Spinach are biennial plants, cultivated as annuals, belonging to the amaranthacee family; there is only one species of spinach, whose botanical name is spinacia oleracea, and is native to central and western Asia. In Europe spinach has been cultivated for centuries, it was the Saracens, at the time of the conquest of Sicily and Spain, who introduced them into European cuisine, but only in the following centuries they became among the most cultivated vegetables. As biennial plants, spinach does not fear the cold, and can therefore also be grown during the winter months, when there are few vegetables in the garden. The ease of preservation of the frozen product, without losing most of its taste and nutrients, has made spinach a widespread and cultivated vegetable, even from the canning industry.
The Spinacia oleracea are small plants, which do not exceed 25-30 cm in height; they form a thick rosette of leaves, more or less thick or bullous depending on the variety. Generally, from sowing to harvest, a month or a month passes, depending on the season. If left to grow without care, spinach produces a thin fleshy stem, covered by ever smaller leaves, and quite branched, which will bear the small greenish flowers. In order to have tender and crunchy leaves it is necessary to avoid that the plant goes to flower, collecting the plant before this happens. The spinach leaves are harvested by removing the outermost leaves of the rosette, during the development of the plant, or by collecting the whole head, cutting the root at the base.
Variety of spinach
As we said before, although in the world there are other plants used as spinach (an example above all, beets), there is only one and unique species of spinach; this means that all the spinach we find on the market are leaves taken from spinacia oleracea plants. If we go to the supermarket, however, we will notice very different spinach: the spinach to eat raw, in salads, has small, smooth leaves; frozen spinach has thin leaves; fresh spinach, suitable for consumption only after cooking, has conspicuously blistering leaves. These differences are due to the different cultivars widespread in cultivation; in general, spinaches are plants suitable for cultivation in short days, ie from September to April-May, however there are varieties that prefer the warm spring climate, others that prefer the winter climate. Typically, spinach is divided into three different groups of varieties; the most widespread are the "Savoy" spinach, they are those that we find to cook, with large, thick leaves, which show showy boiling on the entire page of the leaf. "Semi-Savoy" spinach is also very widespread, that is to say a variety directly derived from the previous ones, with thinner and less blistered leaves, generally very cultivated in family gardens, and often those that we find already washed and frozen; the leaves of these spinaches are less thick and fleshy, and are therefore easier to treat, wash and pack. The last varieties are those of smooth leaf spinach; the leaves are smaller, thin and delicate, and are definitely more suitable for raw consumption. Erroneously it is often believed that the smooth spinach leaves are the young ones, in reality the savoy plants have bullous leaves even when they are of minuscule size, while the smooth leaf varieties have smooth foliage even in the "old" plants, that is ready for the collected.
The cultivation is quite simple, also because it usually takes place in quite cool and humid periods of the year, and therefore the climate helps us with watering. They settle in a good deep soil, possibly sandy, to avoid water stagnation; the soil must be well worked, and mixed with earthworm humus or with mature manure. The beds for spinach will be placed in the sun or in partial shade. It is fundamental to choose the right variety, as the winter varieties tend to go to seed faster if sown in spring, while the spring varieties may not withstand the winter cold. Sowing takes place from September to October, until April-May, starting from a late summer sowing, which takes place in September, passing through winter sowing, which takes place in November, until the spring sowing, which takes place in February or march. By choosing different varieties we can therefore have fresh spinach to harvest for most of the year.
They are sown directly at home, placing the seeds in rows about 6-8 cm apart with the same space between future plants. If the sowing is carried out by scattering many seeds for each stall, it will be advisable, after a couple of weeks, to thin the young plants, so as to leave only the most vigorous and well developed ones. Watering is particularly important for plants sown in late spring, in March or April, which will have to be watered regularly, whenever the soil is dry. The spinach sown in other periods of the year instead, will have to be watered at the time of sowing, but later it will be necessary to supply only inca water of particularly dry seasons. During the whole period of plant development it is essential to keep the soil hoed, to avoid the growth of weeds; if the winter cold is particularly intense, with temperatures below -10 ° C, it will be advisable to cover the plants with the woven fabric. If the climate favors the development of the stem that will bear the flowers, it is important to collect the rosettes of leaves before they produce the flowers, because the leaves of the plants that have begun to produce the flowers have a little appreciated taste, and tend to become very leathery.
