Wilted spinach is a traditional Mediterranean dish in which spinach is cooked in olive oil and minced garlic, briefly and only until it has lost its shape. Although spinach is native to the Middle East, specifically Iran, Italians arguably popularized cooked spinach and made it a staple of their diets and gardens starting around the thirteenth century. Catherine de Medici supposedly loved the dish so much that recipes that call for a bed of spinach are referred to as Florentine, in reference to her hometown, Florence.
There are three main varieties of spinach:
- Savoy: with curly, dark green leaves;
- Smooth-leaved: often sold canned, frozen, or made into soups and/or baby food;
- Semi-Savoy: semi-curly.
Savoy is usually sold in chain supermarkets and deemed more popular for salads. Semi-savoy spinach, on the other hand, is slightly bitter and best served in the dish pictured.
Spinach is rich in various vitamins such as calcium and iron. There are, however, some paradoxes involved in the wondrous life of a spinach leaf. Often when it is cooked alongside fatty ingredients, its vitamin-rich benefits are nullified. This is to say cooked spinach bathed in a creamy sauce of fatty cheeses and caramelized onion will not be as nutritious as without the excess au gratin. Such is the case that many people try to justify the means to the end without understanding the true beauty of the end in and of itself.
Spinach also contains oxalic acid, an organic ingredient in its natural makeup that disallows the aforementioned calcium and iron from being absorbed into the human body. However, when cooked, vitamins A and E, and the aforementioned calcium, and iron becomes a lot less difficult to digest due to the breakdown of the oxalic acid (Creelman and Zeevaart 26). Cooking the spinach, therefore, can be seen as the optimal way of eating the leafy green.
I remember the smell of frying garlic before the spinach is placed in the pan. My grandmother –originally from Naples- would eat it with her scrambled eggs. For her grandchildren, she made waffles, thin like crepes and served with canned maple syrup. She said that children didn’t have to worry yet about the benefits of spinach.
The scent of wilting spinach is distinct, although not altogether bad. The process of wilting lends itself to the idea of decomposition. The leaves, once crisp and meaty, shrink and melt instantly when placed in their base of hot oil. They are decomposed for the purpose of one’s supposed nutrient-rich, culinary enjoyment.
To look at a plate of wilted spinach is to look at a history of care and feeding. Spinach, in concordance with its moneyed green and paper-like texture, represents wealth and prosperity, with the idea of nurturance innate in its leaves. When one prepares food for another or for oneself for that matter, it is most often with this intent to care for –to nurture. To eat wilted spinach is to own a pan or some sort of cooking vessel, a stove, a hot plate, at the very least a match to create a flame, not to mention the other ingredients that coagulate the dish: the garlic, a means for mincing, olive oil, and other varying spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and salt). In short, the means of reproduction of the dish can be attributed to a certain level of prosperity for which it so symbolizes
However, when wilting spinach, please, do not forget the salt.
Elkins, James. How to use your Eyes. 1st ed., New York, Routledge, 2000.
Torres, Amanda. Wilted Spinach. 2015. https://thecuriouscoconut.com/blog/eat-your-veggies easy-wilted-baby-spinach. Accessed 1 Feb. 2017.
Creelman, Robert A., and Jan A. D. Zeevaart. “Abscisic Acid Accumulation in Spinach Leaf Slices in the Presence of Penetrating and Nonpenetrating Solutes.” Plant Physiology, vol. 77, no. 1, 1985, pp. 25–28. www.jstor.org/stable/4269071.
Ø Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.