Nigel Slater’s recipe for spinach, fennel and parmesan
Wash 150g of fresh, vibrant spinach leaves. While they are still wet, put them in a deep saucepan with a lid. Place them over a moderate heat and let them cook in their own steam for 2 minutes. Have a large bowl of iced water ready. Remove the lid, turn the spinach leaves over with kitchen tongs, then let them wilt for a further minute. When they are bright green and soft, drain in a colander and immediately lower into the bowl of iced water. This will arrest their cooking and brighten their colour.
Half-fill the pan with water, put it back on the heat and bring it to the boil. Top and tail 150g of yellow or green beans and drop them into the boiling water. Let them cook for a couple of minutes then drain and set them aside.
Warm a griddle pan. Slice a head of fennel into pieces slightly thicker than a pound coin, then brush them with a little olive oil. Cook the fennel on the grill for 5-10 minutes, until it softens.
Pour 3 tbsp of your favourite olive oil into a large mixing bowl. Gently squeeze the spinach leaves to remove any water, but try not to crush them. Turn the leaves gently in the olive oil and season them with a little salt and pepper. Add the beans and the grilled fennel to the spinach then grate in the zest of half a lemon. Add a little lemon juice to taste.
Scatter a generous handful of grated parmesan over the salad and turn gently with your hands so that everything is coated with oil, seasoning and cheese. Transfer to plates, grate over a little more parmesan and serve. Enough for 2.
Folding the cooked spinach leaves in the olive oil gives them a pleasing silky texture. The leaves should be very lightly steamed for barely a minute or two, before their cooking is arrested by plunging them into a mixture of water and ice cubes. As you drain them, you should squeeze the water from them gently, so they don’t end up looking like frozen spinach.
The simple olive oil and lemon dressing is enriched with grated parmesan. You could forgo the cheese and include a few anchovy fillets or perhaps a thinly sliced salami (the fennel-seed variety, finocchiona, would be quite perfect).