Festive Creamed Spinach is variation of a popular Louisiana-originated dish, Spinach Madeleine. The recipe is creamed spinach with cheese and fresh jalapeno peppers. The dish has become a holiday favorite served at buffets and meals in the South. If you are not a great spinach lover–give this recipe a try–it is delicious.
Festive Creamed Spinach
Festive Creamed Spinach is easy to prepare and even tastes just as good or better when heated up the next day. Fresh spinach is tender and savory; it is easy to find in grocery stores these days. It combines well with cheese and my dish is spiced up for an nice kick. In the recipe, I used Kraft Pepper Jack Cheese which is Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeno peppers. Here’s the cooked spinach and a several of the ingredients.
I never cared for spinach while growing up. Even Popyeye cartoons on television couldn’t entice me to eat spinach. Now I realize that is was the canned and overcooked spinach being served in the school lunchroom that I disliked. Freshly cooked spinach (or even frozen spinach) is quite delicious. It tastes entirely different than canned spinach.
Does spinach grow in Louisiana?
Spinach is a cool weather crop. In Louisiana, seed can be planted from October to the end of February. I usually transplant a few seedlings as I don’t have that much gardening room. It is a little finicky to grow; I’ve had better luck some years than others. Spinach is one vegetable that makes it through the winter weather in our state.
There are three varieties of spinach–savoy (curly leafed); semi-savoy and flat leafed. I used the flat leaf variety from my Community Supported Agriculture baskets and grocery stores in this recipe. Here is Week 10’s CSA basket–these vegetables are right from the organic farm; not processed in any way. The broccoli has already started to turn brown a day after getting the basket! Which brings up the point that many fresh vegetables purchased from farm stands are best used shortly after purchase; they don’t store well.
Spinach is Nutritious
Spinach is very nutritious and rich in vitamins and minerals. It is especially high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A. Vitamin K, magnesium, magnesium, folic acid, iron and calcium.
However, spinach is one vegetable which contains oxalates–compounds which chelate or bind iron and calcium and prevent these two minerals from being bio-available. So although spinach is high in iron and calcium, not alot of it is available to be used in the body. Oxalates can also contribute to a type of kidney stone formation in some people. Boiling the spinach helps leach out the oxalates, so spinach is one of the vegetables where it is not recommended to use the spinach cooking water in recipes.
Spinach Madeleine and the Junior League of Baton Rouge
My recipe is a variation of Spinach Madeleine, a popular dish here in the South. The recipe for Spinach Madeleine can be found in the Junior League of Baton Rouge’s cookbook, River Road Recipes I, and on their WEB site (www.juniorleaguebr.org/?nd=full&key=2). This organization has been publishing cookbooks since the 1950’s and they are some of the top selling community-based organization cookbooks.
According to the story which was published in the magazine, 225 Baton Rouge, Madeleine Wright of St. Francisville, Louisiana, was preparing to make creamed spinach for a ladies luncheon. St. Francisville is a quiet, rural town along the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge full of plantation homes and history. Madeleine had recently purchased a new food product, Kraft Jalapeno Cheese Roll, and thought that it would make a tasty addition to her recipe. With little cooking experience, Madeleine whipped up a spinach concoction. Her friends loved the spicy spinach casserole and Madeleine continued to make it. She submitted it to the Junior League’s River Road Recipes cookbook which was published in 1959. According to the Junior League, their combined cookbooks have now sold over 1.9 million copies. Madeleine Wright’s recipe is one of the more famous ones. (juniorleaguebr.org/?nd=recipes)
The River Road Recipes I cookbook is a fine selection of local and regional recipes, although I often reduce the amount of butter and oil in the recipes. I guess folks weren’t watching fat content in the 1950’s. The Junior League of Baton Rouge has published several other cookbooks, including one with reduced fat and calorie content.
Recipe Preparation Suggestions
I brought my dish, “Festive Creamed Spinach,” to our family Thanksgiving dinner–everyone gave it great reviews. Over the past several weeks, I made a number of experiments of the recipe with all of my CSA spinach trying to get the proportions and seasoning where I liked them and using different types and quantities of spinach. Here are some of my observations.
- Fresh spinach. One thing that makes this dish exceptional is using fresh leaf spinach rather than frozen chopped or frozen leaf spinach. My test-taster husband and I both agreed that fresh spinach really made a difference. Even in season fresh spinach is pricey–but worth the difference.
