March 26 – Spinach Day
“Eat your spinach!”
Do you remember as a kid when you were told to eat your spinach, but you didn’t want to, because it was green and leafy and you knew it was good for you so you resisted. I definitely remember those days (that, and a number of other vegetables my parents tried to force on me–I don’t care what you say, brussels sprouts are disgusting). I’ve since grown out of that phase in a big way: ever since high school where I started eating healthy and disovered the joy of fresh vegetables, I’ve loved spinach. It’s such a versatile plant: you can use the leaves raw in salads, steam, boil, fry, mash, or even make them into pasta. And growing them is incredibly easy, too: spinach plants don’t need a lot of space, just lots of sun, and will continue to grow even after you trim the leaves for your salad (actually, they thrive if you trim them regularly). So, spinach is perfect for apartment windowsill or fire escape gardening: a great vegetable crop for New York City!
And just as it is versatile, spinach has been found in cuisines all over the world. It seems to have originated in Iran and spread to India through trade, then hitting the Far East and heading onto dinner tables all over the world. It plays an integral part in the cuisines of the Middle East, India, Italy, France, the Americas, and good ol’ home cooking from the United States. I’ve selected some of my favorite foods from around the world that include spinach, and listed the best places in the city to get your hands on them.
One of my favorite spinach dishes is the Greek spinach pie, or spanakopita. Spinach is mixed with feta cheese and onions and then layered with flaky, buttery phyllo dough. The result is creamy and fluffy, hearty and flavorful. When I head to street fairs along the wide avenues in Manhattan in the summer I always scope out the food booths and make sure a Greek stall is on my list, purely for their spinach pie. Now, I don’t have to wait until summer: there’s a fantastic spanakopita stall open year-round with fresh, homemade pies cooked just for the taking! Boubouki (the Greek word for “flowerbud”) is a brand-new stall in the bustling Essex Street Market in the Lower East Side. Opened by Rona Economou, a former lawyer who is the stall’s owner, chef, and only employee, uses her grandmother’s old recipes to make spectacular spinach pies, baklava, and butter almond cookies, keeping her menu small to ensure quality, freshness, and taste. And you can really tell that the spinach pies come from an old Greek grandmother’s recipe: the spinach leaves are kept whole, not shredded, to give an extra layer of texture to the creamy dish. But blink and you might miss it: as with most booths in the Essex Street Market, Boubouki is tiny, and often crowded with people looking to get a taste.
120 Essex St (between Delancey St & Rivington St)
“The latest addition to the multiethnic mix represented at the Essex Street Market is Boubouki, a niche with a counter where Rona Economou bakes spinach pies and baklava, drizzles Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts, and bakes crescent-shaped butter and almond cookies.”–The New York Times
“Spanakopita: This was a savory pastry made of phyllo dough filled with chopped spinach and feta cheese. The phyllo dough was nicely crispy and the filling was great, the combo of spinach and feta went really well together. I got it reasonably fresh and I’d imagine this would be really amazing straight out of the over. Overall, while this was a simple pastry it was really good.”–Chowhound
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“After eating at Brooklyn Taco, we swung back here because my girlfriend had heard good things about the spinach pie. Well, it has great flavor – I’ve never really thought of spinach as much more than a side dish to a main meal, but it’s very well-sauteed in the pie, and the dough is very light – in contrast to a lot of Greek food I’ve had in the past. The cheese is delicious as well, but there’s just a light sprinkling in keeping with the general lightness of the dish. So freakin’ good! “–Asuka N.
“Do not miss this pretty little nook at Essex Street Market! Their spinach pie is certainly the best I’ve had in New York. Baked right in the stand, the owner delivers fresh baked (STILL WARM!) Greek pastries- both sweet and savory. The phyllo dough is a buttery, thin layer of perfect crisp- sandwiching a hearty layer of rich feta and spinach.. with a zest of (is it?) lemon! I can totally imaging bringing some home for dinner – paired with a fresh greek salad composed from produce from the market.. and cheese from Anne Saxelby!”–Phoebe J.
For a look at how a different country’s cuisine does spinach, cheese, and dough (really now, how can you possibly go wrong with those ingredients?), check out Malatesta on Washington Street. Their unsung hero of the Italian trattoria menu is their spinach gnocchi, made fresh with shredded spinach, and served with a rich gorgonzola cheese sauce. The gorgonzola sauce, while filled with heavy cream and cheese, isn’t dense or too rich, and the gnocchi is cooked to perfection to make sure it’s not chewy like lesser-made gnocchi. It sounds absolutely lush with flavor (and calories!), but the spinach in the gnocchi makes it a healthy dish, right? 😉
649 Washington St (between Christopher St & 10th St)
“And then the Spinach Gnocchi ($14) did me in. The gnocchi themselves were excellent—neither dense nor chewy, they tasted gently of honest-to-goodness fresh spinach. But if you love creamy sauces, it’s the gorgonzola sauce that will have you in pasta heaven. It’s unabashedly indulgent in every way, and not the least bit forgiving. You’ve been warned.”–Serious Eats
“I’m surprised this isn’t one of the most touted dishes on this board. The gnocchi just melts in your mouth. I’m not usually a fan of a gorganzola sauce because it’s usually overpowering. They got it RIGHT at Malatesta.”–ChowHound
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Spinach gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce is superb. The gorgonzola flavor is not overpowering and somehow, the sauce is so light, I might call it frothy.”–Jonathan C.
“Before you even look through the menu make sure whatever your thinking about will go with the Spinach Gnocchi, because that is what you’re going to end up with. You will not be disappointed, as it’s little clouds of heaven in your mouth!! (my mouth is watering just thinking about it) The sauces are filling though so you may want to do some sharing.”–Lissa V.
And if there’s one thing I’d be remiss to forget, it’s a good slice of New York pizza. I’m currently on a diet–which makes writing about all of these scrumptious, fattening dishes every day very taxing lol–but I was surprised to discover that, on Weight Watchers, a regular slice of cheese pizza is only 5 points on their system. That’s less than a pork chop! And I can pile on as many fresh veggies as I want–it’s still the same amount of points. (And of course, if you’re a real New Yorker, you eat your slice while you’re walking down the street, so that’s burning calories!) A slice of spinach pizza is definitely something to behold, and not every pizzeria has the meatballs to make one–much less do it well. To find the best slice of spinach pizza in New York, however, you have to head out of the five boroughs: hop on the LIRR (I know, scary!) and go to East Northport, NY, where the Chefs of New York pizzeria makes their famed spinach slice. It was even listed on the Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate, competing with all of the pizzerias in Manhattan. Swallow your New Yorker pride for one afternoon and try it–you may be pleasantly surprised!
Chefs of New York
508 Larkfield Rd, East Northport
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Chef’s – the home of the speciality slice. Since the early 90s I have loved their broccoli and cheddar (as an over the top bonus they put poppi and sesame seeds on the crust), spinach and white pizza slices. And the slices are still decently priced. Great place to hit up for lunch or when you are dying for a specialty slice.”–Sean M.
“The food and pizza are both great. The best thing about this place is the dinner deals they have during the week like 2 entrees and a family style salad for 20 bucks. The food is excellent and the prices are more than reasonable. If you stop in for a slice try the spinach. This has everything that your neighborhood Italian joint needs.”–Paul R.