I’m going to admit this: this photos were taken a long time ago. This post has been in draft for at least 3 weeks. Weeks which have passed rather quickly, as all weeks seem to do since I started working full-time last year. Between a birthday and dissertation work, March is almost finished and Spring has officially started! Which makes it all the more shameful, really, that I should come back to you with an unapologetically winter recipe. Luckily for me, Spring has started only according to the calendar (and retailers, who already have their warm season collections out). The weather is very much still a winter one, at least if you live anywhere in the UK or thereabouts. This time last year we had an incredible heatwave that made my fellow Northerners don their flip-flops whilst sipping ale and getting their noses sunburnt. This time around, I’m staring out of my kitchen window and tiny snowflakes are tirelessly flown around by strong gales, whilst countless household in rural areas not too far from here have been without power since last night. All of this just to demonstrate to you that even if I tried, out of kindness to the calendar, there’s no way I could shift my frame of mind away from warm and comforting winter food. Which takes us right back to this magnificent (if you ask me) way of using some of the best crops the cold season offers.
This dish come straight from my grandma Ivonne’s repertoire. Perhaps repertoire doesn’t quite convey the right message though. I’d call it one of her signature dishes, but that sounds more Michelin stars than family cooking. It’s a recipe that spells out the meaning of spinach for my family, it’s the way to make spinach. There are no other ways. Last year, after a few idylllic days in Croatia, B. and I spent a few days with my family. B. prepared a lovely chickpea and spinach stew and when my grandma heard that he had cooked something, asked me how he had made it. As soon as I mentioned spinach leaves, she interrupted me, suspiciously. “Chopped?” she asked. “No” I said “Just leaves, whole”. “…Whole?” “Yes, whole”. With that, her face turned into a mixture of disbelief and disapproval, clearly abhorring the thought that somebody might willingly choose to eat spinach leaves whole instead of finely chopped. Traditions aside, I think finely chopping the leaves here does have a reason. When you mix the white sauce in the greens, the two become one. I don’t think you could achieve the same if you didn’t chop the leaves and stems. I didn’t have the exact recipe so I followed my instict (and some good old common sense) and it turned out as I remembered it. My grandma only uses spinach for this, but I have eaten so much kale over the past few winters that I now consider it part of my vegetable routine over the cold British months. So, let’s all roll our sleeves, gather the dusty kale at the back of your fridge and coat it in a luscious white sauce.
Start by preparing the white sauce. Melt the butter in saucepan and add the flour. Stir until evenly incorporated, but don’t let it brown. Take off the heat and add the milk little by little, along with the salt and nutmeg. Keep stirring until the mixture is smooth and without any lumps. Place back on a gentle heat and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid any clumps forming and the bottom burning. You should end up with a thick and smooth sauce. If needs be (we’re humans after all), strain any lumps through a fine sieve. Wash, trim and finely chop the leaves, stems included. Fill the bottom of a large pot with a little bit of water and put the leaves in. If you can’t fit them all in, don’t despair, as soon as the leaves in the pot wilt you will have the space to put the rest. Cover with the lid and steam on a very low heat, until completely wilted. If there’s any remaining water on the bottom of the pan, cook with the lid off to get rid of it. Stir the white sauce into the spinach and kale and cook for a few more minutes. Taste and season if needs be. Serve hot.