Spinach Madeline

Great at any holiday table as a side dish, or serve it atop crostini as a party appetizer.

Spinach Madeline
Photo:

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
30 mins
Servings:
6

Somewhere between a side and a dip, this creamy yet spicy spinach dish is a hit with the whole family. Most folks associate Spinach Madeline with Thanksgiving, but it’s a great side to serve any time of the year. 

Who Created Spinach Madeline?

Though many of us remember eating Spinach Madeline at the holiday table throughout our lives, it’s actually a relatively new dish. The recipe was first printed in the 1950s in the Junior League of Baton Rouge’s community cookbook, the River Road Cookbook. The legend goes that the recipe’s creator, Madeline Nevell Reymond, developed the dish through the “kitchen sink” approach: She used up a little bit of everything in her pantry to come up with this creamy, spicy, and deeply satisfying dish. And, we are sure glad she did!

There’s no wonder this dish has been a long-standing hit, both during the holidays and throughout the year. The ingredients are inexpensive and readily available, the recipe is easy to multiply to make large batches, and it’s super quick and easy to prepare. It’s a rather strange combination of frozen spinach and spicy cheese that somehow works perfectly together.

Another advantage, especially during the chaos of the holidays: this dish actually tastes better when it has a day or two to sit in the fridge before being topped with breadcrumbs and heated through. This means there’s one less thing to assemble on the big day in a busy kitchen, saving you time and stress. 

Tips for Making Spinach Madeline

Though this dish is naturally quick and easy to make, we’ve figured out a few little tips and tricks to make it even easier:

  • Prep spinach in advance. Perhaps the most involved part of making this dish is cooking the spinach. It’s best to cook the spinach, whether in the microwave or on the stovetop, well ahead of time so that it has the chance to cool down a bit before you have to use it. Otherwise, you’ll risk burning your hands on the hot greens.
  • Save the spinach liquid. Drain the spinach in a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl to catch the liquid, which you’ll use later on in the recipe. You can give it a squeeze with your hands (hence, the importance of giving it plenty of time to cool) or press down on it using a large wooden spoon. Using the cooking liquid in the recipe creates less waste and adds a ton of flavor to the final dish. If you do accidentally toss the liquid (don’t worry, we’ve all done it!), replace it with chicken or vegetable broth. You can even use water, in a pinch, but it won’t have as much flavor.
  • Cheese swap. If you can’t find pepper Jack cheese, you can use four ounces of Velveeta cheese and two tablespoons minced jalapeño peppers, or half of a 4-ounce can of drained diced jalapeños (mild to hot). If you prefer your Spinach Madeline with a lot of heat, leave the seeds in the peppers. If you like a little bit of kick, but not a four-alarm fire, remove the jalapeño seeds and just add the pepper flesh. And, if you prefer no heat at all, simply omit the jalapeño peppers, use Monterey Jack instead of pepper Jack cheese.
  • Enhance the creaminess. For an extra creamy side dish, try using heavy cream, half-and-half, or even evaporated milk instead of whole milk.

Ingredients

  • 2 (12-ounce) pkgs. frozen chopped spinach

  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup spinach

  • 1/2 cup whole milk

  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

  • 8 oz. pepper Jack cheese, shredded

  • 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper (or to taste)

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil or melted butter

  • 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

Directions

  1. Cook the spinach according to package directions. Squeeze out excess liquid, and reserve. Set the spinach aside.

  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the flour and stir until smooth, but not brown, about 30 seconds. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

  3. While stirring, slowly add the reserved spinach liquid, milk, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir continuously to avoid any lumps. Cook until smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Add the cheese a handful at a time, and continue to stir until it is melted. Fold in the spinach. Add salt and pepper. Transfer to a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish.

  4. To serve immediately, preheat the broiler to high. Combine the oil and breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Top the casserole with the breadcrumbs, and broil until golden, about 3 minutes.

    To serve the following day, preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the casserole dish, covered, in the oven, and heat through, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven. Combine the oil and breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Top the casserole with the breadcrumbs, and broil until golden, about 3 minutes.