Archives for posts with tag: spinach

I am a big fan of lasagna, an amazingly adaptable dish that I have tinkered with for years. It can also be assembled ahead, a bonus for a working mom.

When no-boil lasagna noodles hit the market, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. No more boiling! No more tearing the wet noodles! I have used them for several years, to great success. A lasagna made recently with whole wheat no-boil noodles elicited a rare “best ever” comment from my son.

Then I saw “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten describing her lasagna trick – just soak regular noodles in super hot water for a few minutes. That got me wondering, do they have to be cooked at all?

A quick Google search of chat boards convinced me that, no, you don’t need to boil even regular lasagna noodles if you provide enough moisture in the other ingredients to “cook” the pasta while it is baking.

Why does this matter? $$$ The pasta industry is selling the no-boil sheets for about double the cost of regular lasagna noodles.

I won’t inflict my lasagna recipe on you, mostly because it changes every time I make it. Sometimes I sub thin-sliced sautéed mushrooms for the meat. Sometimes I add spinach for the extra nutrition. I’ve substituted small curd cottage cheese for the ricotta (just drain off the extra liquid).

Last weekend’s lasagna used my fresh-made tomato sauce (a little on the thin side, so 4 cups was perfect with the ‘regular’ noodles) and 1 cup of blanched chopped spinach folded into the ricotta. The noodles cooked perfectly.

Makes me wonder: What other cooking tricks have eluded me all these years?

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

I’m not much given to hyperbole (a lifetime of journalistic training) but I am head over heels crazy about this year’s garden discovery: Malabar spinach.

My friend Kyle told me about Malabar two years ago when we were exchanging garden gossip. I haven’t had much luck with regular spinach in our organic garden – the bugs chew it up whether we plant it in early spring or fall. I hadn’t been able to find Kyle’s elusive Malabar spinach until this summer, when I stumbled upon a package of seeds at our local nursery.

Malabar spinach vines

Malabar spinach vines

I planted six seeds in a large container in our garden and topped it with a 4-foot pillar for its vines to wend around. Fast forward to today: We have spinach vines growing every which way out of that container.

What is this stuff? Malabar spinach is of Indian or Ceylon extraction, so it loves the hot weather here in Virginia. As the Cornell University website says, “It creeps when temperatures are cool, but leaps when the mercury hits 90 F.” Indeed.

This spinach has a slightly different consistency than cool-weather spinach. The smaller leaves are fine for a salad, but the bigger ones are best used in dishes that require chopped spinach. So bring on your creamed spinach or Indian spinach recipes – we are deliciously flush with Malabar !


Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

My brother JJJ threw down the gauntlet first. He claimed to have fresh spinach in his garden last April, when the rest of us were just putting in seed. Plus he lives in Minnesota, so we were even more skeptical than normal of his tendency toward braggadocio. Fresh spinach harvested in early spring? In Minnesota??

Then two things happened.

  1. Under interrogation during our summer family reunion, JJJ refused to break.
  2. We picked up two packets of free spinach seed.

So what the heck. Despite our wretched record growing spinach (we’re 0-3), we decided to put in a fall crop. And even if that fails, we’ll put in a winter crop too.



The fall crop went in yesterday. One varietal is spinach Medania, which Thompson & Morgan promises is “easy to grow” and “reliable.” The other is Palco F-1 Hybrid, which promises a long season if we can get it past the bugs and the deer.

JJJ says he plants his winter spinach around Thanksgiving, then patiently waits for it to sprout when the snows finally melt in Minneapolis. We’ll aim for Christmas, since we rarely get a hard frost here.

I’m crazy about spinach. As Popeye knew, it’s rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, iron and fiber. I am already dreaming of a bumper crop in late November, in time for the Thanksgiving groaning board.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

I crave creamed spinach. Rich, rich, rich, but I always justify it because spinach is an iron-clad superfood. Unfortunately, I’ve been cursed in the garden with spinach. After failing two years in a row to bring a spinach crop to harvest – dang bugs! – I called a truce and moved on to other vegetables.

Thank goodness for our farmers market vendor whose abundant baby spinach makes up for my shortcomings. I blend his spinach with our own greens for salads through the growing season.


I also love risotto; my family, not so much. So when CRR recently flew off to Yellowstone for work (tough assignment), it was an opportunity to cook up a single serving of risotto. Risotto is my ritual when the boys are away. Follows is a spinach version, though I have also made it with grated tomato pulp, assorted dried mushrooms with thyme, or three herbs (your choice). Risotto is a blank palate for whatever is in your fridge or pantry. This recipe mimics creamed spinach with the creaminess of the risotto and the hint of nutmeg.

Spinach Risotto for One

2 cups chicken or veg broth (or one 15 oz can)

One small shallot, minced

Heaping one-third cup Arborio rice

Big handful of spinach, julienned

Generous grating of nutmeg

Parmesan cheese

Heat the broth to a simmer. Saute the shallot in one tablespoon olive oil until transparent. Add the rice and stir for a minute. Then add a third cup of broth and stir, stir, stir. It is the constant attention that gives risotto its creaminess. I follow Emeril Agassi’s advice to cook at (slightly under) medium heat for 21 minutes. As the rice simmers, the bubbles will start to look dry. That means it’s time to add another third cup of broth. Continue until the rice is al dente. With the last broth, add the spinach and nutmeg. Add pepper and top with grated parmesan. Salt if needed but the broth may have provided enough.

This part is important for the solo diner. Put the risotto into one of your prettiest bowls. Pour a glass of white wine. Sit at the dining room table and savor each bite.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.