In the spirit of Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers' "Easy" series and John Thorne's "Simple Cooking," sometimes it pays to just keep it simple...
There are countless ways to prepare spinach, and quite a number of them involve garlic. But there aren't many ways of preparing that dynamic duo that are easier than this one, and I'm not sure that there's any other way of preparing them that honors the freshest, crispest spinach and the the juiciest garlic quite like this one.
fig. a: dynamic duo
The recipe comes from our good friend Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, it involves just four ingredients, and her introduction, which captures the entire K.I.S.S. philosophy in a nutshell, reads like this:
If a single Italian vegetable dish deserves to be called classic, it is this version of spinach, which epitomizes the simplicity, directness, and heartiness that know no regional barrier and characterize good home cooking throughout the nation.
In other words, this is a classic among classics and the ne plus ultra of Italian vegetable dishes.
Hazan provides directions for preparing this recipe with frozen spinach, but she does stress the following: "You should not easily settle for anything but fresh spinach, because that is what your really ought to have to achieve the flavor of which this dish is capable." Read between the lines and you can hear Marcella insisting on the very freshest local spinach. Farm- or garden-fresh spinach. Organic, even, if at all possible. After all, what self-respecting Italian cook would use spinach that had been trucked in from 3,000 miles away? The idea here is to start with the tenderest, most delicious spinach and to prepare it in the simplest, but most effective manner possible, so as to release its full potential. We might have just been imagining things, but we also felt as though we heard Marcella calling for the freshest, juiciest garlic, so that was exactly what we used. All I know is that the results were sublime.
Spinach Sautéed with Olive Oil and Garlic
2 pounds, fresh crisp spinach (preferably local farm- or garden-fresh)
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, peeled (again, preferably local farm- or garden-fresh)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
If it is very young, snap off and discard just the hard end of the stems. If it is mature, or if you are in doubt, pull away and discard the entire stem. Soak and rinse the spinach leaves in several changes of cold water, so as to thoroughly clean the spinach of any remaining bits of dirt and further crisp the leaves.
Cook the leaves in a covered pan with salt to keep their color bright and no more water than what clings to them from their soak. Cook over medium-low to medium heat until tender, about 5-10 minutes, depending on the spinach. Drain well, but do not squeeze the leaves. Set aside.
Put the garlic and olive oil in a skillet, and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook and stir the garlic until it becomes colored a nut brown, then take it out. Add the spinach, tasting and correcting it for salt. Cook for 2 minutes, turning it over completely several times to coat it well. Transfer the spinach with all its flavored oil to a warm platter, and serve at once.
Enjoy the simplest, yet fullest-flavored spinach you've ever tasted.
[based very, very closely on a recipe from Marcella Hazan's utterly essential Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992)]
As Michelle has been known to put it: "What?!!"