Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pasta in spinach cream

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 Pasta in spinach cream
I like spinach so much that I sometimes wish I could use it as the heart and centerpiece of a meatless dinner. And hey! Why not?
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Pasta in spinach cream

I don't actively dislike vegetables, but I sometimes wish I could get a little more excited about them.

I just wish I could get as fired up about heading in to the kitchen and whipping up something creative from broccoli or brussels sprouts as I do about fooling around with meat, poultry, fish or even tofu.

If you want some of my beets or cabbage, I'll gladly share. Sneak some of the kale or collards off my plate, and I'll nudge it in your direction to make it easier for you.

But spinach - fresh spinach, please - is a whole 'nother story. I've loved it all my life, so far back that my mother tells me I used to call for it by name ("finnich") when I was only 1 or 2. Spinach is just about the only vegetable that brings me back for more, and if you try to nab some of my portion, I'll object.

I like spinach so much that I sometimes wish I could use it as the heart and centerpiece of a meatless dinner. And hey! Why not?

Looking for a light dinner the other night to match a lovely Cal-Ital white (Mosby 2006 Santa Barbara Traminer), I came up with a spinach-based pasta dinner that worked just fine. Quickly told, I mixed chopped fresh spinach with lots of garlic into a light Italian-accented Mornay sauce, kicked it up with a selected team of aromatics, dolloped the result over fettuccine, and ended up with something akin to a cross between old-fashioned creamed spinach and a (relatively) low-calori Alfredo.


(Serves two)

1 bunch fresh spinach, enough to make about 1 to 1 1/2 cups (240 to 360g) when steamed and chopped.
Sea salt
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil
Dried red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon (3g) freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Asian "five spice"
Black pepper
2 tablespoons hot-pepper vodka (or plain vodka with a dash of hot sauce)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
4-6 ounces (120-180g) fettuccine
1 cup (240ml) whole milk, or 7/8 cup lowfat milk and 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 ounces butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese


1. Rinse the spinach very well, taking care to remove all grit. Put it in a large saucepan with just the water clinging to the leaves. Sprinkle on 1 teaspoon (5g) sea salt, cover, and cook over high heat for just a few moments. Remove from heat immediately when the spinach wilts, and drain it completely. Chop the spinach fine.

2. Peel and mince the garlic. Put it in a saute pan with the olive oil and a shake of dried red-pepper flakes. Cook over medium-high heat until the garlic is translucent but not brown. Stir in the chopped spinach, then season with the grated nutmeg and the "five spice," salt and black pepper to taste. (Taste before salting, as the salt used on the spinach may have been enough.) Heat just until warmed through, then stir in the red-pepper vodka and tomato paste, and set aside.

3. Start the fettuccine cooking in a large pot of boiling salted water and cook until al dente, typically 8 to 11 minutes depending on the brand.

4. While the pasta cooks, make a quick Mornay sauce: Warm the milk while you melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter stops bubbling, quickly whisk in the flour, whisking to eliminate all lumps; then the warm milk, continuing to whisk until the sauce thickens. Stir in the grated cheese and mix until smooth. Then put in the reserved spiced spinach; stir to blend. When the pasta is done, drain it well and stir it in to the spinach sauce. Check for seasoning and serve immediately.

MATCHING WINE: This worked very well with the Mosby 2006 Santa Barbara Traminer mentioned above. It would be fine with a Riesling or "grassy" Sauvignon Blanc, and should pair with just about any lighter-style white wine.

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