Italian Sauteed Spinach: A Flavorful Medley with Garlic, Lemon, and Parmesan

italian sauteed spinach

How do you feel about stereotypes? Personally, I think some stereotypes are true. There’s one stereotype that I grew up hearing and I think it’s based on facts. And this spinach recipe is living proof.

Take this how you want, but when my kids are having dinner at their Irish side of the family’s house, they won’t touch a vegetable. But, when they’re eating with their Italian side of the family, the vegetables disappear faster than you can imagine.

Is it a coincidence? I don’t know. You be the judge.

Vegetables cooked Italian style are always better and that includes this sauteed spinach recipe.

This sautèed spinach is a really simple recipe and is a perfect easy side dish for when you don’t have a lot of time. You can easily whip it together at the last minute if you have a few simple ingredients on hand.

If you go to a fancy steakhouse like the Capital Grille, you’ll end up spending a ton of money for a spinach side dish and it won’t be nearly as good as this one.

Once you make this garlic spinach recipe I guarantee you spinach will become one of your favorite vegetables. I also know that this will be one of your favorite ways to make it.

Some Facts About Spinach

When you buy spinach you have a couple of choices. You can get baby spinach or regular spinach.

The interesting thing is that they are both the same thing, just one is actually a baby.

Baby spinach and regular spinach come from the same plant, but baby spinach is picked earlier. Where regular spinach is picked when it’s almost 2 months old, baby spinach is picked when it’s less than a month old.

Baby spinach leaves are smaller and tender. They also cook up quicker.

Regular spinach has leaves that are bigger and a little tougher with thick stems.

Both baby spinach and regular spinach have a lot of health benefits. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

Whatever you decide to use, I guarantee you can turn this green leafy vegetable into a healthy side dish that is really delicious.

the ingredients for italian sauteed spinach on a wooden surface with a chef's knife

Here’s What You Need to Make Your Italian Sauteed Spinach

Spinach: for this recipe, I used fresh spinach. I always like to have a container of fresh baby spinach in my fridge because it’s great for salads and an easy way to make a delicious side dish that goes with just about anything.

You could use regular spinach, but I like baby spinach because it takes less time to prepare.

Parmesan Cheese: I like to grate my own parmesan cheese on demand so I keep a block in my fridge. If you want to buy it already grated, that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure you get something that is good quality.

Olive Oil: I used extra virgin olive oil for this recipe. I like using a good olive oil when I make sauteed greens because they really soak up all of the flavors.

Garlic: this recipe calls for fresh garlic cloves. Give them a good smash with the side of a knife and chop them up really fine.

Lemon: get yourself a fresh lemon and squeeze the juice yourself. Bottled lemon juice has its place in some recipes, but when you are cooking vegetables a fresh lemon really brightens up the dish.

Seasoning: as always, you need some Kosher salt and black pepper.

If you like a little heat you can throw in some red pepper flakes. I didn’t put them in this recipe, but if you like them, feel free to use them.

How to Make Your Italian Sauteed Spinach

Try not to blink because this recipe is quick.

First, get yourself a large skillet or dutch oven. It’s good to use a big pan for this recipe because the spinach takes up a lot of space when you start.

Add some olive oil to the bottom of the skillet and turn the stove on low heat. Put your garlic in the pan while the oil is still cold and allow the garlic to heat up with the oil.

olive oil and garlic in a large skillet

I like to use a heavy skillet with a thick bottom. If the bottom of the pan is thin the oil will heat up too fast and the garlic can burn.

I use a good amount of garlic in this recipe. My goal here is to allow the garlic to cook very slowly so that while it toasts, it flavors the oil. I used to saute garlic in hot oil, but I have been getting better results when I start with a cold pan and allow the garlic to heat up with the oil.

After about 3-5 minutes you can start to smell the garlic and it becomes golden brown.

sauteeing garlic

At this point, add your spinach to the pan and season it with a generous pinch of salt and some black pepper. If your pan will not hold all of the raw spinach, do it in batches and allow some spinach to wilt in the pan before you add more.

adding spinach leaves

After you add the spinach to the pan turn the stove up to medium heat. The salt will draw a lot of liquid out of the spinach leaves and they will start to wilt and become dark green.

Toss the spinach in the olive oil and garlic for about 5 minutes on medium heat or until the spinach is completely wilted.

