I’m just back from Italy where it rained constantly, just like here. The inclement weather necessitated lingering over lunch in restaurants more often than I might ordinarily. Every cloud, etc etc…. I consequently found myself eating enormous portions of spinach at every opportunity, by way of compensation.
That might be your idea of hell. Once upon a time it would have been mine, too. But if you are ever down that way, try ordering spinaci with your main meal (often available even when it’s not on the menu) and prepare to be amazed by those dark leafy greens.
I’ve never understood why I’ve never been able to cook spinach the way they do in Italy. It just doesn’t taste the same here, even though it grows easily and abundantly in our soil. So I decided, as part of my ongoing nutrition research, to find out the secret of successful spinach.
No big secret, as it turned out; just a few basic rules. First, don’t buy those pathetic bags of insipid ‘baby’ leaves from supermarkets. Instead you want that butch, adult spinach with giant leaves that would be embarrassed to find itself in a plastic bag, and that you are more likely to find in a farm shop, or market. When preparing, you only need to remove the bigger stalks and then just chop the rest. There is so much water in spinach that you don’t need to boil or even steam. Just heat some extra virgin olive oil in a pan. Second, and most importantly, add as much sliced garlic to the oil as you feel is socially acceptable, then add the chopped spinach and cook for just a few minutes on a low heat. Drain well, add a squirt of lemon juice and a grind of black pepper and an optional knob of butter. For me, the garlic really does the trick. For an extra indulgence, add some freshly grated parmesan cheese.
I have always encouraged people to eat lots of dark leafy greens and my rule of thumb is that the darker the leaf, the better for you. Beefy big spinach is lovely and dark, and its nutritional value is superlative. I generally recommend it for its mineral content – potassium, calcium and magnesium in particular, but also folate. Spinach has high antioxidant activity and is chock full of carotenoids, those plant chemicals which protect you from sun damage and which I wrote about in an earlier post. One of the carotenoids in spinach, neoxanthin, has been found to be effective against prostate cancer cells in vitro, and to reduce age-related brain degeneration in rats. In humans, these carotenoids, together with the pigment chlorophyll found in dark leafy greens, play an important role in the prevention of many chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Chlorophyll is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, considered promising for the treatment of inflammation-related diseases. The human body cannot make carotenoids or chlorophyll, so I recommend a hefty dose of leafy greens on a daily basis, whatever the weather.
De La Rosa, L.A., Alvarez-Parrilla, E., & González-Aguilar (2009) Fruit and Vegetable Phytochemicals: Chemistry, Nutritional Value and Stability. In: Yahia, E.M. The Contribution of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption to Human Health. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Žnidarčič, D. Ban, D. & Šircelj, H. (2011) Carotenoid and chlorophyll composition of commonly consumed leafy vegetables in Mediterranean countries. Food Chemistry, 129: 1164-1168.
Subramoniam, A. et al (2011) Chlorophyll revisited: Anti-inflammatory activities of chlorophyll a and inhibition of expression of TNF-a gene by the same. Inflammation. Published on-line October 2011.
Top photo: graur codrin/www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net