• Spinach
Spinach
Tender and nutritious spinach leaves add freshness to spring cooking - serve as a side dish, or add to salad bowls for colour and flavour.
Use mild-flavoured leaves in salads, or more mature late summer and autumnal varieties in soups and stews.

Like many leafy vegetables, it's been rough-handled in the past. Overcooked and watery leaves haven't done it any favours either. The trick is in quick cooking methods, which retain maximum freshness.

In the shops
It's worth buying bunches of spinach in markets rather than ready-packed varieties. Although washing the leaves does take time, you'll find its taste and price makes it a worthwhile purchase. Pre-washed leaves should also be rinsed at home before cooking - this washes away any soapy or chemical residue left over from processing.

Fresh spinach should be a vibrant dark green - discard and wilting, bruised or yellowing leaves.

Store the leaves in the fridge and use within a day or two after buying, to preserve its fresh flavour and nutrients.

Its leaves contain a huge amount of water - 500g will cook down to barely 3 tablespoons.

Spinach beet, an alternative name for chard, is actually a type of beetroot cultivated for its leaves rather than its bulb.

In the kitchen
The best way to cook spinach down is in olive oil, rather than plunging the leaves in boiling water. This way, more of the natural flavour is retained. Try adding a few toasted pine nuts and a sprinkling of raisins for a sweet, nutty contrast to the leaves.

Versatile and tasteful, spinach combines well with other ingredients - notables include dairy products - cream and cheese, and eggs.

Great in pasta dishes, flans and stuffing, spinach is also popular in Greek-style pies made with filo pastry, try combining it with Feta cheese.

Mushrooms, garlic and chillies are just a few other flavour combinations that work particularly well. One of the best fish pairings is with smoked haddock and spinach.

A grate of nutmeg in purees and soups enhances its natural sweetness.

Did you know...
Spinach is sometimes used to make fillings for sweet Italian pies, where it's combined with eggs, honey, spices and almonds.