Now you can throw in your grated parmesan cheese and a small amount of water to the pan if the pan is dry. I don’t add too much water, but just enough to allow the grated cheese to incorporate into the spinach.

Turn up the stove to medium-high heat. Toss the spinach and grated parmesan in the pan for about one minute. Taste it and if necessary, add some additional salt.

Keep in mind that the parmesan cheese will add some saltiness to the spinach.

When the grated parmesan cheese is melted and incorporated into the spinach add a good squeeze of lemon juice to the pan and give it a couple final tosses.

Transfer the sauteed spinach to a bowl and serve it up!

adding lemon to italian sauteed spinach

Italian Sauteed Spinach Tips and Tricks

So, I’m sharing some of my favorite tips and tricks. Trust me, they’ve transformed many of my spinach escapades from good to truly memorable. If you’re ready to give your spinach that extra flair, let’s get into it!

The Best Type of Spinach for Sautéing:

Baby Spinach: Tender and delicate, baby spinach is often preferred for sautéing because of its mild flavor and quick cooking time. It’s perfect for a fast, easy dish.
Mature Spinach: This variety has larger, thicker leaves and a more robust flavor. If using mature spinach, remember to remove the stems, which can be tough, and increase the cooking time slightly.

How to Store and Keep Spinach Fresh:

Refrigeration: Store fresh spinach in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator. Place it in a plastic storage bag, but don’t seal it completely. Letting a little air circulate can prevent excess moisture and prolong its freshness.
Avoid Dampness: Never store spinach when it’s wet. If you wash it before storing, ensure it’s thoroughly dried. Excess moisture can lead to rapid decay.
Use Within a Week: To enjoy its best taste and nutritional value, consume spinach within a week of purchasing.

Alternative Cheeses That Can Be Used:

Pecorino Romano: Similar to Parmesan, this cheese is salty and sharp, adding a rich flavor to the sautéed spinach.
Grana Padano: A subtler alternative to Parmesan, it melts beautifully and gives a creamy texture to the dish.
Asiago: A semi-hard cheese with a nutty flavor that can also complement the spinach well.
Feta: For a tangier twist, crumble some feta over the spinach after sautéing. It pairs well with the lemon and gives a Mediterranean flair to the dish.

Flavor Boosters:

Nutmeg: A pinch can elevate the dish, offering a background warmth.
Red Pepper Flakes: For those who enjoy a kick, sprinkle a little to enhance the flavor.

Cooking Techniques:

Don’t Overcrowd the Pan: Cooking spinach in batches ensures even wilting and prevents a watery result.
Quick Cook: Spinach releases its juices fast. Sauté just until wilted to retain flavor and nutrients.

Olive Oil Alternatives:

Butter: For a richer flavor, use unsalted butter. It gives the spinach a creamy texture.
Garlic-Infused Oil: Enhance the garlic note by using garlic-infused oil. A double hit for garlic lovers!

Presentation:

Squeeze of Lemon: Before serving, add an extra squeeze of lemon for added zest.
Toasted Pine Nuts: For crunch and a nutty flavor, sprinkle some on top.

Pairings with Wine

Sautéed spinach, with its earthy tones accented by the sharpness of garlic and the brightness of lemon, is a dish that invites a thoughtful wine pairing. Here are some suggestions to make your meal even more delightful:

Suggested Wines for Sauteed Spinach:

Sauvignon Blanc: Its crisp acidity and hints of green and citrus fruits beautifully mirror the fresh, green quality of spinach, and its minerality can resonate with the earthiness of the vegetable.
Pinot Grigio: A versatile white wine that’s light on the palate, making it a refreshing companion to the richness of the sautéed spinach and Parmesan.
Vermentino: Native to Italy, this white wine has a zesty lemon quality with hints of almond and a touch of saline, complementing the spinach’s natural flavors.
Light-bodied White Wines: These wines, often with higher acidity, can refresh the palate between bites, especially when the spinach is enhanced with rich ingredients like garlic and Parmesan. They ensure the dish remains light and enjoyable from start to finish.

