EAT YOUR GREENS by Olivia Mack McCool
Add this special sauce to your weeknight rotation.
Back-to-school time always feels like a season to reset and reorganize for the upcoming change of pace. After a long summer of lazy lunches from the pool snack bar followed by ice cream, it’s time to get back in the kitchen to cook some proper dinners that the whole family will be excited about.
Here is a simple sauce that can be made ahead, warmed up and stirred with pasta for a dinner that’s heavy on the veggies but also on mass appeal. You simply sauté spinach in oil with garlic, then blend it up with ricotta, a touch of cream and grated parmesan cheese. The result is a bright green, ultra silky cream sauce. After it’s mixed with pasta and topped with more cheese, even a self-proclaimed “spinach hater” won’t be able to resist it.
I like to use mature spinach for this versus baby, because I think it has more flavor and nutrients. But baby spinach will do fine in a pinch. Our local farmers markets are a great place to buy mature spinach. If you’re buying yours at the supermarket I suggest looking for a bunch or bag. Some stores label it as “cooking spinach.”
Pasta is the obvious choice for how to use this sauce. But it also takes a humble grilled chicken breast to new heights when spooned over top. I have not yet made this dream a reality, but I have plans to make a spinach lasagna with it. I’m thinking layers of lasagna noodles, the creamy spinach sauce, grated parmesan, bechamel and sauteed wild mushrooms. I bet you clever readers could come up with even more delicious ideas.
Recipe developer, cookbook author, food stylist and local mom Olivia Mack McCool lives in Maplewood. For more of her work and recipes, check out her website oliviamackmccool.com and follow along on Instagram @oliviamackmccool.
Creamy Spinach Sauce
Makes about 2 cups (enough for 8 servings of pasta)
Note: a high-speed blender will give you the smoothest texture. But if you don’t have one, a food processor will do the job.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 ounces (about 1 big bunch) mature spinach, cleaned and roughly chopped
2-3 large garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon (small pinch) grated nutmeg
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano or parmesan, plus more for serving
¼ cup heavy cream
Cooked pasta, for serving
Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the spinach and garlic and cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring often, until the spinach is well wilted and the garlic is soft and fragrant. Turn off the heat and season with the salt and nutmeg.
Transfer the spinach mixture to a blender (or food processor) and add the ricotta, grated parm and half of cream. Blend until super smooth. If the sauce is a little thick, add the remaining cream until it is a pourable consistency. Taste for salt.
Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. When ready to serve, cook any shape of pasta and serve with the sauce. You can reheat the sauce in the microwave or just let the hot pasta warm it.