Darina Allen is a true celebrity in Ireland. Her cookery shows have been televised and her books are a staple in
most Irish homes. She is the founder of Ballymaloe,
a successful cookery school in East Cork which she runs with her husband Tim Allen.
Darina has kindly agreed to provide a weekly recipe on the site, so get out that apron and start cooking!
If you ask people what does spinach mean to them, you rarely get a wishy washy answer, its usually either a spontaneous - I adore spinach or an equally passionate I loathe spinach. The latter is followed by harrowing tales of being forced to eat spinach as a child by a well meaning mama or nanny who was quite convinced that it contained vital vitamins and minerals, particularly iron which were absolutely excellent to enable one to grow into a fine well built child, after all, look what spinach did for Popeye, he could wipe out all-comers and win the adulation of Olive Oyl
after he had glugged down a can of spinach!
Some grown-ups have managed to overcome their childhood experience, others will simply not let a mouthful of spinach pass their lips for the rest of their lives!
Now we hear that all the suffering was for nought - yes, you've guessed, they have changed their minds again and current wisdom says that too much spinach is positively bad for children - too much oxalic acid apparently - so there you are now!
Well, never mind about all that, as far as I'm concerned a little of what you fancy always does you good, and many French, Italian, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern cooks rate Spinach as the best leaf vegetable of all.
It has most certainly stood the test of time, first reference to it would seem to be in 647. History relates that in this year the great T'ang Emperor T'ai Tsung requested his tributary rulers to send him the best plants their country grew and lo and behold the King of Nepal decided to send him spinach which had recently been introduced to his country from Persia and was causing quite a stir.
Nowadays, there are two main types of spinach, summer spinach and perpetual spinach, the texture of the former is meltingly tender and has a very much finer flavour, but the latter has the advantage of growing on and on, the more you pick the more it grows. It can also stand extremes of heat and frost and doesn't seem to bolt at the end of the Summer like the annual spinach. However, the flavour is stronger and the texture is coarser. Nonetheless, its a very worthwhile vegetable to grow as a stand-by as indeed are its cousins Swiss Chard and Ruby Chard.
We use spinach not only as a vegetable, but also for soups, torn up in green salads and salade tiede, in quiches, roulades and thick Middle Eastern omelettes called Kuku.
It can also be fun to use blanched leaves to line ramekins for warm mousses or to wrap around rough country pates.