discs or squares and reheat them on a hot griddle or in a saute pan. (Note: I poured some on a salad plate for dinner and the rest into an 8 X 8-inch pan--remember, I halved this recipe--and by the time I had made the ragout, it was about set).
2. For the ragout: in a saute pan over medium-high heat, add olive oil and stir in the mushrooms and leeks. (Note: lobster mushrooms are fairly hard in texture so if you use them, give them a head start in in the saute pan before adding the rest of the softer mushrooms.) Continue cooking until tender, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the white wine. Cook for another minute, until the wine burns off slightly. To finish the sauce, whisk in the butter and emulsify. Serve over the hot polenta cakes.

So, here's what are my Fall Fest colleagues are up to:

Todd and Diane at White on Rice Couple: Tuna and Spinach Bruschetta
Cate at Sweetnicks: Spinach Egg Breakfast Cup
Marilyn at Simmer Till Done: Spanakopita Scones
Alana at Eating from the Ground Up: Spicy Indian Lentil Soup with Spinach
Gilded Fork: Spicy Artichoke Spinach Dip, and a Dossier on Spinach
Nicole at Pinch My Salt: Spinach and Sausage Soup
Caroline at the Wright Recipes: Spinach Rotolo, a rolled ricotta and pasta extravaganza
Alison at Food2: Spinach Artichoke Dip
Michelle at Cooking Channel: Paneer With Spinach
Kirsten at FN Dish: Everyday Spinach Dishes with Giada
Liz at Healthy Eats: Mini Spinach-Mushroom Quiche
Food Network UK: Eggs florentine, brunch of champions
Margaret at A Way to Garden: Why I plant spinach late, and other tasty tidbits

Now It's Your Turn to Join Fall Fest 2010!
This collaborative effort won't be much fun without you! The more info we all give, the more we'll all enjoy fall's harvest. Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? You can contribute in various ways, big or small.
  • Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. 
  • Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog any upcoming Wednesday, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.
The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and then we're all cooking with some great ideas. Or go big: Publish entire posts of your own if you wish, and grab the big Fall Fest 2010 pumpkin badge above (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites). We'll also be tweeting using #fallfood as our hashtag. Here's the schedule:
Sept. 1: Sweet and Spicy Peppers
Sept. 8: Garlic
Sept. 15: White (or colorful “white”…but not sweet) Potatoes
Sept. 22: Spinach
Sept. 29: Apples
Oct. 6: Fall Salads
Oct. 13: Pumpkin and Winter Squash
Oct. 20: Pears
Oct. 27: “Mad Stash” (as in what you’re freezing/canning/drying, etc.)
Nov. 3: Root veggies
Nov. 10: Brassicas: incl. Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage or other
Nov. 17: Sweet Potatoes
Nov. 24: Bounty to Be Grateful For
 *full disclosure: I do some research and editing for Specialty Produce

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  1. Oh wow! That's a nice idea. Can you believe that I've never made polenta at home? Gotta give this a try. Thanx for sharing!
    Here's what I did with spinach a while back http://www.indiansimmer.com/2010/07/palak-paneer-for-my-birthday.html

  2. And I put spinach in a pancake ! here is the recipe for eggless spinach buttermilk pancakes.

  3. awesome - this looks like a great vegetarian dish.
    This week I made spinach pasta:

  4. i planted spinach for the first time this fall…and posted a recipe for mixed vegetable fritters on fresh spinach tossed in a honey mustard vinaigrette. http://napafarmhouse1885.blogspot.com/2010/09/so-now-it-is-spinach-weekwhat-would.html

  5. Spinach is good with just about everything. Will be making this soon, thanks. I posted a page of spinach recipes for the reader to choose from for ‘Fall Fest’: http://dejavucook.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/spinach-spinach-and-more-spinach/

  6. I love oyster mushrooms! They are perfect match with spinach! :) Here's the link to my new blog. I welcome any feedbacks. Thank you.

  7. Oh, these all sound so delicious! Thanks for sharing!

  8. I know what you're thinking: baby spinach in a smoothie? Yup. You don't even know it's there, honestly! Try my Triple Berry Smoothie and you'll see what I mean: http://iamglutenfree.blogspot.com/2010/07/triple-berrry-smoothie.html

  9. I don't really like polenta but this looks so goooooood I need to re think ! This is my contribution for the theme


  10. I love Fall Fest 2010! I love hearty soup recipes as well, especially the ones that are versatile and allow you to change up the ingredients. I made Curried Coconut, Spinach, and Mushroom Soup (gluten free, dairy, free, vegan). http://iamglutenfree.blogspot.com/2010/09/fall-fest-2010-curried-coconut-spinach.html

  11. Fall Fest 2010--how awesome! I soooo enjoy fall offerings! I need to get busy in my kitchen.
    Your blog is lovely!

  12. Tasty tasty! I've heard polenta is fairly simple to make, but I continue to purchase the tubal variety from Trader Joe's. Time to spread my wings?

  13. It's one of my favorite greens but it can sometimes seem a little tame these days, compared to the sharp spiciness of arugula or strong stemmed kale.