One of the most beloved cartoon characters of all-time Popeye was known to guzzle down spinach by the bucket load to gain super strength. Creators of the show credited the plant’s high iron content with their decision to make it the superfood on the show, but tragically that legendary iron content has proven to be no more than a myth.
The rumour began when German chemist Erich von Wolf made a simple decimal point error when he declared the food’s iron content, suggesting that it had ten times as much as it really does. The food’s rise to the top of the health chain was meteoric, with Popeye becoming so popular during the Great Depression that spinach came third in a list of American children’s favourite foods (after turkey and ice cream).
The sad thing is the discovery of this error in fact has lead to the doughty little plant falling from grace a bit, which is a deep shame, as it actually has a number of genuine health benefits that make it an essential part of a healthy diet.
As well as being a great source of calcium and vitamin D, dietary fibre, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C, Spinach is also a rich source of Vitamin K which the body uses for complete synthesis of certain proteins that are needed for blood coagulation or for controlling binding of calcium in bones and other tissues. It also contains numerous substances shown to strengthens eyesight and the immune system while helping to promote a healthy heart.
Now that we know what it’s good for we can look at our recipe of the week, which is a divine and tasty way to get that all-important leafy vegetable into our bodies. Spinach and Ricotta blend together perfectly and have become an iconic part of Italian cooking. It tastes great, is healthy and, because it’s meat-free, is good for the environment as well.
- For the sauce
- 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 600 g Pesto Princess Tomato Soup
- 1 small bunch basil, chopped (keep a few leaves for garnishing)
- 3 Tbsp Pesto Princess Sundried Tomato Pesto
- For the filling
- Olive oil
- 400 g spinach, chard or baby spinach
- 400 g ricotta cheese
- 40 g Parmesan, finely grated
- 2 eggs
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- Salt and pepper
- For the assembly
- ± 20 dried cannelloni pasta tubes (approximately 250 g)
- 125 g ball of mozzarella
- 60 g Parmesan, finely grated
1. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pan. Add the onion and garlic, and cook over medium-low heat until the garlic is golden.
2. Add the Pesto Princess Tomato Soup and reduce for about 20-30 minutes.
3. Add the basil leaves, Pesto Princess Sundried Tomato Pesto and season well. Simmer for five minutes and set aside.
4. For the filling, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large pan, over low heat. Add the spinach and cook until bright and wilted. Set aside to cool before squeezing out any excess water. Chop finely.
5. Combine the spinach, ricotta, parmesan, egg and nutmeg.
6. To assemble, preheat the oven to 200°C (non-fan assisted). Spoon the ricotta mixture into a large piping bag without a nozzle and fill the cannelloni tubes. If you don’t have a piping bag, improvise by snipping the corner off a clean shopping bag, or ziplock bag.
7. In a large baking dish, add half the tomato sauce and then lay the filled cannelloni on top. Pour over the remaining tomato sauce, cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes.
8. Remove the foil, top with mozzarella and grated Parmesan and cook for another 10 -15 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling and the pasta is fork tender. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving with a scattering of fresh basil leaves.