A short trip to loving spinach

Although it's early in the growing season, there are products at the farmers' markets to make a trip with the kids worthwhile. While you know kids will eat frosted cow-shaped cookies, spring vegetables may be another matter.

Fresh spinach is on many vendors' tables and will be until about June, providing it doesn't get too hot too fast. Explain how spinach thrives between 55 and 65 degrees; when it gets hotter, the plant will flower and stop producing its delicious leaves.

Before that happens, get your kids to clamor for its green goodness with the recipe below. Practically everyone loves pasta with cheese, and topping it with spinach is an easy way to introduce this early green.

To even better utilize the market, make this dish with pasta from RP's (have your child choose the shape for more buy-in) or experiment with different cheeses. Chevre (goat cheese) from Fantome Farm might even work - have your young gourmet try a sample to test the waters. Adding ramps, a garlicky spring delicacy that resembles a green onion, is an option for adults - or adventurous little eaters.

Ricotta Pasta with Fresh Spinach
Serves four.

12 ounces pasta, any kind you like
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
10-12 ounces fresh spinach, washed, large stems removed
Optional adult additions: minced ramps, fresh or dried herbs, hot pepper flakes

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the hot pasta cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a serving container, toss with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the butter or margarine, and cover.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta with the reserved pasta cooking water and stir until well blended. Stir into the pasta along with the Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper.

3. Cover and steam the spinach using just the water clinging to the leaves in the same pot used to cook the pasta. This should take only a minute or two. Drain the spinach well and chop coarsely. Transfer to a small serving bowl and toss with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter. Serve at once, topping each serving with some of the steamed spinach and, into the appropriate bowls, toss the optional ramps, herbs, or pepper flakes.

Adapted from The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet, by Nava Atlas.

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