Pests and diseases
The main pests that can affect spinach are related to the strong humidity present during the growing seasons, which can favor the development of rot, mold, fungus; in general, the possibility of developing rottenness is removed, adding a good dose of sand to the land in which spinach is grown, in order to favor drainage, to avoid that the soil remains soaked for a long time with water. The leaves can be attacked by aphids or other small insects, which generally occurs in months that are not too cold, and therefore we will have to worry about possible animal parasites only in the cultivation of September-October or in the spring ones. The use of synthetic insecticides is not recommended in family gardens, as the spinach leaves are cultivated for a short period of time, and therefore there is the risk of bringing the insecticide also to the kitchen. Products suitable for organic farming are used more often, or insects are detached from the follies, at the time of collection, with a good jet of water. Usually, the varieties grown in the cold months tend to be particularly resistant to the attack of fungal parasites; while the varieties grown in the spring are particularly resistant to the attack of aphids and dorifore.
The legend of Popeye
Starting in the 1950s, spinach was advertised as a very rich iron vegetable, so much so that it was recommended to anemics, or to be used in a comic book as "super food", which allowed our hero to win against criminals . In reality this consideration of spinach as a massive source of iron is due to a transcription error; a German scientist failed to write a comma, amplifying the iron content of these vegetables by ten times. Despite this error, in fact spinach is very rich in iron, even if, further substances contained in the leaves, make this iron poorly bioavailable: in other words it is very difficult for humans to absorb the iron contained in spinach. Despite this, spinach leaves are very healthy, as they contain lots of mineral salts and vitamins, as well as folic acid and omega-3; they are therefore a decidedly healthy vegetable, which should be consumed as often as possible. Unfortunately, most vitamins deteriorate quickly, just a week in the refrigerator to lose most of these substances; in addition to this, in many regional recipes, spinach is prepared in fat-rich recipes, which include adding milk and butter, and prolonged cooking. The association with milk, rich in calcium, makes the iron contained in spinach even less available; prolonged cooking favors the dispersion and mineral salts in the waste water, and the deterioration of the vitamins. To get more benefits from spinach leaves, you should consume fresh (even frozen products can still contain a good part of nutrients), possibly raw, or cooked briefly by steam or microwave. The boiling in large amounts of water disperses most of the beneficial substances, leaving only the fibers, certainly healthy, but not as much as they would be if associated with mineral salts, vitamins and folic acid.
Spinach - Spinacia oleracea: Spinach in the kitchen
Spinach in Italy arrived towards the end of the Middle Ages; one can well understand how since then it has been possible for these vegetables to become fundamental ingredients for many regional recipes. Typically spinach is consumed as a side dish, sautéed, stewed, boiled, usually with the addition of milk and Parmesan. Typical use of spinach in stuffed pasta and gnocchi; the high chlorophyll content of the leaves makes them suitable also as a natural dye, they are in fact used, crushed, to color the pasta of a beautiful bright green, often and above all for the preparation of green lasagna. Spinach is a typical winter vegetable, because their resistance to cold makes them very suitable to be cultivated when few other vegetables can find a place in the family garden; many recipes based on spinach are therefore winter, and in fact spinach is often used to accompany zampone and cotechino. Also famous are the snails stewed with spinach, a typical dish from northern Italy. In central Italy the beachers are sautéed and flavored with raisins and pine nuts; all over Italy spinach enriches all types of stuffing, including roasts, and is used in omelettes, casseroles, and savory pies.
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