With spinach cheese pie, there likely won’t be leftovers. (photo from Shelley Civkin)
What’s chock-a-block full of healthy vitamins and minerals, packed with fibre and gives you humongous muscles, if Popeye, the muscle-bound, pipe-smoking sailor is to be believed? You got it – spinach! According to the internet (and who doesn’t believe everything there), the comic strip hero Popeye helped increase American consumption of the once-much-maligned spinach by around 30%. All because of his eating habits. Popeye’s famous line – “I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats me spinach” – while grammatically heinous, does have a whiff of truth to it. Apparently, spinach, which contains lots of iron, can boost muscle strength. So, listen to pumped-up Popeye and eat your spinach! You might even want to try it with a little Olive Oyl.
Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss and resistance is about. It’s such a versatile vegetable – you can sauté it, make a salad out of it, use it in lasagna, mix it together with orzo, feta and sundried tomatoes. The sky’s the limit. Spinach is the quintessential blank canvas, but adds the health factor and colour element that every bona fide foodie seeks.
One of my favourite ways to use spinach is in a dish that can serve as a main or a side. Even spinach haters adore my famous spinach cheese pie. The recipe is straightforward, relatively healthy (unless you’re lactose intolerant or fat-phobic) and never fails to elicit endless oohs and aahs. For those people who can’t tolerate milk products, you can always substitute soy cheese and lactose-free milk. You can barely tell the difference. You can thank me later.
SPINACH CHEESE PIE
2 tbsp butter
3/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
2 10-ounce packages frozen spinach (cooked)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 lb Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 325ºF. Melt butter in a 9-by-13-inch glass pan. Make sure the melted butter coats the bottom and sides of the pan.
Cook and drain spinach. Be sure to squeeze out all the water, then chop it finely in a food processor.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder) and milk, alternately. Mix well by hand.
Add grated cheese and spinach, and mix well by hand. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until slightly brown on top. Cool at least 30 minutes, then cut into squares and serve. I’m usually too hungry and skip this last step of waiting. Cooling it down, however, does make it easier to cut. And, well, patience is a virtue.
This spinach pie freezes really well and reheats perfectly in the microwave, but, believe me, there usually isn’t anything left to freeze or reheat. On one or two occasions, I’ve been known to eat it cold, right out of the fridge. Late at night. With a certain clandestine aura about me. Right … busted.
While your family – or, in non-COVID times, your guests … remember what those are? – relaxes before dinner, waiting with bated breath for your spinach cheese pie, you can serve them my popular olive dip. Caveat: I don’t have a particular recipe for it and I don’t use specific measurements – I just taste it as I go along. For someone who’s a hardcore Type A personality, this is highly unusual behaviour. But, somehow, I’m able to operate on simple faith when it comes to this. Truth to tell, it’s pretty hard to screw up.
Another caveat: even in non-COVID times, or inside your COVID bubble, be sure not to breathe on strangers or prospective love interests after eating this dip, because the garlic is flavour-forward. Depending on your love/tolerance for garlic, add as little or as much as you want. I start with one clove, but I’ve been known to up the ante for a large batch. This olive dip is decidedly non-dietetic, unfriendly for hypertensives and verboten for those watching their cholesterol. Otherwise, it’s the perfect pre-dinner dip. It makes a great tapas dish, and plays well with other Middle Eastern appies like hummus and baba ghanoush.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I never met an olive I didn’t like. My recipe calls for the plebian green olives stuffed with pimento, but, if you’re a risk-taker, you could try using other kinds. Just be sure not to use ones with an overpowering flavour. The mayonnaise in my recipe tends to smooth out the flavour and make it less sharp, so consider that when choosing your olives.
I never get sick of this recipe and it’s one of those dips you just can’t get enough of. It’s cheap and easy. Pre-COVID, I used to serve this a lot to friends, who would stuff themselves on the dip, then wonder why they were too full to eat dinner. Of course, the pita I serve with it makes it a much more filling appie. People will think you went to all sorts of trouble making it, so, if you want to maintain your kitchen cred, pretend that it’s an old family recipe and politely decline when they ask you to share it. Or … be a sport and let the world know what a lazy cook you really are.
green olives with pimento (also called Manzanilla olives)
a squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
Throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blend away! It’s a dish best served cold (as is revenge), but really any temperature will do.
Pita or pita chips are a filling way to stretch this appetizer, but it also works nicely with crackers or thick potato chips. If you want to zhuzh it up a notch, add a couple of black Moroccan olives to it. And make lots of it because, mark my words, it’ll go fast. I’ve been caught dipping my toast into it for breakfast more than once. And, yes, I’m aware that garlic breakfast breath is not overly appealing, but I always floss and brush extra exuberantly after doing this. And, I usually do it when no one’s around. But be sure to turn off the nanny cam first.
Shelley Civkin, aka the Accidental Balabusta, is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.