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A&E >  Food

Fresh spinach dishes would make even Popeye proud

Fresh spinach shines in hearty penne beef.
Fresh spinach shines in hearty penne beef.

The only spinach I knew as a child came from a small white carton in the deep freezer. Mom would dump the frozen leaves into a pot of boiling water and serve them with lemon juice. I liked the tart juice; the slimy spinach, I hated.

Flash forward 40 years.

I toss a handful of fresh spinach into the slow-cooker and take a deep breath as the fragrance of basil and oregano fills my kitchen. “Yum! Tomato spinach soup!” Sam, 14, shouts when he arrives home from school.

What happened to my loathing of Popeye’s favorite vegetable? Simple. As a young adult I cautiously sampled spinach salad at a local restaurant. I figured anything with bacon in it couldn’t be that bad. It wasn’t! Fresh spinach proved to be delicious.

I further expanded my horizons with spinach quiche, hot spinach dip and traditional Greek spanakopita. All delicious.

However, when it came to serving this vegetable to my family I needed recipes that were inexpensive as well as quick and easy to prepare. Through trial and error (Spinach chips! What was I thinking?) I discovered two family favorites that regularly grace our dinner table.

Tomato spinach soup is a winner on every count. It’s healthy, tasty and a breeze to make. I can put it in the slow cooker in the morning and come home to a fabulous dinner.

My sons love the soup, but they request hearty penne beef more often. This blend of pasta, ground beef and spinach is what my husband calls a “plate-licker,” a recipe so tasty it tempts him to lick his plate clean.

While my mom had to deal with frozen squares of spinach or cans of slimy glop, I can buy fresh spinach by the bundle or the bag. No lemon juice needed.

Weight Watcher’s Tomato Spinach Slow-Cooker Zero-Point Soup

4 cups spinach, washed

2 medium carrots, chopped

2 medium celery ribs, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

4 cups low sodium vegetable broth

28 ounces canned no-salt-added diced tomatoes

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed

Place all ingredients in a slow-cooker. Cover and cook on high for 5 hours. Remove bay leaves, stir and serve.

Notes: I usually top each serving with freshly grated Parmesan. This adds points, if you’re following the Weight Watchers system. Also, I use crushed tomatoes because my boys don’t like diced tomatoes.

Hearty Penne Beef


1 3/4 cups uncooked penne pasta

1 pound ground turkey or beef

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 can (15 ounces) tomato puree

1 can (14 1/2 ounces) beef broth

1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 cups chopped fresh spinach

2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, cook meat over medium heat until no longer pink. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Drain. Stir in the tomato puree, broth, Italian seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly thickened. Add spinach; cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until wilted.

Drain pasta; stir into beef mixture. Sprinkle with cheese; cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Yield: 4 servings

Note: I use 2 cups of penne pasta and 1 1/2 pounds of meat.

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