The Other Half.

Always one for too much of a good thing, I was tempted to make another batch of gnocchi with the remaining half of my green mound. An absence of ricotta put an end to that idea. An absence of milk nearly put paid to my second spinach plan – a savory courgette and spinach cake – until I remembered the small stout carton of cream sitting, squatting really between the Campari and the Tanqueray in the door of the fridge. Surely something made with milk would be even nicer if made with cream? It is! But I will come to that presently.

The spinach and courgette cake I was plotting was to be a variation on David Tanis’s very good, very green spinach cake. Now the first time I made this spinach cake, it was rather disappointing. This had everything to do with a misreading of the recipe and my distracted, careless, scurrying execution of said cake and nothing to do with David Tanis’s recipe. Having learned my lesson, I made it a second time, reading diligently, sautéing attentively, seasoning the green batter generously, adjusting cooking times to compensate for my oven and keeping a watchful eye as my cake puffed up proudly in oven. My reward was, as promised, a quite lovely green round.

Like the song in which a love-sick teenager finds truth and solace, spinach cake was on heavy rotation for a while – I’m not sure why I didn’t tell you about it here – and I soon discovered that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Fortunately neither of us wanted things to turn nasty, so we agreed not to see each other for a while. Then last summer when we were all gathered  in Branscombe for the week of my best friend Joanna’s wedding, Joanna’s mum Rosamund made a delicious starter one evening, a pale green, delicate bake which seemed very like a slightly softer, creamier relative of my spinach cake, but made with courgettes. Nostalgia was felt, plans hatched and notes were scribbled.

As usual, I dragged my cooking heels and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, in possession of a half mound of spinach (of which I used only half, the post about the final quarter is still to come) that I finally deciphered my notes about Ros’s dish, grabbed two courgettes, a handsome leek and half a pint of cream and set about making a spinach and courgette cake.

As with David’s Tanis’s recipe, I began by softening leek in little oil and butter over a medium flame. Once the leek was suitably soft, I added rounds of courgette, nudged them around the pan until they were nicely coated with oil and butter before adding a little water, lowering the flame and then letting the leeks and courgettes to bubble and cook gently – half frying/ half braising, for about 15 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated the courgettes were tender and collapsing. Then I left the green panful to cool.

My spinach (as you know) was already cooked and well-drained (I repeat, water is the enemy) so once the courgette and leeks were cool and transferred to a bowl I added my pile of chopped spinach. Then using my trusty immersion blender, I blitzed the vegetables into a smooth green paste that begged both to be tasted and smeared upon my face. I resisted smearing and simply tasted before adding 5 eggs, cream, grated parmesan, a good grating of nutmeg, an equally good grinding of black pepper and a flick of salt. As I poured the pale creamy- green batter into my reliable non-stick pan I made a mental note  ‘This is the colour I’d like to paint the living room‘ before maneuvering the pan into the oven for about 25 minutes in which time the batter set and puffed gently into a very green cake.

I let the cake settle and cool for a while before cutting it into wedges and serving it with sliced tomatoes – the deeply ribbed ones with thick skins and sweet spicy flesh – and Roscioli bread.

I know I’m courgette biased, but they lend something lovely to this green cake, complimenting the deeply satisfying flavor of the spinach. Tanis’s recipe calls for milk! Cream, as you can probably imagine is another thing entirely, it’s a perfect foil for the green grassy vegetables. The cake is creamier obviously, deeply dairy, luscious and luxurious,. In using cream though, the nutmeg – maybe my favorite spice – becomes even more important, as not only does it perk up the greens no end, but cuts through the dairy, making it less cloying.

I think the cake really does need to rest for at least 40 minutes (and up to 5 hours) after coming out of the oven so it can firm up a little and it’s flavors settle. It is a most delicious wedge, the happy collision of a frittata (which is, as you probably know, an Italian open-faced omelette), a soufflé, a mousse and a savory custard. Lunch.

Last thing, regarding cooking times. David Tanis suggests 40 minutes at 200° for for his spinach cake. In my oven I found this too hot and too long for such a delicate egg and dairy laced thing. I find that 25 minutes or so at 170°is about right so your cake is  gently puffed up and set, but still tender and with a very slight wobble. I love a slight wobble.

Last last thing, a well buttered dish/pie plate will do but a non-stick ovenproof 12″/24cm frying pan is best (I find.)

Spinach and courgette cake

Inspired by Rosamund’s recipe and adapted liberally from David Tanis’s recipe in a Platter of figs – I can’t seem to find a site for the publisher and I am boycotting bloody monopolizing amazon, so please excuse the lack of a link.

