Raisins (Recipe: spinach, golden raisin and parmesan tart)
Guest post and photos by Peter in Brazil, chef and co-owner of Pousada do Capão
Raisins were an integral ingredient in my New England culinary upbringing. The California Sun Maid was a pantry icon, on a par with the original 1950’s versions of Vermont Maid, Betty Crocker, the Campbell's twins, Uncle Ben, and Aunt Jemima before their numerous plastic surgeries.
The brown bread that accompanied our favorite hot dogs and beans on Saturday night (i.e., bath night) had to have raisins. My father always threw a handful into the breakfast cream of wheat. Hermits weren’t hermits unless studded with those plump, sweet beauties. And nothing was better than snacking right from the box.
In my innocence, though, I knew nothing of the exotic pleasures of golden raisins.
I don’t remember when I tasted my first, but for me, the tangy, honeyed notes of the golden variety bring the raisin to new heights. Interestingly enough, it turns out that they are really just the same old grapes soaked in water, and then flame- or oven-dried instead of dried by the sun, sometimes with a dash of sulfur dioxide to help retain that gorgeous color.
Here's a bit of raisin trivia:
- It takes four tons of grapes to make one ton of raisins.
- Raisins are approximately 65 percent fructose, and a source of quick energy.
- Doctors in ancient Rome prescribed raisins as a cure for anything from old age to mushroom poisoning, and so inflated their worth. One could purchase a slave for a mere two jars of raisins.
- Raisins are rich in antioxidants, high in fiber, low in sodium, and fat- and cholesterol-free.
- Half of the world’s raisins are grown in California. Ninety-five percent of California raisins are dried Thompson Seedless grapes.
- Legend says that the California raisin industry was born in 1873, when a prolonged pre-harvest heat wave turned grapes to raisins right on the vine.
- Don’t feed raisins to your dogs! They can cause kidney failure and worse.
- A modern folk remedy swears that eating nine golden raisins soaked in gin daily relieves arthritis pain.
- Sultana raisins (dried white sultana grapes) reputedly were named for an Ottoman sultan who had to leave his grape-munching to flee an attacking tiger. The grapes were abandoned, dried in the hot sun and voilà.
- Zante currants are really raisins, dried from Black Corinth grapes.
- A Victorian parlor game, Snapdragon, played in the dark on Halloween and Christmas Eve, involved snatching raisins from a bowl of flaming brandy and popping them alight into one's mouth.
I prefer golden to dark raisins in savory recipes because of their more complex flavor and the balance of acid and sugar. Here in Brazil, raisins pair with eggplant in a type of caponata, and we always put them in our rich whore's rice (arroz de puta rica), which has just about everything but the kitchen sink in it. For sweet recipes, I'll use a mixture of both varieties, whether in New England classics or Brazilian treats like bolo ingles, a lighter version of fruitcake.
Spinach, golden raisin and parmesan tart
Your choice of cheese really depends upon your budget; use real Parmigiano-Reggiano if you can, but there are some domestic brands that are decent substitutes at half the price. I use frozen chopped spinach because it is so convenient, but purists can certainly opt for the real garden variety. If you use fresh spinach, blanch or steam, then drain, squeeze out as much water as possible, and chop. Squeezing out most of the liquid lets the spinach absorb the custard. Serves 6 as a first course.
Pastry crust, recipe of your choice (or store-bought pie crust), for a 9-inch single-crust tart, baked blind in a tart ring or pan with a removable bottom
2 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove as much water as possible
2 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, coarsely grated
1/2 cup golden raisins
Combine thawed, squeezed spinach in a bowl with the cream, eggs, 1/2 cup grated cheese, raisins, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well to break up the spinach. Adjust seasoning; the mixture should be slightly salty. Store in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight so the spinach and raisins can absorb the cream and the flavors can mellow.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Fill the pre-baked tart shell (or pie crust) with spinach filling, and smooth out to level. The filling should not be more than 1/3-inch thick. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake until set and golden. Let cool slightly or to room temperature, and cut into wedges.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Sweet potato, lentil and raisin stew
Turkey meatloaf with fig gravy
Couscous with orange and dried fruit
Cod with raisins, nuts and apples
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That really sounds delicious! I agree with the better balanced taste of golden raisins.
I used to love raisin without realising that the goodness of it. Thanks for the informative post.
I must admit I'm not much of a raisin fan (they're just too sweet for me), but the golden raisins sound like they might be better. I'll have to give them a try.
