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~ Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Florentine Sauce ~

IMG_8845Creamy 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):

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b43db8200dAs 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.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3d305c5200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad38d50c8200c~ 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. 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3d3e7c4200bFor the Florentine Sauce:

4  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 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

IMG_7578 IMG_7580 IMG_7583 IMG_7588 IMG_7589 IMG_7594 IMG_7595 IMG_7599~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, cover, and set aside.

IMG_8817For the ravioli:

2  10-ounce bags high-quality spinach & ricotta ravioli, preferably at room temperature

4-6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into bite-sized pieces (cubed or sliced), at room temperature, the softer the better

1 1/2-2 cups Florentine sauce, from above recipe, + any leftover sauce for serving at table side 

IMG_8757 IMG_8822 IMG_8830~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil.  Add the sea salt. Add ravioli and cook until al dente, 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Thoroughly, drain the ravioli into a colander, then immediately return the hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the stockpot back on the still hot stovetop.

IMG_8832 IMG_8837 IMG_8840 IMG_8843~Step 2.  Add the butter pieces.  Using one or two spoons, ever-so-gently gently toss, like you would a salad, until butter is completely melted and ravioli are evenly coated in the slightly-salty butter.  Add 1 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and toss again until the ravioli are evenly enrobed in the buttery-rich Spinach-laced sauce. Cover and set aside about 4-5 minutes, to allow the ravioli to absorb the excess sauce.  Uncover, gently stir, then, add more sauce, if and as necessary, in small increments, until desired consistency is reached.  Serve leftover sauce at table side.

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

IMG_8852Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Florentine Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups sauce, enough to coat 1-1 1/4 pounds ravioli/6-8 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  small colander; paper towels; microplane grater; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; two spoons

6a0120a8551282970b0278800f7e74200dCook's Note: Cook's Note: Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  When serving any sort of Italian-American fare, a double-whammy of calories and carbohydrates, in the form of garlic bread, is huge hit.  Why?  Because eating Italian-American fare without a great big basket of garlic bread on the table is, gulp, culinarily criminal. Make a salad too, because it too goes great with it too (and makes one feel a bit less guilty). Try my recipe for ~ A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)


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