Serves 4 as lunch, 8 as a starter.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 30g butter
  • 1 medium-sized leek
  • 2 medium courgettes
  • salt
  • 100ml white wine/water
  • 300 g spinach
  • 5 eggs
  • 250 ml fresh cream
  • 50 g grated parmesan
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • black pepper
Preheat the oven to 170°
Trim the leek and peel off the tough outer layer. Cut the leek into small dice, fill a bowl with water and add the leeks. Agitate the leeks with your hand. Let the dirt and sand settle in the bowl and then scoop the leeks from the water and pat the dry in a clean tea towel. Warm the oil and butter in a heavy based frying pan and then sauté the leek until it is soft and translucent.
Top and tail the courgettes and then slice them into 1/2cm thick rounds. Add the courgette to the leek and stir so each round is well coated with butter.
After a few minutes, raise the heat a little and add the wine/water. Allow it to bubble enthusiastically. Now reduce the heat again and allow the onion and courgettes to bubble and cook gently – half frying/ half braising, giving a stir and nudge every now and then and adding a little more water if the pan looks dry – for about 15 minutes or until the courgettes are very soft tender and collapsing and all the liquid has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
Soak the spinach in several changes of water and discard any wilted or bruised leaves and trim away any very thick, woody stalks. Put the spinach in a large pan with nothing but the water that clings to the leaves, cover the pan and cook on a low flame until the spinach has collapsed and is tender. This should take about 2 minutes depending on the freshness and age of the spinach.
Drain the spinach and once it is cool enough, squeeze and press it gently with your hands to eliminate as much water as possible. Chop the spinach roughly and transfer to a bowl.

Add the cooled leek/ courgette mixture to the spinach and then using a hand blender blitz the mixture into a smooth green paste.

Add the cream and eggs to the bowl and blitz again before stirring in the parmesan, a grating of nutmeg, salt and black pepper.

Pour the batter into in ovenproof sauté pan, buttered baking dish or 10-12 inch deep-pie dish and then slide into the oven. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until the cake is set but still with a slight tremble/wobble at the center.

Allow the cake to sit, cool and settle for at least 40 minutes before serving in wedges.

I really should learn to not make promises I can’t keep! I apologise, It’s the optimist in me, she’s extremely unrealistic sometimes. A promise I am trying to keep though, is not inflicting too much babyboringness on you all! However as I write about what I’m cooking and eating, and now that Luca is my prefered lunch date, it feels appropriate to mention that alongside breastfeeding (we have surprised ourselves, we are total enthusiasts, quite boring proponents and in it for for the long haul) he’s started eating some proper food. Neither of us could face those purees and all that spoon-feeding and so following in the footsteps of my sister Rosie and my niece Beattie and properly inspired by this brilliant book and site we are having a lot of extremely messy fun


Filed under antipasti, courgettes, cream, Eggs, food, picnics, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spinach, spring recipes, vegetables

41 responses to “The Other Half.

  1. The cake looks wonderful but OH MY those tomatoes – you just don’t find them like that in Blighty!!

  2. This looks very interesting in a good way. And the line of the frittata, souffle, and mousse colliding said it all. Would it be overindulgent to add a dollop of creme fraîche? And yes… lovely, special tomatoes.

  3. Do keep boring us with Luca, he is wonderful and it’s great to hear about how he is progressing.

  4. flavorsofthesun

    I once made David Tanis’s version and I can’t remember why, but I wasn’t happy. Yours, on the other hand, looks absolutely fantastic!

    • rachel

      i wonder if you had the same slightly watery/overcooked problems I had the first time? I realise I have raised expectations on this one, so I hope it turns out well if you try.

  5. Hello, Rachel. Finding inspiration for an ingredient that I become bored with is always a struggle for me. Thankfully, spinach is not one of those ingredients. I love it cooked in every way possible.
    This is such a unique idea. I have never seen this before, and I’m intrigued.

    Your baby Lucas is so cute! 🙂

    • rachel

      We share a love of spinach. I do hope you try this recipe, it is really very good and a recipe ripe for all sorts of nice variations.

  6. SUZ

    just to be certain – no flour? none at all? I’m having such a hard time imaging it staying together (like a quiche without a tart shell). I’m so excited to try this (altho I might have to go back to the milk recipe to keep my waistline in check!).
    And yes, please do keep writing about Luca! He’s adorable and writing about food should include how we learn to like foods from the very beginning!

    • rachel

      No flour, no even a whisper. But the 5 eggs hold it all together in a soft, tender, you-need-to-be-careful as you cut it way.
      So you read and comment, make the recipes AND like the babyboringness! You are terrific.

  7. This looks absolutely delicious. And I love the messy Luca.

  8. I went through a period a few weeks ago where I was eating spinach – sauteed in butter until soft but still bright green – twice a day, but as you might expect I over did it and haven’t wanted to eat spinach until this morning, after reading your gnocchi post and this tart post. This tart sounds like a wonderful reentry meal into spinach-land for me. And a little wobble sounds just right. Did Luca get to try any of the tart? Seems smooth and baby friendly, maybe?

