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A family-favorite potato and spinach casserole gets lightened up

Mashed Potato, Cauliflower and Spinach Bake is based on a recipe the author’s grandmother made for holiday dinners.  (Tom McCorkle/For The Washington Post)
By Ellie Krieger Special to The Washington Post

This recipe is a tradition that snuck up on my family. My grandmother Debbie made it every Passover and Rosh Hashanah for as long as I can remember and, my mom says, for as long as she can remember, too. It remains a constant on our table to this day, long after Grandma Debbie’s passing, and I couldn’t imagine our holiday dinner without the crisp-topped mashed potato casserole with its ribbonlike layer of spinach, generously scooped on the “good china” and ready to be pooled with brisket gravy.

No one knows where the recipe came from – it’s not in any of the handwritten recipe books my grandmother passed down and she never talked about its provenance. (I wish I had thought to ask, way back when.) However she came up with it, the dish is now firmly a part of our family ritual, and one I am happy to share with you here.

This version captures the essence of my grandmother’s version, but with a few enhancements from me. It starts, as she had made it, with boiling and mashing potatoes with olive oil and broth. But I thought it would be nice to add some cauliflower to the mash, too, for another layer of flavor and lighter texture. The cauliflower cooks in the same pot, and at the same time, as the potatoes, so it is no extra effort. I add a handful of garlic cloves to the pot, too, which become soft and mellow with cooking and add a deep savoriness to the mash. And I keep the skins on the potatoes for three reasons: I like the texture they add, it saves the trouble of peeling them, and it retains valuable fiber and nutrients. (But feel free to peel them if you prefer.)

Half of the rich, garlic-infused mash is layered into a casserole dish, then that is topped with chopped spinach that has been sautéed with onion, salt and pepper. The remaining potato mixture is smoothed on top of that, and then sprinkled with either matzoh meal (for Passover) or breadcrumbs (for any other occasion), which have been tossed with a bit of oil.

The casserole bakes until it’s crisp and browned on top and steaming-hot. A creamy, savory scoop of it is heavenly with that holiday brisket and gravy, but this casserole is also right at home as a side with a simple roasted chicken, which means you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to make it.

Potato, Cauliflower and Spinach Casserole


2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (4 large), unpeeled, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces

4 cups (10 ounces) bite-size cauliflower florets

6 medium garlic cloves, halved

⅓ cup or vegetable broth

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing

1 teaspoon fine salt, divided

1 small yellow onion (5 ounces), diced

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, drained and squeezed dry

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup matzoh meal or panko

In a medium (4- to 6-quart) pot, combine the potatoes, cauliflower and garlic, and add enough cold water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain, then transfer the vegetables to a large bowl. Add the broth, 3 tablespoons of the oil and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, then use a potato masher to mash to your desired consistency.

In a medium skillet – about 10 inches – over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about two minutes. Add the spinach, ⅛ teaspoon of salt and the pepper, and cook, stirring, until the spinach has warmed through and any remaining liquid has evaporated, one to two minutes.

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Brush a 6-cup casserole dish with olive oil. Layer half of the mashed potato-cauliflower mixture on the bottom. Then add the spinach mixture on top, spreading it out as evenly as possible. Top with the remaining potato-cauliflower mash.

In a small bowl, toss together the matzoh meal or panko with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and ⅛ teaspoon salt. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole and bake for about 1 hour, or until the top is lightly browned and the casserole is hot in the center. Serve hot or warm.

Yield: 8 servings

Make ahead: The casserole can be assembled up to the layering of the vegetable mash and spinach, covered and refrigerated up to fou days in advance. If baking directly from the refrigerator, add about 15 minutes of baking time.