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Basic Green

March 17, 1994|FAYE LEVY

Leafy, green spinach is often used in salad along with mushrooms, hard-cooked eggs and bacon. But it also works well with steak and pasta.

Here are some guidelines for its preparation. Since fresh spinach is sandy, it must be carefully cleaned before cooking. Remove the stems by pulling them off the leaves, then discard. Wash the leaves thoroughly by placing them in a sink full of cold water, lifting them out into a bowl and changing the water. Repeat rinsing two or three times or until no sand remains.

Frozen spinach can be substituted for fresh in recipes calling for cooked pureed spinach, although the flavor and texture will not be quite as good because frozen spinach also contains stems. Because frozen spinach is already blanched, it does not require cooking in water, but simply thawing; to save time, however, it can be cooked in boiling water until it thaws, then drained and squeezed according to the recipe.

Fresh and frozen spinach vary in the amounts of actual cooked spinach obtainable from a certain weight. From 1 1/2 pounds of fresh spinach (weight including stems), I have most often obtained 3/4 cup puree, but occasionally only 1/2 cup. In comparing 10-ounce packages of frozen spinach of different brands, I have also found that they give between 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup puree. Keep this in mind if the exact quantity of puree is crucial to the recipe.

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In the Provencal-style dish of grilled steak with garlic and spinach, sauteed garlic slices add a pleasant crunch and aroma to the steak. Instead of sirloin, Porterhouse, T-bone or club steak can be used.

A creamy spinach sauce is used in bow ties with spinach sauce and Gruyere cheese. This you make by simmering lightly cooked spinach in cream and seasoning it with its best partners--nutmeg and cheese--making a bright-green complement to the butterfly-shaped pasta.

GRILLED STEAK WITH GARLIC AND SPINACH 9 garlic cloves Freshly ground pepper 2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy 7 tablespoons olive oil 1 (1 1/2 pound) top sirloin steak, about 1 inch thick 3 pounds fresh spinach, stems removed, leaves rinsed well, or 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen leaf spinach 1 tablespoon butter Salt

Finely chop 4 garlic cloves. Combine chopped garlic with pepper to taste in small shallow dish. Stir in Cognac and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Trim off excess fat from steak. Add steak to dish and coat on all sides with Cognac mixture. Cover and marinate 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in refrigerator.

Place fresh spinach in large saucepan of enough boiling salted water to cover. Return to boil and boil, uncovered, until just tender and wilted, about 2 minutes. If using frozen spinach, cook according to package instructions until just separated. Drain spinach. Rinse with cold running water until cool and drain thoroughly. Squeeze spinach by handfuls to remove as much water as possible. Coarsely chop spinach with knife.

Cut remaining 5 garlic cloves into very thin lengthwise slices. Cover and set aside.

Prepare charcoal grill or heat ridged stop-top grill over high heat, or preheat broiler with rack about 3 inches from heat source. Remove steak from marinade and pat dry. Grill or broil until browned on both sides and done to taste, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. (Rare meat does not resist when pressed, medium-rare meat resists slightly, medium-done meat resists slightly more, and meat that is well done is springy to touch.) Transfer to carving board and keep warm.

Heat remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in medium skillet over low heat. Add garlic slices and cook until tender and lightly browned, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Add spinach to oil from cooking garlic and heat, stirring. Add butter and stir until absorbed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, cut steak into thin slices. Place spinach on hot plates. Arrange steak slices on top. Season to taste with salt. Garnish with garlic slices. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

BOW TIES WITH SPINACH SAUCE AND GRUYERE CHEESE 1 pound fresh spinach, stems removed, leaves rinsed well 3 tablespoons butter 2 medium shallots, minced 1 cup whipping cream Freshly grated nutmeg to taste Salt Freshly ground black pepper 8 ounces pasta bow ties or farfalle, or spirals 1 cup finely shredded Gruyere cheese, preferably imported, plus extra for serving

Add spinach to large saucepan of enough boiling salted water to cover generously. Cook uncovered over high heat until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water and drain well. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Chop spinach.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until tender but not brown. Add spinach and cook 1 minute. Stir in 3/4 cup cream, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Cook and stir over low heat until just heated through. Adjust seasonings to taste. (Sauce can be kept, covered, up to 1 day in refrigerator.)

Bring large pan of salted water to boil. Add pasta. Cook uncovered over high heat, stirring occasionally until tender but firm to bite, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat sauce to simmer over low heat. Add remaining 1/4 cup cream and bring to simmer. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter and heat until blended.

Drain pasta well. Transfer to heated serving dish. Add sauce and toss to blend. Add 1 cup Gruyere cheese and toss again. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve immediately with more cheese on side. Makes 4 first-course servings.

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