From time to time, I receive phone calls and messages that my friends refer to as “Dial a Chef.” Someone I know wants last minute help in planning a meal or side dish or coming up with SOMETHING using the pitiful leavings hiding in their refrigerators. Last night was one of those situations, and I figured I might as well share what we came up with for last minute dinner guests.
My friend had chicken thighs and butternut squash roasting in the oven, but he discovered the guests had eaten a big spinach salad for lunch, which is what he was planning to serve to round out his simple dinner. He called and asked about the creamed spinach he had eaten at my table a few years ago. (Guess how good this is if he remembered it from two years ago?)
This is a fast easy dish to make, so I thought I would share it here.
First, the ingredients had to be confirmed. Spinach, onions, parmesan cheese and garlic, yes. After digging around in his fridge, he found half a brick of cream cheese, and it was still fresh enough to use.
I told him to slice half an onion into thin half moon slivers and sauté them in a little bit of butter.
Since he had about half an hour left before the chicken and squash were roasted, I suggested turning the onions to low and letting them slowly caramelize. The point is to let the onions brown but not become crisp or crunchy. Cooking the onions slow and low for at least 15 minutes still raises this dish to a whole other level. You only need to stir them every five minutes or so. That leaves time to pour wine, chat with guests, and make the house smell AWESOME.
I told him that ten minutes before pulling the chicken and squash from the oven, he should raise the heat under the onions and add 1 tsp. butter. When that is sizzling, add two large bags of spinach, two cloves of chopped garlic, and ½ tsp. salt. Toss with tongs and put a lid on the pan for two minutes. Adding salt here is both for flavor and for helping the spinach release liquid which in turn helps with the steaming part of cooking the greens.
Lift the lid and toss some more with the tongs, replacing the lid and repeating until the spinach has wilted and reduced in the pan. This will only take about 4 minutes. Turn the heat down to low and add 2 ounces of cream cheese, cut into small chunks, to the pan and replace the lid.
Wait one minute, lift the lid, and stir to mix the melted cream cheese into the spinach and onions. Add a good shaving of parmesan cheese then taste for salt and add some ground black pepper. Move the pan off the heat and replace the lid to keep warm until ready to serve.
I kind of hesitate to offer this as a “recipe” because it is so easy, but this always gets rave reviews. Who doesn’t want to make a dish like that when you are tired and a salad just won’t do?
- Butter-unsalted,2 tsp, divided
- Onion-1/2 medium, cut into half moon slices
- Spinach-fresh organic, 12 or more ounces (2 big bags)
- Salt-kosher, ½ tsp.
- Garlic-fresh, 2 cloves chopped
- Cream Cheese-2 ounces, cut into chunks
- Parmesan Cheese-fresh grated, or bagged shredded, 1 ounce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a heavy bottom deep sided skillet heat 1 tsp butter until sizzling. Add onions and stir. Turn heat down to low and allow onions to slowly wilt and brown for about 15 minutes.
- Raise the heat and add 1 tsp butter. Add all of the spinach, sprinkle in ½ tsp salt and add in the garlic. Toss well with tongs and make sure the onions are mixed into the spinach well. Cover with a lid and allow to steam for 2 minutes.
- Lift the lid and toss with tongs and cook until greens are wilted and the liquid has evaporated.
- Turn the heat to low and add the cream cheese, cover with a lid and wait for 1 minute. Remove the lid and stir the spinach and cream cheese until it is well combined. Add the parmesan cheese, taste for salt and add the pepper.
I'm just saying: BACON takes this dish to an alternate universe.