For worse or better, Florentine has come to mean a dish cooked with spinach. Worse are some of the gloppy dishes dubbed alla fiorentina in pseudo-Italian restaurants. Better is this elegant and old-skooly breakfast or lunch dish
The cleaning of the spinach may seem a little fussy but it’s worth it. Flat leaf spinach with thin stems has enough body to stand up to baking but is tender enough to go with the eggs. If you do use bagged spinach leaves, choose the thinnest, lightest in color leaves with the thinnest stems possible. I imagine this can be made with packages of baby spinach (three 5-ounce packs) but I don’t imagine there would be a lot of body to the finished dish. You can try it and prove me wrong. I love to proved wrong.
Makes 4 servings
2 bunches (about 14 ounces each) flat leaf spinach, preferable with thin stems or 2 packages (10 ounces) fresh spinach
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons whipped or regular cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons half-and-half or light cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg, optional
1 tablespoons thinly sliced chives, optional
4 extra-large eggs
If you’re feeling fancy: Hawaiian red sea salt, Himalayan pink salt or any other “hey-I-know-my-stuff” salt
Remove the ties that hold the bunches of spinach together. Cut off most of the stems in one fell swoop. Don’t worry if you get all the stems off or if some of the leaves are left with the stems. Pick quickly over the pile of stems and add any leaves to the leaf pile. Do the same to the leaf pile, getting rid of any wilty leaves and any stems that seam too thick for you. Don’t spend a ton of time doing this; even if you’re left with some stems in the leaf pile, they will cook just as quickly at the leaves. Wash and rinse your sink. Fill it with cool water. Add the leaves and swish them around. Wait a minute or two and repeat. Waiting gives the dirt and grit time to settle to the bottom. Spin the spinach leaves dry, preferably in a salad spinner.
Heat the oven to 400°F.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy 4- or 5-quart pot over medium heat until foaming. Stir in the spinach, a handful at a time, and cook just until wilted, about 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the half-and-half to the cream cheese, whisking constantly until smooth. Pour over the spinach. Add about 3 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese, the salt, pepper and nutmeg (if using) to taste. Arrange the spinach in an even layer over the bottom of a 12-inch oval or 11- by 7-inch baking dish. This much can be done up to a few hours before serving and left at room temperature. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap pressed lightly onto the surface of the spinach.
Using the back of a large kitchen spoon or ice cream scoop, make four indentations (more or less evenly spaced) in the spinach for the eggs to rest in. Break the eggs into their spinach nests without breaking the yolks. Sprinkle the eggs with the remaining 1 tablespoon cheese, the chives (if using) and a small amount of salt (fancy—see ingredient list—or regular) and pepper.
Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the whites are just set, about 12 minutes. (If you like your yolks very runny, bake the spinach alone for about 5 minutes, them carefully add the eggs and continue baking until the egg whites are set.) Spoon some of the spinach, topped with an egg, onto each of 4 serving plates. Serve over or alongside a split and toasted English muffin or slice of toast.