• Ana Lopez Marin and Ainsley Harriott in Seville (Ainsley's Mediterranean Cookbook)Source: Ainsley's Mediterranean Cookbook
A Spanish cooking teacher shares a spinach dip recipe given to her family by convent nuns.
Kylie Walker

29 Sep 2020 - 5:40 PM  UPDATED 11 Jun 2021 - 8:58 AM

“The mix of flavors is very tasty but also the mix of textures, the softness of spinach with the crunchiness of bread is amazing,” says Ana López Marín, of a family recipe for a soft spinach spread that’s served up with pieces of crisp fried bread.

Espinacas labradas is one of the dishes the Seville-based cooking teacher (who also teaches online classes) makes with Ainsley Harriott when the ever-smiling chef comes to Spain in Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook, and when we saw her describe it as ‘spinach pudding’ while cooking it with Harriott, we were intrigued.

When we chat to López Marín, she explains that she described it as being like a pudding because of the creamy texture. And Harriott says it’s delicious.

“Yes, it’s almost like a spinach purée. The spinach is blitzed with some gently fried onion and then blended with extra-virgin olive oil that’s been infused with garlic, onion and paprika. A little sherry vinegar gives it a lift. It’s delicious served on crispy fried bread,” he says, when SBS chats to the London-based chef about his Mediterranean adventures.

The name espinacas labradas refers to how it is usually served – with rows of lines across the top.  “The literal translation means carved spinach; and it's because of the lines. They are like the lines that a tractor makes in the field,” López Marín explains.  

“It is savoury not sweet; but I used pudding to express the consistency. You can eat espinacas labradas with a fork in one hand and with some fried bread on the other so each time you have the spinach you can bite the bread. Or you can dip them, generously, on the bread.”

In the show Harriott describes it as “smooth and inviting … just keeps you coming back for a little bit more. Delicious!”

Luckily for us, López Marín has shared her recipe with SBS.

Make it at home
Spinach spread (Espinacas labradas)

'Espinacas labradas' means carved spinach; the dish gets its name from the lines traditionally drawn on the top of the dish. It is said to be a reference to the lines that a tractor makes in a field. This has a wonderful flavour, and also a great texture - the softness of spinach with the crunchiness of bread is amazing. 

“This dish comes from Écija, a beautiful city in the province of Seville,” she explains. “The recipe of these espinacas labradas comes from my in-laws. My grandfather-in-law was living in Écija for a few years. Each Christmas, the nuns of a convent used to give him as a present a pot with espinacas labradas. He loved the dish and before they moved to Seville, my grandmother-in-law got the recipe directly from the nuns. Then it passed to my mother in-law, and finally she gave it to me. And now I´m giving it to you, so I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.”

My grandfather-in-law was living in Écija for a few years. Each Christmas, the nuns of a convent used to give him as a present a pot with espinacas labradas. 

“Cooking with Ana was a lovely experience – she’s a great teacher because she’s doing what she loves. Her passion for local produce and traditional Spanish recipes really shines through and her food is absolutely delightful … local ingredients cooked in a simple and delicious way,” Harriott tells us.

López Marín also loved their encounter.

“It was amazing. That a well-known chef comes to your cooking workshop to record an episode of his TV series is a great honor. And, even more, I had to teach him!

“Ainsley is huge, in all senses. As I'm normal size and he is like double me … But he is also huge as a chef and great as person. Although we didn't know each other, he treated me as if we were friends, so recording was so easy. He is open-minded, friendly and charming. He is a great showman and a very good communicator.”

Along with the spinach spread, López Marín also made ajoblanco, a lovely simple soup. “In Spain, especially in the South, we usually have cold soups each day during the summer in order to fight the high temperatures. Ajoblanco is one of them, it is made of almonds, bread, olive oil, vinegar, water and salt. It is so refreshing but also nutritive.” (You can find her recipe on her Instagram account)

López Marín loves sharing the food and culture of Spain. “It is not only about learning to cook the dishes, it is an experience to be immersed in the Spanish culture because we teach the recipes but also tips, the history of dishes and the culture related to them,” she explains. Her cooking school has been able to re-open after shutting for a time under COVID-19 restrictions, though things are much quieter given the impact on tourism of travel restrictions. However, she’s still sharing Spain with people from around the world: she's been teaching online classes since 2016; current offerings include paella and tapas sessions. 

And no matter whether it’s a one-on-one with a larger than life TV chef, a hands-on class in her cooking school or a lesson online, López Marín says she gets so much joy from it. “When you are sharing recipes together,” she tells us, it’s not just about cooking and eating. “It is the connection you have.”

As she says to Harriott in Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook, it’s about making new friends.

And in this case, bonding over a creamy dip.

“Let’s have a bit more toast,” says Harriott with a laugh as he digs in. We can see why – pieces of golden, crunchy fried bread and a dip with history!

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