"A modern folk remedy swears that eating nine golden raisins soaked in gin daily relieves arthritis pain." - - I've heard this before, and must admit I wonder if it's the gin or the raisins that are easing the pain. :-)
"A Victorian parlor game, Snapdragon, played in the dark on Halloween and Christmas Eve, involved snatching raisins from a bowl of flaming brandy and popping them alight into one's mouth." - - Isn't there a snapdragon in one of the the Alice in Wonderland books? I think Tenniel even drew a picture of one.
my mum used to pack little sun maid boxes of raisins in our lunch boxes. i loved munching on raisins pure - until a few years ago i never quite got to having raisins in my savory dishes, even though it is very common in Indian cuisine. but as one get older i think tastes develop too - so this is something i really need to try!
Ah, we had the eternal box of Sunmaid raisins under the counter in the kitchen all the time when I was a kid and I loved them! I also loved the tiny snack boxes. Raisins in France are just not the same.
Yet,I love throwing a handful of raisins in so many savory dishes and they pair so well with lamb, my favorite. This tart looks particularly savory and delicious and a wonderful way to serve spinach.
I remember eating the little boxes of Sunmaid raisins when I was a kid, too. However, my favorites were the ones coated in cinnamon sugar. Does anyone else remember those?
I was never fond of raisins until I discovered the golden ones. Spinach, parmesan and raisins is a tempting flavor combination I might like and will have to try. Thanks for the idea!
Oh my..."eating nine golden raisins soaked in gin relieves arthritis pain." Methinks it's the gin relieving that pain, not the raisins ;) but who am I to complain about either?!
Interesting recipe here, I've bookmarked it to make in the future. We're a household of spinach lovers so it sounds tantalizing to me.
I love raisins in rice and tajines. Yum.
I only saw golden raisins at my grandmother's house, into the late 1950's. Is it an ethnic thing or are they having a renaissance?
mae - Thanks. The sweet-tart taste is nicely offset here by the tang of the parmesan.
My Taste Heaven - You're welcome. I think it's time to start eating them again. But try the golden ones.
Sandra - I think you will like this. It is simple and delicious. And I agree that the gin is probably what does the trick. You are quite the lierary buff and absolutely correct about Lewis Carroll's snapdragon. I bet you are a whiz at Jeopardy.
Meeta - You are obviously way younger than I. I'm from the era before personal packaging, but my kids loved those little boxes too.
Jamie - Funny that the Franch don't have good raisins since it's a French word. Lamb is my favorite meat. Send your recipe.
Janel - I never ever saw those and my teeth are screaming just thinking about them. I'm not real big on sweets. In fact sometimes people aren't sure whether my desserts are really desserts.
Cora - You're welcome. The combo is great. I hope you do try it.
Sandie - So why not just a swig of gin. I remember my mother giving gin to my poor sister for those horrid cramps. I love spinach too, but here we only get the New Zealand variety because real spinach can't handle the climate.
Natashya - Along with honey and maple syrup. Lydia is the tagins queen. She gotta have millions of recipes.
susan g - Your grannie was quite the gourmet. I never saw golden raisins untl way later than the 50's. I don't think it's particularly ethnic since most of them come from California.
That looks awesome. I love spinach mixed with raisins.
Raisins are my go to snack but I rarely ever cook with them for some reason.
Great facts about raisins too.
You always have the most interesting posts. I love raisins also especially the golden kind. I ususally soak them first in hot water to plump them up before using in any recipe.
The Food Hunter - Thanks. Then you know just what I am talking about.
Jeff - Glad you liked the raisin facts and hope this inspires you to cook with them sometime.
Treehouse Chef - I love it people think I'm interesting. I didn't plump them first here because I wanted then to soak up some of the heavy cream...
I love when you mix things together. How creative is this? Right up my flavor-alley.
I adore savory uses of raisins. This is a lovely recipe, Peter.
I never had tasted spinach with raisin but
seems very good.I'll prepare this recipe and
I'll enjoy it!
dawn - This actually came out of my Italian phase. I love the way they balance salt, sweet, sour, with sometimes the a bit of bitter.
Susan from Food Blogga - Thanks Susan. You know I first made this tart back when studying with Madeleine Kamman - she was thrilled - and I've never ever shared it with anyone until now. But it's just so simple and so good that I figured it was high time to share.
Charles Robert - You will and you will, I hope.
Yum, I love savory tarts! I've also never had Spinach and raisins together-but what the heck, they're both good for you and taste good so why not?!
This is a very creative use for raisins! I usually am not a fan of raisins but I could see them complementing this spinach tart perfectly.
A cure for old age? Quick, where are my raisins?
I love all kinds of raisins. My mother always packed a little box in my lunch.