My family was sitting around the dinner table one night in the mid ’90s. I was about eight or nine, still young enough to play with my dollhouse, but old enough to start stressing out about things like our house getting burglarized or burning to the ground. (I was a weird kid.) My sister must have been about six, probably missing a couple of her front teeth and generally being adorable.
Our mom had made zucchini for dinner, and neither of us really enjoyed it. I could handle it, but Katie – ever the typical showman youngest child – could. not. even. We were not rude, spoiled monsters, so we obviously did our best to eat stuff we didn’t like, but at that point in time, neither of us had much success conjuring up any enthusiasm. (Currently, we both dig it. THIS IS GROWING UP, KIDDOS.)
My mom asked us – probably in a sarcastic way that was meant to convey one or both of us was being ridiculous about something – what we thought the worst thing god could ever make us do was. I said something probably apropos of my weird, macabre, overly anxious childhood self, like, “Make you kill the people you love.”
Katie, however, was more…well, Katie about it.
“Make you eat zucchini.”
(Katie generally says way better stuff than I do.)
So it seems strange to me that, of all the things I’ve ever made that Katie has eaten (including, but not limited to: brownies, tiramisu, potato salad, mac and cheese, stuffed flank steak, mashed potatoes, breakfast hash), her favorite is probably creamed spinach. I made the Smitten Kitchen recipe, with a few minor tweaks, for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, and now, whenever I talk about any sort of holiday dinner, she suggests that I make the creamed spinach. Regardless of whether she’ll be there or not, because she’s generous like that.
I love the creamed spinach, and I had a hankering for it the other night. I decided to, in the impending holiday season’s spirit of indulgence…gluttonize it a little.
By gluttonize, I mean toss in some cubed pancetta or thick-cut bacon, swirl it together with some shredded fontina, cover it with panko and a smidge of butter, and bake it ’til it’s golden and oozy and oh muh guhhhhh.
This recipe only serves about four, so if you decide to make this for Thanksgiving (oh, make this for Thanksgiving) and you’re feeding a crowd (or even just a small group of really hungry people), perhaps double it.
Creamy, cheesy baked spinach (inspired by Smitten Kitchen)
1/4 cup yellow onion
1/4 cup pancetta
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp + 1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 10-oz packages spinach, thawed
1 1/2 cups shredded fontina
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp panko
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to about 375F.
Place your thawed spinach in a large, ovenproof pot or saucepan with a small amount of water (really, no more than a tablespoon) and cook until the spinach is warm. Remove the spinach from the pot and set aside. While the spinach cools to a temperature where you’ll be able to handle it comfortably (to squeeze out excess water), add your onion, pancetta and 1/2 tablespoon of butter to the pan and cook until the pancetta is browned and the onion softens. Add your garlic and saute another minute.
Once you’ve squeezed out all of the excess water from your spinach, add it back to the pot and allow it to warm up again. Stir in your cream until combined, then stir in your shredded fontina.
In a small bowl, mix together your panko, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper, then sprinkle over the top of your spinach. Take the remaining tablespoon of butter and cut it into small pieces, then place it over the spinach.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the topping is nice and golden brown. If you want a really nice, golden, crumbly crust, keep the dish under the broiler for an additional minute or two.
Happy eating – and Happy Thanksgiving!