A few years back, I was asked to consult on the opening of an Italian American style restaurant in Branson, MO. which is known as Florentina’s, so I gave it a menu that resembled the culinary styles of the region of Italy known as Florence with American flare. Years later, like any restaurant, the menu is changed , but the essence of good food is still there and likely worth a visit when you’re in Branson There was a common question in formulating the menu at Florentina’s “Where is the spinach“, a great misunderstand lies within that question. Many assume the term, Florentine, or , alla Florentine” refers to any Italian dish that contains spinach, not so. Let’s take a closer look.
The most common reference to “Florentine” is Eggs Florentine, coddled eggs on a bed of spinach finished with a classic Mornay sauce, then gratinated, yet, like Eggs Benedict they are not Italian, but rather, a French creation, Eggs Benedict a New York creation. Spinach is said to be the favorite vegetable of the fourteen-year-old Catherine de’ Medici, became the wife of France’s Henry II in 1533. Not caring for the cooks of the French court, she brought her own with her from her home area of Florence, who, by their mastery of the French kitchen formulated the dishes served to the liking of Catherine, many of which contained her favorite vegetable. Therefore, over time, any dish that contained “properly” made spinach was titled as Florentine.
I use the word “properly” because most restaurants fail miserably in the making of simple Florentine dishes, like Eggs Florentine. They simply plop a pile of unseasonable steamed or boiled spinach on a plate, top that mess with a couple of over poached eggs and finish it with a Hollandaise sauce, wrong in so many areas. At the very minimum the spinach should be gently poached in butter and lightly seasoned, yet a very good restaurant will prepare a proper “Spinaci alla Fiorentina” to create the classic dish or any other that may require a Florentine treatment to complete like the Chef K’s Butter Poached Salmon picture above. To make a classic Eggs Florentine, make the Spinaci alla Florentina, top with coddled eggs, the cover with the Mornay sauce and finish with lightly broiling (gratinated) in your oven or under a salamander, you may place the mixture first on a English muffin or a toast rusk if you desire, then serve at once. So to Florentine a dish, do it right, enjoy it well.
Try Chef K’s Butter Poach Salmon alla Florentine, the recipe follows.
Spinaci alla Fiorentina
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1⁄2 cups milk
3 lbs fresh spinach
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano
1 pinch grated nutmeg
butter, to oil the pan
Make a balsamella by melting the butter in a heavy saucepan on low heat. When the butter reaches the frothing point add the flour. Mix well with a spoon and let cook until the color is a light brown — don’t over cook — undercooking is preferable — meanwhile heat the milk in a small pan — when the milk is warm add a little at a time to the flour mixture — the origional recipe calls for adding all the milk at once but I find I get less lumps if I add a little at a time whisking continuously — your goal is a nice creamy sauce. Remove from heat an cover until needed.
Make sure spinach is clean and cut out any tough stems. Chop coarsely.
Place olive oil in a pan and warm on medium heat. Add the garlic and spinach. Toss and cook until wilted and the garlic is lightly browned.
Toss the spinach with the balsamella. Add the cheese, nutmeg salt and pepper to taste.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 13 1/2 X 8 3/4 inch baking dish.
Pour the spinach mixture into the dish and bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 25 minutes. The top should be a little brown and bubbling.
(Omit the cheese for Bechamel sauce)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
pinch of ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
2 ounces (1/2 cup) grated hard cheese (Gruyère, Swiss, Cheddar, Parmesan)
Heat a medium sized saucepan over medium-high heat and when hot, add the butter. When the butter melts, add the flour and start whisking.
You want to be careful not to let the butter burn or the flour to turn brown. It’s only going to take a minute to a minute and a half for the roux to start turning a pale yellow.
Slowly add the milk in a stream while constantly whisking and whisking some more. Bring the sauce to a boil and immediately lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes, being careful not to let the sauce burn by whisking frequently.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the nutmeg, season with salt & pepper and stir. You now have a bechamel sauce.
Still off heat, add the grated cheese and whisk until all the cheese melts into the sauce. It should be thick and smooth.
Taste and adjust seasoning with salt & pepper and you now have Mornay sauce
Bring 1,5 inches of water, 1/2 tbsp of salt and 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice to a simmer in a deep saucepan. Carefully place an egg into the water, by cracking directly into the water or by cracking into a small bowl first and then place the egg to the hot water.
Stir the simmering water with a wooden spoon so it swirls gently around the egg. Allow the egg to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, so the white is set but the yolk has not cooked all the way through. Cook each egg separately. Use a slotted spoon to scoop each egg from the water and drain on a clean paper towel.
Chef K’s Butter Poach Salmon alla Florentine
A constructed dish, first Shrimp Rissotto, topped with Spinaci alla Fiorentina, then the piece of salmon and finished with spiral fried beets.
4 Cups seafood broth
1 Teaspoon Saffron Threads
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
2 small shallots, minced
2 Celery stalks – finely chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic. minced
2 Cups Risotto Rice
20 asparagus, diced
7 oz raw peeled shrimp/prawns seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
A handful of flat leaf parsley – chopped
2/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring stock to a simmer in a saucepan; add the saffron and leave to infuse.
Blanch the asparagus in a pan of boiling water until just tender, refresh under cold water, then slice into lengths.
In a separate pan, saute the shallots, and celery in 2 tablespoons butter together until they are cooked and soft but not browned.
Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Add all the rice in one go and stir it around with the other ingredients to toast the grains thoroughly without browning.
Raise the heat to high, add the wine and reduce it until nearly all of the liquid is absorbed into the rice.
Stir in half the stock, reduce the heat, stir and simmer uncovered 15-18 until the rice is just under cooked , add the remaining stock in small amounts allowing the rice to absorb the liquid, continue until the rice is cooked “Al dente” and very creamy.
Add the Shrimp, and cook until pink (about 3 minutes).
Add in the asparagus spears, lemon juice, and chopped parsley. Mix together, taking care not to destroy the asparagus spears or the Shrimp.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Before serving, mix in the remaining butter & the cheese.
Butter Poached Salmon
2 tablespoons Creole seasonings
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Soy sauce
4-6 oz portion, boneless, skinless salmon (Chinook Salmon / King Salmon, Coho Salmon / Silver Salmon, Pink or Atlantic)
6 ounces unsalted butter (divided use)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely diced shallots
In a small mixing bowl, blend the seasonings with the Worcestershire and soy sauces. Place the salmon in a small square baking dish, spread half the seasoning mix over the fish, turn the fish over then spread the remaining mix over the fish, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Heat two tablespoons of the butter in a medium sized sauce pan over medium heat. Add chopped shallots and cook until they are translucent. Make sure that the butter does not brown. Add lemon juice and remaining butter. When the butter has melted, add the fish. Gently place the fish into the pan. The cooking liquid should cover the fish 2/3 up the side of the fish. Turn the temperature high and allow the fish to cook for three minutes once the cooking liquid begins to boil. Turn the heat down and allow to cook on low for an additional minute.
Deep Fried Beets Strings
1 large, medium beet
4 cups Canola Oil For Deep Frying
Trim the ends from the beet. Place the beet in boiling water for 3 minutes, then cool in cold water. Blanching the beet this way makes it easier to peel. Using a spiral cutter turn the beets in fine long strings, place in cold water for 30 minutes.Drain, then blot with paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
Heat 3 inches of oil in a deep fryer to 375°F. Add the beet strings without over filling the pan. Turn when the beet strands are golden brown. Brown the other side; remove and drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve at once.