Baked Spinach & Eggs: The New Face of Comfort Food

Comfort food. You think of lots of butter and heavy cream, right? Biscuits and gravy, chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese – meals you guilt yourself about eating but that make you feel warm and safe when you do. I’m convinced that it doesn’t have to be that way. I love comfort food, yet I really hate heavy foods that feel like a ton of bricks settled in the pit of your stomach by the time you reach the bottom of the bowl. Lighter foods can still be comforting, can still evoke that warm and safe feeling so traditionally associated with those heavier meals. No guilt required (not that I think you should guilt yourself about anyfood decision – make your food choice mindfully, and enjoy whatever that choice may be; if you can’t eat it shamelessly, it isn’t worth it, if you ask me).

This dish – baked spinach with eggs – was loosely adapted from the Smitten Kitchen, and by loosely, I mean I changed very little about it aside from cracking an egg into the dish during the last few minutes of cooking. I also swapped all of the butter for olive oil and used whole wheat, homemade bread crumbs, not that there’s really anything wrong with a little bit of butter here or there; I just didn’t have any on hand, and was curious to see if the olive oil would be successful. I do, however, have serious issues with store-bought bread crumbs, when homemade are so much healthier and ridiculously easy to make. But I’m no doppelganger hanging out on your shoulder while you cook, so don’t let that guilt settle in if you like and happen o keep store bought crumbs in stock – remember what I just said about guilt? Yeah, it’s lame. If you like shake-n-bake, use it as proudly as I use my food-processed whole grain bread butts. (But if you haven’t tried making your own, I highly recommend it.)

But alas, I digress. This dish is so much more than olive oil and bread crumbs. The spinach is light and not soggy or greasy or slimy the way that some cooked spinach dishes can become – it tastes about as fresh as cooked spinach can possibly taste. The smoked cheddar cheese gives off this poser-bacon flavor and the eggs really come in with a protein/nutrition 1-2 punch. And did I mention it’s low-carb? Well, low-carb unless you choose to pair it with a warm, fresh loaf of bread – which is absolutely a fantastic decision, though I didn’t do that. Even without any herbs and spices, this is seriously one of the best recipes I’ve made in a long time, and I’ll be the first to admit that I use my seasonings (except salt) with a heavy hand. And comfort food? Folks, you have not tasted comfort food until you’ve tasted this baked spinach and egg dish. Forget your Aunt’s famous pot pie or your husband’s great-grandma’s secret recipe for biscuits. This is the new face of comfort food: healthy instead of heavy, without sacrificing any of the warmth and happiness that comes with taking that first bite. And then the second. And then the third. And then…

By the way, do not be intimidated by this recipe. It looks long, but it goes very smoothly and is very intuitive. If you need to, take a deep breath (I know I did!), and give it a shot, because it’s not a difficult recipe and the pay-off is absolutely incredible in the end.

Baked Spinach with Eggs
This dish proves that comfort food doesn’t have to weigh you down and tempt you with that pesky feeling of guilt. It is light yet unquestionably filling and satisfying, and packed with a whole heck of a lot of nutrients. If you’re not comforted when you eat this dish, I want emails.

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

The Ingredients
3 pounds fresh spinach
3 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 cup stock
¾ cup grated smoked cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons whole grain, homemade bread crumbs
6 eggs

The Method
Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit and lightly grease a 1-quart baking dish; set aside.

Wash the spinach and, without drying, place in a large pot set over high heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until all of the spinach has wilted, 2-4 minutes. Transfer the cooked spinach to a colander and pour a bowl of very cold water over it to shock it and stop the cooking. Working in batches, gently squeeze the spinach by hand to drain as much water as possible. Coarsely chop the spinach and set aside momentarily.1

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the pot you just used for the spinach and lower the heat to moderately high. Add the spinach, cooking 2-3 minutes to remove any moisture you weren’t able to squeeze out by hand. When the spinach starts to stick to the pan, it’s ready.

Lower the heat and sprinkle the spinach with the flour, stirring for 2 minutes before adding in the stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan for stuck spinach. Bring the mixture to a simmer briefly, 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Stir 1 cup of the cheese into the spinach and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. In a separate, smaller bowl, mix the remaining cheese and olive oil with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top of the spinach.2 Bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes before removing to crack the eggs over the top of the spinach (try to distribute them evenly, dividing the baking dish into 6 “portions”) and return to the oven to continue cooking the egg. For a runny egg, cook for 15 minutes; for a more solid baked egg, cook for 20 minutes.

1This can be done up to a day in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator until needed.
2The recipe can be followed up to this point (full assembly of dish) ahead of time, covered and refrigerated until needed. Simply resume cooking instructions from this point 30 minutes before serving.

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