This Creamy, Cheesy Spinach Gratin is full-on flavor! Fresh spinach in a creamy, cheesy sauce baked until bubbly and golden. You won’t believe it’s light and healthy with no cream. The whole family agrees – it’s the best spinach we’ve ever eaten.
I’ve made other baked spinach recipes, some with a lot more fat – cream, cream cheese, lots of butter, but my family always prefers this Creamy, Cheesy Spinach Gratin. It’s creamy, cheesy, and full of flavor without being heavy or too rich.
This Creamy, Cheesy Spinach Gratin recipe is loosely based on Julia Child’s recipe for Spinach Gratinéed with Cheese Sauce in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ve made it so many times over the years that I’ve streamlined it somewhat. Julia sautés her spinach in butter before sprinkling it with flour and making the roux, then adding stock. She also makes a béchamel sauce separately and spoons some of the sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, layers the spinach on top of that, and then spoons the rest of the béchamel on top. I make a béchamel sauce and then add the spinach, turning three steps into one and making all of the spinach creamy. I add a bouillon cube to the béchamel to get the added flavor of stock while using two full cups of milk for creaminess. I also add a little chopped onion to give a savory fragrance to the béchamel that goes very nicely with the spinach.
A traditional steakhouse side dish, serve it as an accompaniment to steak or a roast. It pairs beautifully with chicken and especially dishes with Mediterranean inspired flavors. It’s great on a holiday buffet table and healthy enough for a weeknight dinner. We love eating it as a dip, spread on crusty bread.
I’ve made other baked spinach recipes, some with a lot more fat – cream, cream cheese, lots of butter, but my family always prefers this one. It’s creamy, cheesy, and full of flavor without being heavy or too rich.
This Creamy, Cheesy Spinach Gratin has the perfect balance of creamy sauce to fresh spinach. I use about 14 ounces of blanched, chopped spinach that has been squeezed very well to remove excess liquid in a roux made with 2 cups of milk. If you like your gratin creamier with less spinach, just use a little less spinach.
Fresh spinach is stemmed and blanched then put in cold water to retain its fresh green color. It’s then squeezed very well to get out as much water as possible and chopped. You can use baby spinach that doesn’t have much of a stem. You can also use frozen spinach but measure the 14 ounces after squeezing out the water. A cheesy béchamel sauce is made by sautéing onion in a little butter then sprinkling on flour and whisking in milk to make a thick creamy sauce. Gruyere cheese is mixed in the fragrant sauce.
The spinach is mixed into the cheesy béchamel sauce. It is then put in a baking dish and sprinkled with more Gruyere. Bake until it is bubbly and golden.
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For the spinach:
- 2 lbs stemmed fresh spinach, from about 2 ½ pounds spinach with stems
- 2 lbs baby spinach
- 14 oz frozen chopped spinach that has been squeezed dry (*see note)
For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 bouillon cube, chicken or vegetable
- Few scrapings of fresh nutmeg (or a pinch of ground nutmeg)
- 1.5oz grated gruyere cheese, about 2/3 cup (*see note)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2oz grated gruyere cheese, about 1 cup (*see note)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Prepare the spinach:
- In a pan of boiling water, blanch 2 lbs. fresh, stemmed spinach for 2 minutes. Drain and submerge in a bowl of cold water until cool to preserve the fresh green color. Drain thoroughly.
- Taking small handfuls, squeeze out as much excess water as you can. I do this in about 10 small handfuls. The resulting weight should be about 14oz.
- Chop the spinach.
Make the sauce:
- Sauté chopped onion in butter until soft.
- Add flour and whisk to combine.
- Whisk in milk and bouillon cube, cooking until it thickens and starts to bubble.
- Add 1.5oz grated cheese and whisk in until melted. Turn off heat.
- Add a few scrapings of fresh nutmeg.
- Salt and pepper to taste. I use about 1 teaspoon salt.
To finish and bake:
- Stir the chopped, squeezed spinach into the cheese sauce.
- Spread in a baking dish. Top with 2oz grated gruyere cheese.
- Bake in a 400 degree F oven until bubbly and cheese on top is golden brown.
*This recipe was made using 2 lbs. of fresh, stemmed spinach. The weight of the spinach before stemming was about 2 ½ pounds. After blanching, chopping, and squeezing dry, the weight was 14oz. If you prefer to use frozen chopped spinach, use 14oz after thawing and squeezing out as much water as you can. This will require buying more than 14oz frozen spinach.
*I measure my cheese by weight because the volume will be different depending on the grating method. I use a fine grater that makes long, fine strands and takes up more space than cheese that has been grated in a food processor.