Spinach likely originated in Persia, and from there it spread to India and then to China. The modern English spinach comes from the Middle English word espinache, but the ultimate origin is uncertain, although some suppose that it derives from Persian aspanakh, though this etymology is disputed. The first record of spinach in France and England appeared in the 14th century. Spinach quickly accumulated a good reputation because it could be harvested in early spring when other vegetables were typically scarce. Spinach remains a staple food item in most world cuisines. Dishes containing spinach are often called Florentine, which is a reference to Queen Catherine de Medici of France, who demanded spinach at every meal. Florentine refers to Queen Catherine’s native city of Florence. Today, spinach is eaten around the world on a daily basis. Spinach is well known for its nutritional richness; it’s a good source of iron, a myriad of vitamins, minerals, and even a decent amount of protein. There are three types of spinach commonly available: savoy, which is also called curly spinach, flat leaf spinach, which is the most iconic spinach variety, and baby spinach which is flat leaf spinach that is picked while it is still immature. Baby spinach is typically less bitter than mature spinach.
Spinach is a surprisingly versatile vegetable. Recipes with “Florentine” in their name always include spinach, and common Florentine recipes include eggs, fish and chicken. Spinach is commonly cooked as a simple side dish or used fresh in green salad. Spinach is one of the few vegetables whose nutritional value is not significantly impacted by cooking. Common cooking methods for spinach include steaming, boiling and sautéing. Quiche often includes spinach. Spinach along with artichoke and a variety of cheeses including cream cheese and mozzarella make a delicious dip. Omelets with spinach are always tasty. Try adding spinach to any of your favorite casseroles, soups and stews to add flavor and a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals.
Look for spinach that is deep green and free from blemishes. Spinach leaves should be hardy, firm and slightly moist but not slimy. Keep spinach in plastic in the refrigerator where it will stay fresh for about three to five days. Do not wash spinach until ready to use. To freeze spinach, begin by blanching it (place in boiling water for two minutes, then transfer to ice water.) Place blanched spinach in the freezer where it will remain usable for up to a year, although it is best to only freeze spinach for a short time. When spinach becomes wilted and discolored, discard it immediately. Always wash fresh produce before use.