2-1/2 lb. fresh spinach
1/3 cup olive oil, plus 2 Tbs.
6 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
Small pinch saffron, broken up
3 medium red potatoes, peeled (optional) and sliced 1/8 in. thick
2 shallots, minced
Freshly ground pepper
6 side or 4 main-course servings
This recipe was inspired by a visit to Spain’s Rioja region. Menestra de Verduras, a mixed vegetable dish offered at local restaurants, is a complicated combination of cooking—blanching, boiling, deep-frying, and baking. My version is more streamlined, and trades some of the assertive vegetables for more wine-loving ones. Great with light- to medium-style red wines.
Pinch off the spinach stems. You should be left with about 1-1⁄4 lb. of leaves. Thoroughly wash and drain the spinach and then chop it. Set aside. Discard the green leek tops, slice the white part in half lengthwise and rinse well to remove all grit. Cut crosswise into 1⁄8-in. slices.
Heat 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a wide, oven-ready skillet until nearly smoking. Add the mushroom slices in one layer, scatter saffron threads over the top, and brown quickly on both sides. Salt lightly as they brown. When slightly tender and browned, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon to a plate and set aside (spread the mushrooms out in one layer so they retain their moisture).
Add all but 2 Tbs. of the remaining olive oil to the skillet and heat to medium. Add the potato and leek slices one at a time to form a layer. Salt lightly, and continue adding potatoes and leeks in layers, salting each time, until all are used. Press down gently and cook, uncovered, on medium heat for about 20 min., until vegetables are tender and lightly browned. After about 7 min., turn sections of the mixture with a spatula to cook the top layers, pressing again after turning. Turn again if necessary to cook evenly.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the last 2 Tbs. of oil in another skillet. Add the shallots and cook over medium-low heat until tender. Add the spinach, salt lightly, and sauté on medium heat until tender. Transfer to a colander and press out excess moisture.
Add the mushrooms and spinach to the potato mixture in the skillet. Add pepper to taste and fold all ingredients together to make a uniform mix. Press to form a cake, then bake at 350°F for 10 min. Slice and serve.
Note: This dish can also be served as a Spanish-type tortilla, or omelet. After pressing the vegetables into a cake, pour two beaten eggs over the top. Cover and cook on low heat until the eggs are set.
Recipe by Andrea Immer
from issue #13