Written and photographed by Andrea Lynn
I saved my family’s Thanksgiving. Well, not quite, but that’s how the story worked out in my mind. My mom had lost a passed-down recipe for a relative’s broccoli casserole. You know the kind—chock-full of cheddar cheese, mayo, and crumbled crackers that’s a staple on many Southern tables. As soon as my mom named the recipe, I remembered I had a hard copy in my green binder, a relic that I only touch when dusting off my bookshelf (which isn’t often, trust me).
This now-neglected binder crammed full of newspaper clippings and printouts was once my culinary pride and joy. As I rummaged through the papers searching for the broccoli casserole, I found all sorts of treasures, like a stash of recipes from cooking classes at Cook’s Warehouse in Atlanta when I was wavering over whether or not I should ditch my career to cook professionally. Faxes of family recipes were sent by my mom, who would send them to me at work—much to my chagrin, quite honestly—after she got her first fax machine. I would try to scoop them up from the office fax machine before anyone else could discover them.
There’s a hot pink napkin where I scrawled a shrimp and grits recipe, where I had asked a chef at some restaurant (I neglected to write that part down) to indulge his secrets. And my mom’s pancake recipe that delivers the fluffiest flapjacks a fork has ever met.
I also found the spinach of my childhood. Back before washed spinach in a bag was invented, my mom would spend hours washing the dirt off pounds of greens. The cooked pile of wilted spinach would never represent the hours of work involved, which is why the dish only showed up on special occasions—mainly Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The cooked spinach would be packed onto baking sheets and drizzled with a mix of olive oil, butter, garlic, and cayenne pepper before it slid under the broiler with a dusting of Parmesan. It was the kick of cayenne combined with the nuttiness of crisped Parmesan in the mix of spinach that made the dish one of a kind.
When I made the spinach recently, it wasn’t just the final product but the nostalgia of the printed recipe that called to me. The half sheet of paper had a grease thumbprint smack in the middle of the page, a grocery list on the top, and a reminder to email my book club. My cursive writing—which would place last in any penmanship contest—was a struggle to decipher. But there was fun in the challenge.
While my mom got her requested broccoli casserole, the spinach gave me a walk down recipe remembrance lane. Why had I abandoned my green binder for a computer full of bookmarks, Evernote clips, and Gmail tags? I can’t completely relinquish the digital trappings of my recipe filing system, but I can make more of an effort to have physical copies of recipes. Ripping pages out of newspapers and magazines instead of clicking on a bookmark tab. Scrawling recipe improvements on a piece of paper rather than relying on my brain to remember. Printing an online recipe to file away rather than reading it off my iPhone as I cook. Because these are the things you can look back on, pass on to loved ones, and be reminded of treasuring.
When my mom makes this for the holidays, she triples the recipe. While two pounds of spinach sounds like a lot, it shrinks considerably after blanching. You’ve been warned.
Broiled Spinach with Parmesan and Cayenne (aka Christmas Spinach)
Total time: 30 minutes
Makes 4 servings
- 2 pounds spinach, well-washed and trimmed
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Grated Parmesan cheese, as needed
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spinach (making sure to submerge all of the spinach), and let cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat, and drain spinach in a colander. Make sure spinach is as dry as you can get it. (What works for me is to run cold water over the spinach to cool it, and then use my hands to press the spinach up against the colander to release water from it.)
Preheat the broiler.
In a skillet over medium heat, warm butter and oil. Add garlic, salt and cayenne. Stirring constantly, briefly cook 30 seconds to 1 minute until garlic is golden. Remove from heat.
Spread the cooked spinach onto a baking sheet into one layer. Drizzle butter mixture over all the spinach, and then top with Parmesan. Place in the broiler, and cook 1 to 2 minutes until Parmesan cheese is very golden (but not burnt!). Serve.
Andrea Lynn is a Queens-based cookbook author and recipe developer with Southern roots and a boiled peanut addition. Her dog would devour an entire pumpkin pie if left to her own means.