Home cooking has changed a bit in the six decades since River Roads Recipes was published in 1959, so it is worth revisiting and updating this classic. I grew up in Baton Rouge eating from that cookbook, but I’ve been cooking this updated version for a few years. It is time to actually write it down.
First, use good cheese. Cheese is the backbone of this dish, so upgrading from Velveeta to Tillamook is the biggest improvement.
Next, use fresh aromatics instead of celery salt and garlic salt. Use fresh jalapeño to replace the heat in the jalapeño Velveeta. I increase the amounts of the onion and celery and also add in the celery leaves because I like celery (a lot). I probably use more than the amounts given here, so do what feels right. These fresh vegetables will release a bit of liquid while cooking, so you might not need the spinach cooking liquor.
Buttered breadcrumbs are an optional, tasty upgrade. This already has enough butter that it is hard to argue against another tablespoon.
The last change is to reduce the salt from 1 1/2 teaspoons to 1/2 teaspoon because the original is a bit salty for current tastes. This makes the salt a flavor enhancer instead of an up-front flavor on its own.
You can compare this to the original recipe.
Finally, this is a family recipe, so make it a tradition and make it your own. Serve it at Thanksgiving or Christmas or both. Birthdays, too. Too spicy or not spicy enough? Change it. Prefer Monterey Jack cheese? Do it. Want to add some smoked paprika or harissa? Fine with me. Like chard better than spinach? I do too.
Updated, customized, or original, enjoy!
45-60 minutes total
30 minutes prep
15-30 minutes in the oven
- 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped, with leaves
- 1 jalapeño, minced (see directions)
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup vegetable liquor (the liquid reserved from cooking the spinach)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 6 oz good medium cheddar, like Tillamook, shredded
- 1/2 cup buttered breadcrumbs, for topping (optional)
- Turn on the oven, set to 350º.
- Chop the onion and celery. Prep the garlic. They all go in together, so you do not need to keep them separated.
- Taste a small slice of the jalapeño to see how hot it is; there can be a big range of heat. If it is pretty hot, use the whole pepper. If you are immediately reaching for a glass of milk, use half or quarter of it. The dish needs to have some zing, so don’t back off too much.
- Cook spinach as directed on package (usually 8-10 minutes); reserve 1/2 cup liquid (spinach pot liquor); drain well.
- Melt butter in saucepan over low heat.
- Whisk in flour until smooth.
- Add the onion, celery, jalapeño, and garlic, increase heat to medium low, and cook until soft but not brown, 5-7 minutes.
- Add the evaporated milk and stir constantly until smooth and thickened. Add some spinach liquor if the sauce is too thick.
- Stir in salt, pepper, Worcestershire, and cheese; continue stirring until sauce is smooth.
- Combine with spinach.
- Pour into a 1 1/2-quart casserole and top with breadcrumbs.
- Bake at 350ºF until heated through and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes (original timing). Mine seems to always take 30 minutes to get bubbly, plus that browns the breadcrumbs just a bit.