Profiles of Recommended Wines:

Sauvignon Blanc: Aromas of lime, green apple, passion fruit, and, occasionally, it has characteristic notes of bell pepper or freshly cut grass.
Pinot Grigio: Exhibits notes of white flowers, pear, and a hint of spice, making it an unobtrusive but elegant pairing.
Vermentino: Offers a burst of citrus, floral tones, and occasionally a hint of bitterness, akin to almond skin, making it an intriguing match with our Italian spinach dish.

Serving Suggestions

 

The beauty of Italian sautéed spinach lies not only in its rich flavors but also in its versatility. This dish, bursting with the vibrant aromas of garlic, lemon, and Parmesan, can be enjoyed in various ways to suit any meal:

As a Side Dish: Its savory notes and fresh texture make sautéed spinach an ideal accompaniment to pasta dishes, especially those with creamy sauces where its brightness can cut through the richness. Pair it with meat dishes too, whether it’s a juicy steak, grilled chicken, or even a tender roast. The spinach balances and complements the flavors beautifully.

On Toasted Rustic Bread: For a quick yet delicious treat, heap generous portions of sautéed spinach atop a toasted slice of rustic bread. The crunchy base contrasts with the tender spinach, creating a delightful interplay of textures. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil or sprinkle some chili flakes if you’re in the mood for an extra kick.

As a Filling: Elevate your sandwiches or wraps by adding a layer of this Italian sautéed spinach. It pairs wonderfully with classic ingredients like grilled chicken, fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella. Or keep it vegetarian with some roasted bell peppers, fresh cucumber slices, and a dollop of hummus.

Italian Sauteed Spinach FAQs

Q: Should I use the same method of cooking for baby spinach and regular spinach?
A: When you use regular spinach there is a little more prep work involved. I recommend washing the regular spinach thoroughly to remove any dirt and sand that can get stuck in between the leaves and stems. You can run it through a salad spinner or pat it with paper towels to dry it.

I also recommend blanching the regular spinach leaves in boiling water before you saute it.

Q: Can I use any other vegetables with this recipe?
A: Yes. Feel free to use your favorite greens. This recipe will work with most leafy green vegetables such as Swiss Chard, mustard greens and escarole.

Q: What can I do with the leftover sauteed spinach?
A: The leftovers can be used on a pizza, in a calzone or in stuffed chicken breast with prosciutto and mozzarella.

Q: What to Serve with Italian Sauteed Spinach?
A: This spinach recipe will go well with just about any main meal. I always like a garlicky spinach on the side when I have a big, juicy steak.

This spinach also goes great with chicken Marsala. The mushrooms and Marsala sauce are a good compliment to the garlic spinach.

Serve the spinach on the side with pork chops. I like to stuff the pork chops with fontina cheese and prosciutto and cook them in a lemon, wine and butter sauce.

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italian sauteed spinach

Italian Sauteed Spinach with Garlic, Lemon and Parmesan


  • Author: Mortadella Head
  • Total Time: 18 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Ingredients

Scale

16 oz of Baby Spinach

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese

½ of a fresh lemon

Salt and pepper to taste


Instructions

  1. Add olive oil to the bottom of the skillet and turn the stove on low heat.
  2. Let the garlic cook for about 3-5 minutes until it becomes golden brown.
  3. Add your spinach to the pan and season it with a generous pinch of salt and some black pepper. If your pan will not hold all of the raw spinach, do it in batches and allow some spinach to wilt in the pan before you add more.
  4. After you add the spinach to the pan turn the stove up to medium heat.
  5. Toss the spinach in the olive oil and garlic for about 5 minutes on medium heat or until the spinach is completely wilted.
  6. Add your grated parmesan cheese and a small amount of water to the pan.
  7. Turn up the stove to medium-high heat. Toss the spinach and grated parmesan in the pan for about one minute. Add more salt if necessary.
  8. When the grated parmesan cheese is melted and incorporated into the spinach add a good squeeze of lemon juice to the pan and give it a couple final tosses.
  9. Enjoy!
  • Prep Time: 5
  • Cook Time: 13
  • Category: Side Dishes
  • Method: Sauteeing
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: italian sauteed spinach

1 thought on “Italian Sauteed Spinach: A Flavorful Medley with Garlic, Lemon, and Parmesan”

  1. Thanks for this recipe. Reminds me of our trip to Italy this summer. Perfectly proportioned ingredients, easy recipe to follow & a beautiful side dish! The whole family loved it, even the 14yo who “hates” spinach! Grazie!

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