Dave T’s Spinach Cake
I don’t know when it took hold, it was well before I got here, but le Brunch is somewhat popular with a certain segment of the population in Paris. Unlike the Bloody Mary and Mimosa-fueled repasts I have fond memories of back in San Francisco, here, I don’t know if the concept really works. For one thing, Sundays are blissfully “sacred” and no one seems to want to wake up and go anywhere until—well, Monday. And the places that do serve brunch are pretty crowded with misfits who probably didn’t get to bed the previous evening, as well as the clad-in-black, chain-smoking bobo crowd.
I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do on Sunday morning is wait outside in the freezing cold, breathing second-hand smoke from a bunch of bleary party-goers, both of us desperate for coffee, while waiting for a table.
And the concept of le clipboard hasn’t taken hold here, so when you’re waiting at a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, you need to be eagle-eyed and extra-vigilant because if you don’t, someone will easily slide right in front of you and grab your spot without a second thought.
Romain is very, very good at keeping his eye on who’s in front, although he’s even better at sliding in front of the others. I just put on my horse-blinders and don’t notice all the people complaining behind us as I follow him to our table.
Hey, if you can’t beat ’em…
Speaking of line-jumping, I wanted to make one of the desserts from A Platter of Figs, but since I’m on a savory roll here, this Spinach Cake jumped in front of the other recipes. Perhaps the word “cake” had something to do with it. But as usual, scanning my Sunday market, all the vendors had everything but spinach.
There’s an overused adage: “Don’t go to the market with a list, but see what’s fresh, then decide what to make from there.” I think that was written by someone in Paris, like me, who’s always searching for the one thing that doesn’t seem to be available that particular day. Anyhow, after much searching, I finally scored, although David’s recipe does say that one can substitute another green, such as swiss chard or mustard greens.
I was fortunate to work with David Tanis, who wrote this book, at Chez Panisse for a long time (although he may not feel the same about working with me.) But now we both live in Paris, he part-time, while I’m in it for the long-haul. He and his partner Randal also saved my derrière when I moved here, during a certain incident involving a French painter (you can read about it in my next book), and I owe him for saving my sanity, and so do you. If it wasn’t from him, I’d probably be blogging from a French prison, awaiting trial for ringing the neck of a certain French apartment-painter.
The spinach I found was gorgeous, but really dirty. David advises, no…insists, that you triple-wash your spinach, no matter how clean you think it is. And if you’ve ever bitten into a piece of gritty spinach, you wish you’d been more vigilant washing it. The spinach was filthy, but I wasn’t going to complain since I didn’t have Plan B in place for a main dish for brunch.
Aside from being a easy, healthy, and colorful side dish, the great thing about this Spinach Cake is that you don’t need to make a crust, and that it’s ideal served at room temperature, so no need to freak out and get your counter all messy rolling dough on a Sunday morning.
And you know all those recipes that say, “This would be good served for lunch or a light dinner with a big green salad…”?
Well, you can forget all those too-easy to pawn-off-on-readers “big green salads”, and make this instead. I served slices with smoked ham for le Brunch. But for vegetarians, a nice pile of garlicky fried wild mushrooms or a salad of shaved raw fennel and black olive pieces mixed with orange juice, a touch of good olive oil, and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, would be the perfect accompaniment.
I’m hoping to get Dave T, as we affectionately called him at Chez P, to do a guest appearance here on the site. He’s pretty elusive, but I’m equally persistent. And when he’s ready, I’ll jump him to the head of the queue. Which is something I’ve gotten pretty good at, too. If I do say so myself.
Adapted from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes (Artisan) by David Tanis
I liked this very much, but be sure to season the mixture very well, like, more than you think, before baking. I’m curious, and next time I’m going to add small bits of cooked bacon or proscuitto to the batter just after pureeing it in a blender.
David says to simply puree the spinach and custard mix until smooth, but I’m thinking it might be better a little “leafy” so will also blend it to the point where the spinach is fine, but not entirely smooth.
- 2 medium leeks (you could use two onions, or a bunch of scallions or green garlic instead)
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) butter, salted or unsalted
- salt and freshly-ground pepper
- 2 pounds (.75 kg) fresh spinach, well-washed and stemmed
- big pinch of chile or cayenne pepper
- whole nutmeg
- 2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
- 6 large eggs
- Parmesan cheese
1. Remove the green part of the leeks, slice each lengthwise, rotate them a quarter turn, then slice them lengthwise again, keeping the end intact. Swish the leeks in a bowl of water until they’re grit free, and towel-dry. Cut into small pieces.
2. Melt the butter in a deep pan and sauté the leeks with a little salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until they’re translucent. While they’re cooking, cut the spinach into ribbons.
3. Once the leeks are cooked, begin adding the spinach in batches, putting on the lid until the spinach has cooked down, then you can add more. Add salt and pepper as you go, and include a scraping of nutmeg and chile powder during the final batch.
4. When all the spinach is just barely wilted, turn it out into a large bowl (along with any juices) and let cool. Stirring it a few times will speed it up.
5. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C.) Liberally butter a 9- or 10-inch (23-25cm) deep round baking dish. I used a 2 qt (2l) baking rectangular baking dish.
6. Working in batches, puree the spinach mixture with the milk and eggs until almost smooth. (At this point, if you want to add some cooked bacon or chopped proscuitto, you can.)
David recommends adding more salt and pepper here, which is a good idea: you want the mixture pretty well-seasoned.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Grate a wispy layer of Parmesan over the top and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife poked into the center comes out clean.
Serving: Let cool to room temperature, then serve.