In case you were able to escape the news, it’s Lent. Snuck up on you, didn’t it? It did for me. This year, I’m giving up Facebook (gasp!) and, of course, meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday until Easter. I’m not going to get involved in the theological implications for not eating meat on Fridays. I went to Catholic School for 13 years; I’ve heard every argument for and against abstaining on Fridays. I really can see all sides of the debate. Nonetheless, I don’t eat meat on Lenten Fridays. It was a lot easier in college when we just plain couldn’t eat meat on Lenten Fridays unless we went off campus. Now, it requires a lot of pre-planning and creativity in the kitchen. A girl can only eat so much pizza!
When I found this recipe for Spinach and Artichoke pasta in Real Simple, I wasn’t originally thinking about Lent at all. I was actually thinking that this would be better with some chicken pieces or maybe even Italian sausage added. I’m kind of a fan of protein. But I realized this week that I could make this recipe as it is for Friday. Perfect.
This recipe calls for frozen creamed spinach. I’ve never actually had creamed spinach. My spinach prowess begins at spinach squares and ends with my famous spinach and artichoke dip. I thought that creamed spinach would be super-fattening, but each serving only has 70 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. However, look at the package:
Artificial cream flavor? I don’t even know what that means. This bad boy also has .5 grams of trans fats per serving. Yeah, I’m not eating trans-fatty vegetables. That’s just wrong. So I creamed my own spinach using this recipe. I think the trick to making a healthy creamed spinach is using skim milk like this recipe does rather than heavy cream. You end up making a béchamel using butter, flour, milk and spices, rather than just dumping cream in. There’s nothing hard about making a béchamel, you just need patience. And maybe a little confidence because I’ve never made one without thinking that I’ve completely screwed it up. You start out cooking butter and flour together in a skillet and that’s just weird. You add the milk a little at a time. It doesn’t look like anything you want to eat until almost all the milk is added, which is why I always think I’ve made a mistake. Once it looks edible, I’m always sure that I haven’t made enough and then I pour it over whatever I’m making (or in this case, I add the spinach to the pan) and it’s perfect. I probably could have used regular steamed spinach in this recipe, but I was worried that the creaminess was essential and I didn’t want to make it too dry.
Other than that, this recipe is pretty easy. You make pasta, throw in chopped artichokes, the creamed spinach and cheese. Put it in a broiler-safe pan (I used my Pampered Chef brownie pan), add more cheese and broil it for three minutes (or more if you like to burn things, which I apparently do).
I thought it was awesome. I’m definitely going to try it again with chicken or sausage like I had planned. I might also use Monterey Jack cheese rather than mozzarella, just to change things up a bit. (Oh and this was half of the recipe. Yes we ate it all.)