- Cooking the spinach. It may appear to be large amount of spinach when purchased, but the spinach quickly cooked down to a small amount. Each 8 oz package of fresh spinach yielded about 1 cup of cooked spinach. To cook the spinach, I added a little water to a large saucepan, boiled a batch of spinach for a few minutes until the spinach wilted and then drained it in a colander. I repeated this process, and as noted above, did not save the broth that the spinach was cooked in.
- Cheese for the cream sauce. I tried multiple combinations of cheese and decided that Pepper Jack Jalapeno cheese and cream cheese made great blend. Together they gave a mild and spicy cheesy flavor and a white color to the creamed spinach. The cheeses melted and blended without difficulty. The original “Spinach Madeleine” recipe specified Kraft Jalapeno Cheese Roll. Kraft stopped manufacturing this cheese product in 1999 leaving the Junior League to look for substitutes. They settled on Kraft Velveeta Cheese, a processed cheese product, and fresh jalapeno peppers. Velveeta Cheese (as the name implies) gives a smooth and creamy texture when melted. It works well in the recipe, however, the yellow cheese color and flavor is not my favorite for this dish.
- Additional spices. This recipe contains some additional spices-black pepper, celery seed and garlic salt. These seasonings add to the creamed spinach’s flavor giving the recipe a spicy boost. I wouldn’t omit any of them. The Junior League’s recipe also has Worcestershire sauce for added flavor.
- Flexible recipe. This recipe is flexible, as far as the amounts of spinach and sauce are concerned. Using less spinach makes it more saucy and more like a dip. The cream cheese can be increased to 3 oz if it is served as a dip. The Pepper Jack cheese can be increased, especially if you like cheesy flavors. If you do use frozen leaf spinach, up to two 1-lb packages can be used for this amount of sauce. In this case, I suggest increasing the water to 10 oz (using the evaporated milk can as a measuring tool–this is 2 cans of water).
I have seen Spinach Madeleine or adaptions of this creamed spinach dish served as a vegetable at a meal and on a buffet table as an appetizer or dip. For a dip, serve with some crackers or toasted French bread slices.
Festive Creamed Spinach
- 3 – 8 oz packages fresh flat leaf spinach, cleaned and sorted, thick stems removed
- 2 Tbsp margarine
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped finely
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 5 – oz can evaporated milk
- 5 oz water (used evaporated milk can for measuring water)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp celery salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, optional
- 4 oz Kraft Pepper Jack Cheese, grated or shredded
- 2 oz cream cheese, cut in small chunks
Method and Steps
- Add 1 package of spinach to large pot with small amount (about 1/2 cup) water. Bring to boil on stove with lid ajar. Cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes until spinach wilts. Drain in colander and set aside. Repeat with 2 remaining packages of spinach.
- In large skillet or saucepan, melt margarine on medium heat. Add onion and cook and stir for about 5 minutes until the onion is translucent. Do not let onion burn, turn heat down if needed.
- Add flour and cook and stir one minute.
- Remove from heat and slowly stir in evaporated milk, stirring to avoid flour clumps. Add a can of water (5 oz).
- Return to stove, stir and cook on medium heat until bubbly and thickened. (The sauce will thin some when the spinach is added.)
- Add in the salt, garlic powder, celery salt, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce and stir.
- On low heat, add in the well drained spinach, grated Pepper Jack Cheese and cream cheese. Continue to stir until the cheeses melt.
- Transfer to serving dish and serve. The spinach may also be cooked a day ahead, chilled and reheated on the stove or microwave prior to serving.
Here’s the Thanksgiving dinner spinach. This version has a bit more sauce and cream cheese and less spinach than the final recipe making it very rich and creamy. Great for a dip! I hope you like the recipe; there are never left-overs at our house!
The Origins of Spinach Madeleine in Life in South Louisiana. southlouisianacuisine.blogspot.com/2011/12/madelines-spinach.html
Madeleine’s Spinach  Magazine at www.225batonrouge.com/article/madelines-spinach
River Road Recipes. Junior League of Baton Rouge, 2014. http://www.juniorleaguebr.org/?nd=recipes and www.juniorleaguebr.org/?nd=full&key=2