MELISSA BLOCK, host:
If you're still avoiding spinach and wondering what green leafy thing you might substitute instead, well, Patrick O'Connell is here with some spinach alternatives. He's executive chef at the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia. Thanks for coming in, and you've brought all sorts of green things with you.
Mr. PATRICK O'CONNELL (Executive Chef, Inn at Little Washington): Thank you. Yes, I have, and it's an amazing assortment of possible alternatives to the use of spinach. The most logical and readily available one that comes to mind is Swiss chard.
BLOCK: And you've got a rainbow collection there.
Mr. O'CONNELL: Yes, and I just was able to pick this up at a regular supermarket, a chain supermarket, and I made a big batch of creamed chard last night in the kitchen, and everybody said my God, it tastes so much better than spinach. But anything you use spinach for, whether it's a quiche, a sauce, a custard with scrambled eggs or the eternally favorite creamed spinach, Swiss chard will not only be a great alternative, I think you will learn to enjoy it far more. It has a meatier, richer texture, and you'll prepare it in exactly the same way, by stripping the beautiful, big leaves off of the stem, saving the stem for another use, as you might use asparagus. You can blanch it and gratine it or stir fry it by angle slicing it. And the leaf you blanch in boiling water and take out and then squeeze dry, the way you would spinach.
Last night we added just a little bit of chopped onion, sweated with butter, and then poured pure heavy cream on top and let it reduce. So we didn't have to make the sort of thick, pasty béchamel sauce. And after it was reduced by about a quarter, we added the chopped leaves of the chard and cooked it for about eight or so minutes, and it became a beautiful, rich creamed spinach substitute. Adding a little parmesan cheese and, of course, a few grates of fresh nutmeg to give it that sort of mysterious aftertaste.
BLOCK: And you'll need a lot of it. It'll cook down.
Mr. O'CONNELL: It cooks down. It cooks down, yeah, but it's not expensive.
BLOCK: We should say that all of these recipes that we're going to be talking about are at our Web site, NPR.org, and you're reaching for a baggie full of nice little tiny bright green things.
Mr. O'CONNELL: Yes. These are the baby bok choys, and this is another thing that people haven't quite yet figured out what to do with and how wonderful they can be and also how beautiful they are. These can just be sautéed in butter until they're slightly wilted, or if you like them a little more tender, you can blanch them for a minute, refresh them in ice water and then roll them in butter the way you would asparagus or spinach.
And they make such a gorgeous little garnish because they retain their shape and their sort of flower like formation. But they're wonderful at this time of year braised, as Belgian endive is and of course kale.
BLOCK: You haven't mentioned my favorite green, arugula.
Mr. O'CONNELL: Arugula, absolutely. Well, I think one of the hard things for people to give up, if they are avoiding spinach, is that wonderful, warm spinach salad we grew up with, with bacon and vinegar and sugar, and arugula works beautifully for that, even better. So I think this is an opportunity for people to investigate greens that they may not have looked at before and play with them and have a new adventure.
BLOCK: Well, Patrick O'Connell, thanks for coming in and for bringing these leafy greens with you.
Mr. O'CONNELL: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here.
BLOCK: Patrick O'Connell is the executive chef at the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia, and you can find the recipes we've talked about at NPR.org.