    • rachel

      He did get the spinach wobbler. Again, not sure how much was consumed. but he seemed very happy with the green smearing.

  9. Are you kidding me? I get to eat beautiful grass-green custard for lunch? I love being a grown-up.

    (I tried the gnocchi. Lovely and light. But I was so disappointed to see so much fresh spinach wilt down into a tiny ball!)

  10. laura

    Drooooooooooool! ‘Twill be made forthwith. Was the cream “panna da cucina”? Luca: Oh those eyes! And that face in the previous photo (hard to see in the goat cheese photo).
    Here’s a non-Amazon link to David Tanis’ book:
    Thank you for another treat of a great story and a mouthwatering recipe.

    • rachel

      I used the panna fresca (the one in the red and white stripy tub) but I think panna da cucina would work well on this one. Thanks so much for the link x

  11. Rachel – I know the star of this post is the spinach cake, but I would be remiss if I did not tell you that when I looked at the tomatoes sharing the plate, I thought about relocating to Italy.

  12. Hello Rachel,
    I incidentally found your blog and couldn’t stop reading – I like your very detailed writing style that might bore some, but not me. 🙂
    Your spinach creation sounds worth trying, especially now when I’m entering another “omelet period” in my cooking. I wouldn’t cook spinach that long though (5 minutes of medium heat will make it soggy and it will lose color, and after that baking for 25 minutes will kill it to death). When I cook spinach soup, I try not to boil it after spinach is in. I will try to cook this pie with fresh chopped spinach.
    Please write about your little one. 🙂 I’ll return soon, and thank you.

    • rachel

      Hi nadia
      Yes, I’m sure I bore some people terribly! Glad you were up for reading my rambling. Thanks for the comment, it alerted me to the fact I had rather lazily copy and pasted the spinach cooking instructions for 1kg of spinach (which takes about 5 minutes in my pan) when the recipe uses only 300g which takes significantly less time to cook. I have ammended the recipe. But when it comes to the baking for 25minutes, this doesn’t ‘kill the spinach to death? as you put it, but simply sets the already cooked spinach mixed with eggs and dairy into a tender cake.

  13. Ah! The brilliant red-orange of those scalloped tomato slices alongside your lovely spring green cake–truly stunning.
    and, thanks for sharing updates and pics of your bonny boy. messy is good.

    • rachel

      I think messy is good, I just need to remind the neurotic part of me from time to time and embrace the spinach on the ceiling. Scalloped – now thats the word I was looking for Wordsmith Nancy!

  14. leduesorelle

    I tried the original Tanis recipe and got what sounds like much the same results as you, watery and bland, even though the ingredients were top notch. Which was a disappointment on 2 fronts — it was the first time I’d tried one of his recipes, and it seems a lovely thing to cook up for lunch. Your version sounds ever so improved, thanks for sharing your tweaks, and the updates on Luca!

    • rachel

      I have to say I was surprised at the note in the Tanis recipe to save the spinach juices! i have always found them the enemy of eggy, creamy things! Now I am worried I have raised expectations too much! I really hope the recipe is a happy one for you if you try.

      • leduesorelle

        Not to worry, Rachel, I just liked that you made the recipe your own by adding zucchini, brilliant! I’m always more than a little nervous when people tell me they’re trying a recipe of mine, it makes me very conscious of how everyone’s kitchen is so different, that what works for me will probably need tweaking to taste …

  15. that first photo, especially because it appears under the title as it does, totally made me giggle. You clever girl, you. Was an absolute pleasure to read, as always… and oh my goodness how gorgeous are those tomatoes!
    xoxo Mina

  16. Johanna

    I have been following your blog for a while, and I very much enjoy your writing, but this is the first recipe I actually tried – it was delicious and such a beautiful shade of green :-). The gnocchi are next! My younger daughter is only 2 weeks older than your Luca, and she is not very fond of purees – prefers milk and making a big mess on her own, too. Your pictures and stories of Luca always make me smile! Don´t stop writing about him!

  17. Jess

    Hi Rachel, I made this for dinner last night and it was a hit! I could not resist the recipe as your writing is so enticing, and green is my favourite colour. This is definitely being added to my favourites list.

  18. Daniel

    My word – Im terrified of cakes/baking, but such easy to follow instructions helped this come out a treat first time, and this is now on the menu for my Fathers 60th birthday dinner that my sister and I are cooking at.

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  21. Cakes with Spinach? I have never heard about this. Wow, truly a great recipe to try and spinach is my husband’s favorite! 🙂 Pinned it.

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