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01/20/2019

~ Florentine-Style Ricotta Cheese & Spinach Sauce ~

IMG_7613Creamy cheese sauces have a place in my food world -- not a big place, but a place.  My attitude toward them is to use them judiciously, in a manner that does not overpower the dish being served, and, in moderation, so as not to tip the scale.  To my credit, I have developed my own versions of more than a few:  Easy Boursin, Trendy Rasta PastaClassic Mornay, Silky Parmesan-Sherry, Dreamy Gorgonzola, Basic Asiago, and a Kid-Friendly Cheddar.  It is my opinion that, for the most part, all store-bought cheese sauces are a compromise, so, don't debate it, just grate it -- take the few minutes required to make your cheese sauce from scratch.

"A la Florentine" = in the style of Florence, Italy.

"A la Florentine" is an Italian term which refers to egg, fish or seafood dishes prepared "in the style of Florence, Italy", meaning:  they are presented on a bed of spinach and topped with a creamy sauce, usually Mornay sauce, which contains Parmesan cheese.  What about the chicken Florentine we all love?  Well, it originated here in America and was made famous by upscale French restaurants back in the 1960's, where it remains ensconced today.  I for one am a spinach lover, and I am here to tell you:  eating spinach in this context is a downright decadent, indulgent, somewhat noble experience.  If you are convinced you don't like spinach -- get over it.

The green thing called Florentine = spinach (fresh vs. frozen):

IMG_7572As a spinach lover, I'm grateful to whomever developed the process for industrially cleaning and packaging it washed, dried and in bags. Why? Handling spinach "au natural" is labor intensive from the standpoint it must be meticulously cleaned of sandy grit, and, it can't get overly-wet while doing that because it loses its integrity quickly. Then, the tough stems need to be snipped.  While I recommend using fresh spinach for most Florentine recipes, if all you have is frozen spinach, worry not, all sorts of Florentine-style dishes turn out uncompromisingly fine using frozen, and, it's perfect for this creamy, full-flavored, cheese sauce.

1 lb. fresh spinach, cook & drained = 1 1/2 cups = 1, 10-ounce box frozen

6a0120a8551282970b0223c84e9c88200c 6a0120a8551282970b0224df3654e5200b~ Step 1.  I can think of many instances to use fresh spinach, but this quick-and-easy weeknight-meal sauce is not one of them -- frozen chopped spinach yields the right amount every time with no need to cook it.  Thaw the spinach overnight in the refrigerator or in a colander placed in the sink with cold water dribbling over it.  Once thawed, wad the spinach up in several layers of paper towels and squeeze as hard as possible to remove as much liquid as possible.  Kept covered in the refrigerator, this task can be done a day ahead. 

Looking for a cheese sauce for pasta, veggies, chicken, fish or seafood?  If so, try mine.  It's great w/cheese, lobster or mushroom ravioli too.

IMG_75764  tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon each:  dehydrated minced onion and garlic, and, garlic and onion powder

1/2-3/4  teaspoon each:  sea salt and red pepper flakes, to taste

1-1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream, to control consistency

1  cup whole milk ricotta cheese

4  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1, 10-ounce box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained

fresh pasta or ravioli, your choice

a garnish of red pepper flakes

IMG_7578 IMG_7578 IMG_7578 IMG_7578 IMG_7589 IMG_7589 IMG_7589 IMG_7589~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet over low, heat the olive oil.  Add and stir in the dry seasonings. Add cream to skillet and increase heat to bring it to the point of steaming or barely simmering. Stir in the ricotta and the Parm-Regg.  Simmer very gently for 1-2 minutes.  Stir in the spinach and continue stirring until spinach is heated through.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

In a world full of so much wrong, one thing is very right: 

IMG_7610Florentine-Style Ricotta Cheese & Spinach Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups sauce, enough to coat 1 1/2-2 pounds pasta or ravioli.

Special Equipment List:  small colander; paper towels; microplane grater; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon

IMG_7567Cook's Note: Knowing how to make a super-quick cheese sauce is indispensable for any number of reasons. Friends can drop by without notice, a snowstorm requires some pantry cooking, or, the craving for something rich, creamy, cheesy and comforting must be quelled. For another cheese sauce that takes about the same time to make and is appropriate for pasta, vegetables, chicken, fish or seafood, try my recipe of ~ Easy Boursin Sauce for Pasta, Seafood & Veggies ~.  My refrigerator is never without Boursin.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

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