My father recently celebrated his 82nd birthday. In our family, we aren’t big on presents or cards, instead we honor the occasion with a dinner and family gathering. For dad’s birthday, we prepared a wonderful Provencal fish soup (recipe to come later) and this spinach gratin with hard boiled eggs dotting the surface. Certain foods I associate with my dad, beets for example, or sauerkraut, and then of course spinach. When we were kids, we always had cans in the pantry (Popeye!). Later, he turned to fresh spinach from the farmers market. Because of my father, we are a family of spinach lovers. This gratin is a popular side dish served in the south of France. I would never have thought to add hard boiled eggs to spinach, but it’s a fabulous combination. The gratin is made with lots of spinach, either fresh and blanched or frozen and drained, mixed in with a simple white béchamel sauce seasoned with nutmeg and black pepper. Halves of hard boiled eggs dot the surface, and the whole thing is sprinkled with grated gruyere cheese and seasoned breadcrumbs. This gratin would make an excellent side for an Easter dinner, and you can easily make it a day ahead and heat before serving. Enjoy!
If you want, you can also sauté some chopped onion, and/or a persillade of minced garlic and parsley to mix in with the cooked spinach and béchamel. Either way. Without these aromatics, a cleaner flavor of the spinach comes through.
- 3 pounds of fresh spinach, cleaned (or 24 ounces of frozen spinach, thawed and drained)
- 2 cups of milk
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or 3/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg if you aren't starting with a whole nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
- 1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese (about 1 ounce)
- 6 hard boiled eggs*
- 3 to 4 Tbsp seasoned bread crumbs**
- Olive oil
*To hard boil eggs, place eggs in a 2-quart saucepan and cover with at least an inch of cold water. Bring the water to a boil, remove the pan from heat, and cover. Let sit for 10-12 minutes, covered. Then run under cold water to keep from overcooking. Crack the shells while the eggs are still under water and let sit for a while to cool before peeling.
**To make your own bread crumbs, take a few slices of day old bread and toast either in a toaster or in the oven until browned, then pulse in a food processor or blender until you have crumbs. Stir in a little herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning and a little salt to taste.
1 If working with fresh spinach, blanche the spinach in boiling water for 1 minute, drain and run cool water over it to cool it down. Press as much water as you can out of the spinach. (A good way to do this is to put the drained spinach in the center of a large, clean tea towel, wrap it with the towel, and wring the moisture out by wringing the towel.) Chop the spinach. Place in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and set aside while you make the béchamel.
2 Heat milk in a medium saucepan until steamy, set aside. In a separate saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter on medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour, whisking the mixture until smooth, about a minute or two. Remove from heat. Slowly pour in the hot milk, whisking the whole time so that the mixture is not lumpy. Continue to whisk until there are no lumps. Return the pan to heat and let heat to a simmer, continuing to whisk to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The béchamel sauce will thicken as it cooks. Sprinkle in the ground nutmeg and black pepper.
3 Stir the thickened béchamel sauce into the bowl of spinach.
4 Grease the inside of a 2-quart gratin pan or casserole all around with a little butter. Pour the spinach béchamel mixture into a gratin pan, and even out the surface. Sprinkle the surface with the grated Gruyere cheese. Slice the hard boiled eggs in half, and arrange, cut side up, on the surface of the spinach mixture. Press into the spinach mixture so that the cut side of the eggs are level with the spinach. Sprinkle with 3 to 4 tablespoons of seasoned bread crumbs. Drizzle the top with a tablespoon or so of olive oil. At this point you can make the gratin a day ahead and chill until ready to cook to serve.
5 Bake, uncovered, in a 375°F oven for 25-30 minutes, until nicely browned.