Popeye owes much of his strength to spinach, and I fondly remember my three young nephews scarfing down entire plates of sautéed and creamed spinach after watching the cartoons. If spinach was absent from dinner, they would collectively rain hell and fury like you’ve never seen. I don’t blame them, and their allegiance is well-justified, because apart from being delicious, spinach features on most superfoods lists. I especially appreciate that it is high in anti-oxidants and vitamin A and I love eating it raw in salads (addictive with toasted walnuts, roasted pears and soft goat’s cheese). However, I hesitate to give my baby girl uncooked leaves and incorporate spinach into her diet by way of stews and purees instead. She likes those fine but she absolutely relishes this pasta that I often make as a quick meal for us four.
I adore the combination of spinach and cheese and compulsively order spinach ravioli with butter and sage sauce anytime it is on the menu at an Italian joint. But it is so ultra rich that I always feel too weighed down after I finish it. This pasta is a much healthier option compared to its decadent counterpart, without being at all short on flavour. The sweetness of the tomatoes and garlic make the dish sing, and a hefty grating of parmesan at the end delivers a good cheesy punch. It is tremendous as a vegetarian meal by itself, but my meat-loving hubby enjoys it even more with a couple of grilled pork sausages on the side. If your children or partner are not yet fans of the power veg, this pasta could be worth a shot. The leaves just look like harmless confetti in a bowlful of noodles, versus an intimidating blob of vicious green. Another good thing is that this dish is delicious at room temperature too, which makes it ideal for your kids’ school lunch or that upcoming picnic.
Spinach, Cherry Tomato and Garlic Pasta (serves two adults and two kids)
300g short pasta (I used penne, but fusilli, macaroni or farfalle work too)
extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
250g cherry tomatoes, halved (I use a mixture of yellow and red)
a pinch of dried chili flakes (optional)
100g baby spinach leaves, rinsed and very roughly chopped
a generous handful of grated parmesan
sea salt and black pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Salt the water generously and cook the pasta until a minute short of al-dente. Drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup of cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, sauté the garlic in olive oil in a large pan, until just slightly golden.
Add the cherry tomatoes and chili flakes (if using). Cook for a few minutes until tomatoes soften and skins have blistered.
Add the cooked pasta to the tomatoes and garlic. Toss to make sure the pasta is coated with the tomato juices. Add some reserved pasta water if it looks dry in the pan.
Add the spinach and stir until spinach wilts. Again, add some pasta water if it starts to dry out. The end result look silky and glazed. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Turn the heat off and stir in the grated parmesan.
Spoon the pasta onto plates and grate more parmesan over. Drizzle with good quality olive oil and serve. If you are not eating it immediately, add a little more olive oil and toss through, so the noodles don’t clump up.