The cooking times for spinach are so short that it should be the last side dish to be prepared, bearing in mind that its volume decreases considerably in the process. Baby spinach, usually served bagged and pre-washed, has the strongest chlorophyll taste of all, while curly leaf and flat-leaf will need trimming and thorough washing to remove grit.
For fresh mature spinach, rinse thoroughly under cold running water, especially with curly leaf spinach, whose wrinkled surface provides refuge for dirt. Gather the spinach into bunches and trim away the stems with a knife or scissors. Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and drop in the spinach, cooking for only a minute with the lid on. Drain through a colander and press out any excess water, then toss in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve immediately, as spinach can become limp and watery once cool.
Steaming spinach keeps it moist and soft without becoming soggy. Work with a pound at a time, steaming in batches, taking care to thoroughly clean fresh spinach that hasn’t been pre-washed. You can either add fresh spinach directly to a steamer tray and steam for 3 to 5 minutes, or lay in a sieve or colander and steam over a pot containing an inch or so of boiling water, with a lid on top to trap the vapor. Alternatively, place the spinach in a glass bowl, covered with perforated shrink-wrap, and cook in the microwave on full power for 2 to 3 minutes. In all cases, squeeze the cooked spinach gently to drain off any excess liquid.
Sauteing fresh spinach in oil gives it a pleasant mouthfeel that is otherwise missing when it is steamed or boiled. Wash the spinach thoroughly and shake off any excess water, using a salad shaker if necessary. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and sauté some minced garlic until translucent, then add the spinach, moving it regularly with tongs around the pan and cooking for no more than a minute. Drain off any excess water before serving. A slightly more indulgent version substitutes butter for the olive oil, rounded off with lemon juice, with the spinach dropped in for a flash cook once the butter is foaming.
Creamed spinach makes a smooth, unctuous dip or a side dish. Boil a large batch of spinach in a covered pot of salted water for a minute. Drain through a colander and squeeze out any liquid, patting dry with paper towels, before rough chopping on a cutting board. Melt a stick of butter in a frying pan, add a little chopped onion and sauté until clear, then add enough whipping cream to cover the base. Stir continuously until the cream thickens, then add the chopped spinach, simmering uncovered for 2 minutes until the cream is reduced. Lift out the spinach with tongs, shaking off any excess liquid, and season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg.