Native to Southwest Asia, spinach (Spinacia oleracia) was probably introduced to Europe around the year 1000, although some scholars say it was the mid-16th century. It appears that the Arabs discovered this plant in Persia and contributed to spreading it in other countries.
Not until the 19th century, however, did spinach become an important vegetable for mass consumption, first in Europe and then in America.
Until not many years ago, spinach crops were only marginally important, but have recently gained quite a bit of ground in Italy. Italian production averages around 100,000 tons per year; the most important regions are Latium (which produces 19% of the national harvest) and Tuscany (15%).
The most commonly grown varieties in Italy are Castelnuovo Curly, Winter Giant, Dixie Market, Viking, Loreley, Carambole F1, Matador and Asti Curly.
THE SPINACH CALENDAR
FEATURES OF SPINACH
An herbaceous plant belonging to the Chenopod family, spinach appears as a rose of leaves, variable in shape according to the crop, from which a floral stalk grows up to 100-150 centimeters high, with branches.
The plant has a tap-root; female flowers are grouped in conglomerates supported by stalks, and male flowers in axillary groups.
The fruit is an achene of variable color and size.
Although spinach can support temperatures of even a few degrees below zero, prolonged cold has negative effects on the growth of the plants and thus production.
If the variety and planting period are chosen appropriately, it may be grown even in moderately cold or warm climates, but spinach offers best results when grown in a temperature climate.
This vegetable is quite adaptable to soils of various origin and nature; however, sandy soils or those with an excess clay content, or with a pH of below 6.0-6.5 are not recommended.
Spinach is very demanding in terms of its water requirements and the soil nutrients. Water must be constantly available: if excess moisture is present, the leaves turn yellow, while if it is scarce the growing rate slows and flowering takes place more rapidly.
The many varieties available differ not only in terms of the morphological characteristics of the seed, but also by shape and size of the leaves, precocity, resistance to flowering and aptitude for cultivation during the different seasons of the year.
CONSUMPTION AND STORAGE
Available on the market in the fall and winter months, spinach is extremely interesting for its nutritional value: it contains vitamins A, B, C, D, F, K and P in addition to carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Some scholars state that one portion of spinach per day can naturally compensate for vitamin deficiencies.
Its high content of mineral salts makes it especially suitable for those who are anemic or suffer from constipation, while it is not recommended for those suffering from gastritis or hepatic and renal diseases.
Spinach juice is used to prepare poultices to sooth burns and aid the formation of scar tissue, while spinach is used in cosmetics as an ingredient for skin nutrient preparations.
To fully benefit from its healthful properties, spinach should be eaten raw, flavored with oil and salt; around 50% of its useful elements are lost in boiling. It is always best to choose heads with dark green, glossy, meaty and crisp leaves.
Spinach are popular ingredients for salads, soups, stews, ravioli, stuffed pasta, omelets, purées and flans.
Spinach should be stored in the refrigerator in paper bags; they should be eaten quickly, since they become limp and lose their flavor in a couple of days.
Spinach may be stored for up to 10-15 days at a temperature of 0 °C and relative humidity of 90-95%.
NUTRITIONAL AND ENERGY INFORMATION FOR SPINACH (100 grams of product)
Source: National Nutrition Institute
Ingredients for 4 people: 700 g frozen spinach, 300 g blender chopped chervil, 1 tablespoon cream, 2 eggs, 40 g gruyere, salt and pepper. For the sauce: 6 tablespoons white wine, ½ bullion cube, 6 tablespoons cream, salt and pepper.
Pour approximately 5 cm of water into a steam cooker and bring to a boil. Place the spinach, still frozen, in the pot and cover. Reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes, until thawed. Drain and put through the blender. Add the chervil, eggs, cream and cheese to the spinach and stir until thoroughly blended; season with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into a dessert ring mold and place in the steam cooker. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by boiling the wine for 3 minutes. Add the bullion cube and cream, stirring slowly and seasoning with salt and pepper. Turn the mold over onto a serving plate and let rest for around 5 minutes, leaving the mold on the cake. Remove the water, slide the mold off, top the cake with the sauce and serve.