It amazes me how I've managed to become a tourist in my own hometown. As I prepare to fly back to New York after months abroad, I've found myself doing what any other red-blooded visitor to New York might do: making reservations at steakhouses for a good New York steak—specifically Peter Luger, to which I've shamefully never been, and BLT Prime. And as I longingly sit in front of MenuPages pondering what I'll order, I realize the thing I'm looking forward to the most is just a supporting player: the creamed spinach.
It's been one of my favorites since I used to pile it on top of hamburgers as a little girl. Reassuringly, conscientiously vegetal, there is a Popeyed redemption in creamed spinach. But then, there's that comfort of Maman's gratin—bubbling, luscious. In my world, the steak just plays second fiddle.
For this version, I simply stir chopped spinach with cream, and bake it like a gratin. But the flavor comes from a mixture of basil and garlic pistou, rubbed with crumbs of rubbled baguette and soft, sweet butter that melts down into the awaiting bed of creamy spinach beneath. It comes out of the oven crisp on top, like a gratin should be, but bubbling and beckoning beneath. It's "I Love NY" and "Paris, Je T'aime" in one perfect melting pot.
- 1 cup basil leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup baguette crumbs
- 6 pounds thawed frozen spinach, wrung of any excess moisture
- 3 cups heavy cream
- Pinch nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
NoteTo make baguette crumbs, take what's left of a day-old baguette and whirl it around in the food processor until you have fine, fluffy rubble. You can use them immediately, or store them in the freezer. I always have a bag frozen and ready for use.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
First, make the pistou by whirling together the basil, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor. Then add the butter, and pulse. Turn out the mixture into a bowl and add the Parmesan and baguette crumbs Rub together.
In a saucepan, mix together the spinach, cream, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Heat over medium heat until just hot through, stirring often to prevent the cream from burning. Taste to be sure the mixture is adequately seasoned.
Butter two round cake pans, and sit them on a baking sheet. Divide the spinach in half between them, and then top each pan with half the pistou-crumb mixture.
Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes at 375°F, then raise the heat to 425 and bake uncovered for 15 minutes, until the cream is bubbling, and the crumbs are golden.