Wednesday Dec 12

 
Iglar Andrea Iglar is a freelance writer, editor and musician based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She regularly writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (www.post-gazette.com) and likes to read the newspaper’s food section every Thursday. She enjoys growing herbs and cooking meals based on what she finds at the local farmer’s market. She thinks 24-hour restaurants should offer their nighttime customers the same quality of food as their daytime patrons and does not appreciate being served “nite soup.”
----------
 
Spinach Casserole By Andrea Iglar
 
It is the week before Thanksgiving and one of the last nights of the season that my favorite farmer’s market is open. With winter approaching, I am in the mood to stockpile as many vegetables and fruits as possible, knowing that autumn produce tends to stay fresh if stored in a cool, dry place. So I bag heads of broccoli and cauliflower. I select Empire and Pink Lady apples, and Asian and Bosc pears. I choose a basket each of white baby potatoes and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.
 
In this food frenzy, I fall for a humongous bag of fresh, dark green, crinkly-leaved, crispy-looking spinach. I happily shell out the $2.50 thinking, “I’ll have a spinach salad! It’ll be great!”
 
Iglar_1 When I get home, I clean and trim the spinach and place it in my small fridge, where it hogs most of the top shelf. I suddenly remember grocery-shopping day is tomorrow and think I’d better make that salad pronto and free up some fridge space.
 
But then I realize I am not Popeye; I yam what I yam—someone who can eat a lot more candied yams than spinach salad.
 
I get to thinking how spinach gets lots smaller when it’s cooked. Plus, it’s just another green, so it can be used in a dish the same way I might use peas or broccoli. And how do I use those? In tuna noodle casserole, of course! This idea, combined with the resources available in my fridge and cupboards on this particular evening, led me to devise a cheesy spinach-pasta casserole—sans the tuna.
 
My version was a tad heavy on the spinach (I wanted to use it all up!) but was surprisingly yummy and hearty, and the fellow ingredients did a good job of balancing the inclination of spinach to taste bitter.
 
Prior to adding the spinach to the casserole dish, I sauteed it in a skillet with olive oil, and instead of using the traditional onion and garlic, I used dashes of nutmeg, thyme and lemon-herb pepper. I used cream of mushroom soup, but other cream soups such as potato would have worked, too. The sour cream wasn’t necessary but added some flavor and creaminess. Preparation took about 45 minutes.
 
If you end up with more spinach than will fit in a salad bowl, try this recipe or a creative variation.
 

Andrea’s Cheesy Vegetarian Spinach-Pasta Casserole
 
Ingredients:
-Fresh spinach (whatever amount you prefer—or need to use up to clear some fridge space)
-About 2 to 2-1/2 cups pasta (I used medium shells)
-2 eggs
-8 oz. light sour cream
-1 can cream of mushroom soup
-Cheese: About ½ cup parmesan, ½ cup shredded cheddar, ¼ cup four-cheese Mexican blend
-Olive oil
-Herbs & spices
 
Cook the spinach and pasta:
Wash, drain, trim and chop fresh spinach. Heat skillet; add olive oil, herbs and spices. Add spinach to skillet and sautee for several minutes until wilted. (If using a lot of spinach, sautee in portions, adding oil and flavoring as needed, and transfer to a bowl as the spinach is cooked.) In the meantime, boil pasta, drain and set aside.
 
Make the cheesy mixture:
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Add some parsley if desired. Add the parmesan, the cream soup, the sour cream, and the cheddar cheese, mixing well as you go along.
 
Prepare the casserole:
Spray a 2-½-quart casserole dish with Pam. Combine the cheesy mixture with the spinach and pasta. Top with the four-cheese blend. Cover and bake 350 degrees for about 35 minutes. Serve and enjoy…and refrigerate leftovers. A Tupperware container won’t take up nearly as much space in your fridge as a humongous bag of spinach.