Ostriche alla Fiorentina (Oysters Florentine)

Spinach isn't a signature ingredient of Florentine cooking or even as popular there as Swiss Chard is, but many people still refer to dishes served on a bed of spinach as à la Florentine, or in the style of Florence. That is largely due to Catherine de'Medici, a Florentine who became the queen of France. She popularized spinach with her subjects and the association just stuck. Americans have a similar dish, oysters Rockefeller, named after John D. Rockefeller - either because the dish was so rich or because the spinach was the same color as money.

Serves 4.


INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, well washed
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons thinly sliced garlic
3 ounces finely chopped pancetta or bacon (3/4 cup)
salt
freshly ground pepper
1 cup Bechamel Sauce
4 Tablespoons grated Parmesan
Pinch of Tuscan Spice, garam masala, or mix together equal parts of ground allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves
20 oysters, such as Wellfleet or Bluepoint
One 3-pound box rock salt
2 Tablespoons dried Bread Crumbs

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450° .
  2. Place the spinach with water still clinging to the leaves in a large pot. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it just wilts. Drain the spinach well in a colander, pressing out all excess water with the back of a spoon. Let cool and chop. Set aside.
  3. Combine the olive oil, garlic, and pancetta in a large skillet and saute over medium heat. When the pancetta has browned slightly, add the spinach and saute for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the sauteed spinach mixture with the Bechamel, Parmesan, and Tuscan spice.
  5. Shuck the oysters, reserving the liquid, and set the oysters aside. Scrub the bottom shells clean, then place the shells on a large baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and reserve.
  6. Line the baking sheet with rock salt.
  7. Stir half the reserved oyster liquid into the spinach mixture. Place an oyster into each of the prepared shells. Top with a spoonful of the spinach mixture and sprinkle each with bread crumbs. Nestle the shells in the salt on the baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are brown and crispy. Serve immediately.


Wine Suggestion: A Chardonnay or Pino Bianco would compliment both the sweet oysters and creamy sauce. Look for Batar, a medium-bodied white from Tuscany - a blend of both grapes - by Querciabella.

Recipe Source: True Tuscan: Flavors and Memories from the Countryside of Italy by Cesare Casella

Nutritional Information for 1 oyster (per Mastercook): 45 Calories; 3g Fat (57.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 178mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

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