Spinach is a herbaceous plant with small tufts of dark green, smooth or creased, edible leaves, which grows under ground (it is important to wash it repeatedly in order to eliminate the dirt). It is a winter vegetable, but today it can be found frozen on the market almost all year round and in fact it is the most consumed vegetable in Italy. Spinach has great nutritional properties, as it is rich in iron and vitamins. However, to fully enjoy its flavour and properties, it should be consumed very fresh.
Flavoured with butter and Parmesan, spinach is a traditional side dish for zampone and cotechino. Also, it grows in an area of about six thousand hectares in Italian regions like Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio and Puglia; all product on the market is as a matter of fact Italian.
The many varieties of spinach are distinguished according to the harvesting period (autumn / winter or spring / summer) and the destination (market or industry), many hybrids are included. On the fresh market spinach can appear in single leaves or in clumps, depending on the type of harvest: the “monstrous viroflay" and the “winter giant" have large, fleshy, dark green leaves. After purchase, spinach can be stored for a few days in the fridge, then to avoid losing precious micronutrients, it is best to steam or stew them with just washing water.
It is generally eaten cooked, but the small leaf varieties are also excellent raw in salads. Since it is rich in water, after a thorough washing the spinach should be put alone in a pot, in this way the absorbed water will provide the humidity necessary for cooking. Spinach can be prepared in many ways: sautéed, au gratin, in savoury pies or even used as a filling for pasta.