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Spinach Casserole as Comfort Food

A-photo-of-Chuck-MalloryIn winter in many parts of the U.S., we need comfort. Heavy snow can immobilize us. Biting winds cut at us. Long, gray days and long, dark nights can dampen our energy. We bind ourselves with thick coats and the trappings of hats, gloves, and scarves. Colds and flus make us sick and weak. That's why winter calls for comfort food.

Ask 100 people their "comfort food," and you'll get a host of different answers: hot soup, chili, meatloaf, mac and cheese, homemade bread, and even things like sugar cookies and potato chips. Most of them aren't vegetable-oriented. You don't hear a lot of people say their favorite "comfort food" is steamed broccoli, carrot sticks and dip, cucumber slices, or a big salad.

The standard for most comfort food is warmth. So I think a good spinach casserole can be fairly healthy, yet give you the melted cheese, butter and eggs you need.

comfort 

Comfort Spinach Casserole

  • 1/3 cup finely diced onion
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in skillet, then add onion and sauté about 5 minutes, till soft. Press thawed and drained spinach in a clean towel or paper towels, eliminating almost all moisture. In a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, spinach, fontina cheese, eggs, butter, flour and pepper. Add sautéed onion and transfer to a greased 1.5 quart casserole.

Bake, uncovered in a 350 oven for 45 minutes. Check center for doneness. It should spring back; a food thermometer (or meat thermometer) inserted in the center should read 165 degrees. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes if necessary. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top and serve warm. Approximately 6-8 servings.

Now a confession. I love savory food the most, and when people ask what my favorite dish is, I can only reply "side dishes." Thus this blog. I enjoy creative ways to transform common side dishes, especially vegetables. But my favorite comfort food is none other than doughnuts. In a pinch, a Pop-Tart will do.

cindy murphy
12/16/2010 10:22:04 PM

Ok, Chuck...I made your spinach casserole, and it's comforting to know it turned out fabulous, (meaning I didn't burn it). All this talk of which kinds of cheeses, and you know what I forgot to get at the grocery store? Spinach! (Bet you thought I was gonna say cheese.) I had some fresh in the fridge already though, and used that. I ended up with low fat cottage cheese instead of the ricotta; smaller container, and the remainder will get eaten, unlike the ricotta which most likely would have grown green fuzzy stuff before I got around to using the rest. So sauteed spinach (just a minute until it turned a bit wilty), one cup cottage cheese, one cup fontina, and only 2 eggs (I cut back on amounts since I had less spinach), then pretty much followed your recipe. Oh...and the butter; the butter I melted and poured over the top after adding a topping of coarse and seasoned bread crumbs that I had hanging around and had to use. It was heaven on a plate, and definitely a dish I'll make often...maybe next time I'll even remember to get spinach. (eye-roll) Thanks again!


cindy murphy
12/14/2010 6:50:57 AM

Thanks, Chuck. "Preheat oven to 350 degrees." HA! I knew it! Actually, since I scrubbed the numbers off the oven dial in a cleaning frenzy when we moved into the house, I pretty much bake everything at what I'm guessing is 350. And since we're making confessions, here's mine: I never follow a recipe how it's written; it's an aversion to exact measurements or something, I dunno. I tend to eye-ball things rather than measure. I got to thinking about the fontina after I posted my comment, and decided the same thing you posted; it'd be too heavy, too rich-tasting, I think. Maybe a little more fontina, and a little less ricotta than what your recipe calls for, is how I'll go. I've got all the ingredients on the grocery list, along with ham - I figure I'll add some chopped ham and call it a main dish meal, instead of a side dish. I'll let you know how....if....it turns out. Thanks again, and enjoy your day.


chuck mallory
12/13/2010 8:52:38 PM

@Cindy: as for the question about fontina. It's a mild cheese, but you need a "lighter" cheese to substitute for the 2 cups of ricotta. 2 cups of fontina would almost make it a fondue. Can you try cottage cheese? At the heaviest, you could use mozzarella. If you try the all-fontina version, let me know how it turns out. The eggs are in the dish to help "fluff" the concoction, along with the lighter cheese. I am just concerned it will be a spinach-and-cheese brick if it's all fontina!


chuck mallory
12/13/2010 8:51:42 PM

Whoops! Cooking instructions should be included in a revised post. Here they are: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in skillet, then add onion and sauté about 5 minutes, till soft. Press thawed and drained spinach in a clean towel or paper towels, eliminating almost all moisture. In a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, spinach, fontina cheese, eggs, butter, flour and pepper. Add sautéed onion and transfer to a greased 1.5 quart casserole. Bake, uncovered in a 350 oven for 45 minutes. Check center for doneness. It should spring back; a food thermometer (or meat thermometer) inserted in the center should read 165 degrees. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes if necessary. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top and serve warm. Approximately 6-8 servings.


nebraska dave
12/13/2010 8:06:06 PM

@Chuck, Aaaah, true confession. I like a doughnut on occasion but I’m a push over for any kind of soup, stew, or casserole. Aww, heck, I’m a push over for any kind of good food. I’m definitely not a finicky eater and am willing to try anything once. All of the side dishes that you have recommended sound delicious. I have to admit I am a Midwest routine eater. You know meat, potatoes, and corn kind of guy. Oh, yeah, and anything BBQ or cooked on a grill. Probably my favorite side dish would be beans. Any kind of beans cooked any way. To me there’s just no such thing as a bad bean dish. Your Spinach Casserole looks to be very similar to a Spinach quiche. It would be something good for breakfast or a brunch. I do like vegetable quiches. Have a great spinach day.


cindy murphy
12/13/2010 6:53:39 PM

OMG! That looks and sounds wonderful! I love spinach! I love cheese! What a combo! I'm wondering though, what would happen if I substituted a cup of fontina for a cup of ricotta? I know it'd have a way different texture, but fontina is one of my favorites, and ricotta not-so-much. Hmmmmm. I guess I don't really need answer, because I just talked myself into it. The more gooey the better, in my cheese-loving book. One question, Chuck...do all the ingredients get mixed together, then baked until it looks bubbly and gooey-good? Or are some mixed together in a separate bowl, then added to the rest. Just checking...really about the flour, I guess; wondering when that comes in. Thanks!