Green light: Skye Gyngell cooks with spinach

It's good hot or cold, spiked with chilli, sweetened by tomatoes or saluted by Caesar
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Spinach appears on the menu at Petersham almost all year around – except for a very brief time during the midsummer months. It is probably my very favourite vegetable of all, hot or cold, raw or cooked; its ruffled, velvety, emerald-green leaves are always a joy for me to behold and I have been known to eat a whole bowl of it laced with garlic butter or chilli all on its own. I have trained my children to do the same and sometimes it is all we eat on a Sunday evening.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Spinach salad with toasted bread, black olives and Parma ham

This is a really nice lunchtime salad to eat at this time of year – it's like a Caesar salad in a way, for its dressing is exactly the same.

Serves 4

For the dressing

2 good-quality anchovies
2 egg yolks
2 tsp mustard powder
1 clove of garlic
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
The juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
250ml/8fl oz olive oil

Place all the ingredients, except the oil, into a food processor. Turn on the machine and purée until all the ingredients are smooth. Now pour in the oil through the funnel at the top with the motor running as slowly as it can, until it is incorporated. You should have a creamy dressing that has the consistency of a loose mayonnaise. Set aside while you prepare the salad.

For the salad

2 handfuls of loose, young spinach leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few drops of lemon juice
4 generous slices of chewy, peasant-style bread
1 whole clove of garlic, peeled but left whole
A little oil with which to brush the bread
12 very thin slices of Parma ham
12 black olives

Wash the spinach well under cool running water, pat dry and place in a bowl. Pour over the olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Squeeze over the lemon juice and toss gently to coat the leaves. Now arrange the leaves on one large plate or four smaller ones.

Grill the bread until golden and rub gently with the garlic, brush with the olive oil and tear into large, generous-sized strips. Lay the Parma ham over the top, arrange the bread and scatter over the olives. Finally, spoon over the dressing and serve.

Spinach with red chilli

We serve this spinach at work with a little roasted quail or sometimes with grilled halibut with a dressing of preserved lemons spooned over the top. I can eat a big bowl of it just on its own, though!

Serves 4

200g/7oz young spinach leaves
40g/1 oz unsalted butter
1 finely sliced large red chilli, including seeds
A good pinch of sea salt

Wash the spinach well under cool running water, being sure to remove any grit that may be hiding there.

Place a large pot over a medium heat and, once warm, add the spinach. There is no need to add anything to the pan, as the water clinging to the leaves is enough to let the spinach wilt. Once the spinach is just soft, remove the pan from the heat and pour the spinach into a colander.

Allow to cool to room temperature. Once the spinach is cool enough, squeeze out as much water as possible – it is easiest to use your hands to do this. Place a pan large enough to hold the spinach comfortably over a fairly low heat. Add the butter and, once it has melted, add the spinach and chopped chilli. Allow the spinach to become warm, stirring once or twice to mix in the chilli well. Remove from the heat and season with salt (spinach likes salt, so don't be mean), then serve.

Spinach with fennel and roasted tomatoes

I love adding little roasted tomatoes to vegetable dishes – they provide a subtle sweetness and pleasant texture. Fennel is very good and in season at the moment

Serves 4

175g/6oz young spinach leaves
12 little ripe tomatoes
Sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1 bulb of fennel
1 tsp red wine vinegar
A good glug of olive oil, plus a little extra for cooking the tomatoes

Cook the spinach as per the previous red-chilli recipe, remembering to squeeze out as much moisture as possible before setting aside.

Now preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ Gas6. Place the tomatoes in a baking tray and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over a little oil and the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and roast on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 minutes. They should be soft and oozing juice but not overcooked. Remove and set aside to cool. Remove the tough outer leaves from the fennel and slice as finely as possible. Toss all the ingredients together and dress with the olive oil. Serve.