Spinaci alla romana

Spinaci alla romana (Roman-Style Spinach)

In contorno, Lazio by Frank Fariello26 Comments

Spinaci alla romana

We all know that spinach is full of iron and other good stuff, but it has an undeserved reputation for being … blech. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with the school cafeteria spinach I remember from my childhood, stewed within an inch of its life and left on steam tables for hours. Or perhaps it has to do with that 60s classic, canned creamed spinach. Yum… not.

Fortunately, these days, we have much better choices. Most supermarkets carry small-leaved ‘baby spinach‘, which is much like the spinach you will find in Italy and France. It has a wonderfully delicate flavor and cooks up in no time. And even old-fashioned, mature, dark green, crinkly spinach can be turned into something delicious if you treat it with respect.

This recipe will work perfectly with either variety, with some differences in technique. In this Roman dish, the spinach is laced with raisins and pine nuts, a classic combination in Italian cooking. As for so many leafy vegetable dishes, you cook the spinach ripassati in padella (sautéed), only this time the fat is either lard (the traditional way) or butter (for modern palates). I really like cooking in lard, as it gives savor and contrast to the sweetness of the raisins. Garlic is optional—I usually prefer to leave it out.


Serves 4-6 people as a side dish

  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) spinach (see Notes)
  • 3-4 heaping spoonfuls of lard, or butter, or a combination of butter and olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed (optional)
  • 75-100g (2-1/2 to 3 oz.) raisins, softened in hot water for a few minutes and drained well
  • 75-100g (2-1/2 to 3 oz) pine nuts
  • Salt and pepper


Heat the fat over moderate heat in a large casserole able to contain all the spinach. If using the garlic, toss it in as the fat in heating up, and remove it as soon as it begins to color and give off its aroma.

If using pre-washed baby spinach: Add the raw spinach directly  into the casserole.  No need for liquid; the vegetable will steam in its natural moisture.  Cover the casserole and let the spinach cook down. It will reduce enormously, down to a mere faction of its original bulk. Uncover and turn the spinach as it cooks, turning it in the fat so it is well covered all over.

If using mature spinach: Wash the spinach well to get any grit out. (If the vegetable is very gritty, you can soak it in a large bowl of cold water.) Then trim the leaves off their woody stems. Pre-cook the trimmed leaves in salted boiling water for a five minutes or so, drain immediately and run the spinach under cold water to stop the cooking. Squeeze out the liquid from the spinach and chop it up roughly.  Add the chopped spinach to the fat in the pan, turning it over to impregnate it with the oil. (No need to cover the spinach.)

Now add the raisins and pine nuts to the spinach. Season with salt and pepper. Let the spinach simmer gently over moderate heat for, say 5-10 minutes, until the spinach is perfectly tender and the flavors have a chance to meld. If there is juice left in the pan, raise the heat to high and let it cook off. The spinach should moist, but not wet.

Serve immediately.


There’s not too much to say about this dish—it’s really straight-forward. The only real tricks lie in the kind of spinach you choose to use, as indicated above, plus the fat you prefer to use. Baby spinach usually comes pre-washed and dried and ready to cook—a real godsend. Mature spinach usually has at least some grit caught in the wrinkly leaves or concave stems; better to wash it well, just in case. I don’t think the grit is likely to kill you, but it is unpleasant to bite into. (Trust me on this one…) You can also use defrosted frozen spinach (even Ada Boni endorses it!) as if you were using pre-cooked mature spinach. And, yes, defrost it, even if the package says you don’t have to, and squeeze the spinach dry. If it hasn’t been pre-chopped, then do so before adding it to the pan.

The measurements given to the raisins and pine nuts, by the way, shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Many Italian recipes just call for a ‘handful’ of each, and I usually just ‘eyeball’ it, adding as much as I feel like. Just make sure there’s enough so you can get a bit of raisin and pine nut along with each bite of spinach.

You can successfully make spinaci alla romana ahead of time; for a fresher taste, stop right after adding the raisins and pine nuts and leave the final simmer until just before you’re ready to serve.

Frank FarielloSpinaci alla romana (Roman-Style Spinach)


  1. Drick

    I don’t think I would ever have thought of putting raisins with spinach, I am glad someone did, the sweetness only makes sense. We use the fresh ready-to-use packs of baby size leaves all the time, it is a godsend. Always looking for new ways to cook greens and, I bet you thought you would never see this from me but, would need to replace the butter as much as possible since we have changed our eating ways of late….

    1. Frank Fariello

      Lol, Drick! Come to think of it, I had noticed a change in the offerings over at the Rambling Cafe—more fish, more vegetables, including sautéed greens with one teaspoon (!) of butter… I knew that something was up!

  2. tastytrix

    Sorry if this is a repeat comment … a weird thing happened. Anyway! Lots of vegetables got bad reputations from being canned. Peas in cans? Ug. Anyway, this is anything but bland. Love spinach, and (as always) am eager to try this.

  3. Daniela

    Just found your blog when looking for Italian recipes.
    The spinach looks amazing, I’m sure it’s full of flavor. Great post, love the simple, yet delicious way of preparing this dish.

  4. Lori Lynn

    A terrific side dish. Thanks for reminding me Frank. Looking forward to serving with some grilled steaks.

  5. Linda Ring

    Frank, great recipe, will try tomorrow, have a bag of spinach, need pine nuts, raisins and lard. eating healthy for many reason, top 2.a health issue, and weight loss. Linda Ring

  6. ciaochowlinda

    Frank – I was eating in a restaurant in Rome tonight and a big platter of spinach came out from the kitchen. I have to say yours looks better.

  7. ameliaschaffner

    my nonna made this same recipe… but she used escarole (curly endive). She also added capers and olives.

  8. Hiam

    I have always loved spinach and often have it in various ways from Salad to Lebanese cooked in Olive oil with fried julienne onions to stewed with lamb toFlorentine, This to me is something in between the very light and very heavy and it tastes divine. Thank you for this addition to my spinach repertoire.

  9. vittorio Orsi

    Dear Frank, Thanks for this dish that surely is a God sent when summer come.
    I remember a different way as my mother and grand mather used to cook with the first autum cold, they used to cut up a fresh toscan sausage and after having cooked for 10-15 minutes, they added the spinach or other greens and the result was amaizing………thaks again…….tante belle cose..Vittorio

  10. chiaralavogliamatta

    ero convinta che l’aggiunta di uvette e pinoli fosse tipicamente siciliana, ne ho imparata un’altra qui da te Frank !Buona settimana, un abbraccio !

    1. Frank Fariello

      Ebbene se ci pensi un po’, l’aggiunta di uvette e pinoli si trova un po’ dappertutto, nelle polpette alla napoletana, per esempio, e si non mi sbaglio nelle sarde in saor alla veneziana, ecc. ecc….

  11. Lynn Lennox

    I love spinach and this recipe sounds like a winner. Heck, I even have the same dish as the one pictured! Thanks for your recipes. I agree, as a kid I hated the stuff. It was shredded and frozen and then boiled to death. Same with asparagus. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when a food is fresh and prepared properly. Grazie!

    1. Frank Fariello

      Thanks so much, Lynn! And you’re so right. Children would love veggies if we only treated them with respect, like the Italians do…

Your comments are always welcome!