When it comes to the fast and furious side dishes of the world, Sautéed Spinach wins the race. A versatile, healthy side that cooks in minutes, it pairs with any protein and can be added to vegetarian recipes too.
My experience of spinach as a kid was watching Popeye down cans of it on TV, which my parents used to persuade me (unsuccessfully) to eat my vegetables.
No offense to Popeye (clearly, the spinach was working for him), but until you’ve eaten sautéed fresh spinach, you are missing out on the delicious potential of this nutritional powerhouse.
You can serve them with just about anything, and since they sauté on the stovetop, they leave the oven free for you to cook your main if you so choose.
Of course, like any cooked vegetable recipe, much of the taste lies in the preparation (why Roasted Cauliflower is delicious but boiled cauli is bleh).
This post has the best tips to make yummy (not mushy!) sautéed spinach, plus an easy recipe for garlicky parmesan sautéed spinach you can serve right alongside whatever you’re cooking for dinner tonight.
Tips for the Best Sautéed Spinach
To make sautéed spinach that is tender, but not soggy, well-seasoned, and can hold its own on the plate, follow these tips.
- Use Fresh Spinach. While I LOVE frozen boxed spinach for stirring into pastas and casseroles, it needs to be fresh when you are serving spinach on its own. Frozen or canned spinach will taste mushy and off.
- Remove Any Big Stems if You’re Worried about Presentation. While the stems on spinach leaves do soften during cooking, they can be distracting in the final dish. If you’re going for a beautiful presentation, they are also not the prettiest. If you aren’t worried about appearances and don’t mind the stems, you can leave the stems on.
- Use More Spinach Than You Think. If you’ve cooked spinach before, you know huge handfuls of fresh spinach will cook down to seemingly nothing. A good rule of thumb is 4 to 6 ounces (or 4 to 6 lightly packed cups or handfuls) of fresh spinach per person.
- Use a Large Skillet. Even for a small group, you need to cook A LOT of spinach. Using a large, wide skillet gives the leaves room to cook down.
- Season it Up. Spinach is ultra mild, making it versatile. It also means that it’s important to season it well. Some great flavors to add to spinach are garlic, Parmesan, lemon, and red pepper flakes.
- DO NOT OVERCOOK. Overcooked spinach is mushy spinach. The spinach will be soft and wilted, but it should not be a watery mess. It’s best to cook spinach immediately before serving to keep it tasting fresh.
How to Make Sautéed Spinach
Fresh spinach isn’t just for Spinach Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Poppy Seed Dressing!
Sautéed until warm and wilted, spinach is the perfect fast side and an easy and delicious way to add nutrition to your plate.
Most often, I make sauteed spinach with garlic and Parmesan, along with red pepper flakes.
These simple, classic flavors taste elevated, while still allowing the main dish to shine.
Feel free to add your own favorite spices, make your sautéed spinach without garlic, or try one of the recipe variations below.
- Baby Spinach. Fresh, tender baby spinach quickly transforms into this perfectly wilted and surprisingly tasty dish. Spinach boasts an impressive lineup of health benefits (hello fiber and vitamins!).
- Olive Oil + Butter. Cooking the spinach in extra virgin olive oil and butter gives it a flavor boost and crowd-pleasing appeal.
- Garlic. Adds garlicky goodness to each bite without overpowering the other flavors.
- Salt. A pinch of salt makes a major difference in the overall flavor of your sautéed spinach.
- Parmesan. Because everything is better with a finishing sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
- Red Pepper Flakes. Adds a hint of heat without making the spinach spicy. You can skip the red pepper flakes if you prefer.
- Heat the oil and butter in a Dutch oven.
- When the butter starts bubbling, add the garlic.
- Add the spinach by the handful.
- Stir each time you add spinach until it starts to wilt. Cover the pot and reduce the heat. Stir again after 3 minutes.
- Add the salt, part of the Parmesan, and the red pepper flakes. Transfer the spinach to a bowl, topping it with the remaining Parmesan. DIG IN!
- Sautéed Spinach and Onions. Chop 1 medium onion. Add the onion to the pot with the garlic, cooking until lightly browned. Finish the recipe as directed.
- Sautéed Spinach and Tomatoes. To instantly elevate your sautéed spinach, add some Roasted Tomatoes just before serving.
- Sautéed Spinach with Bacon. Crumble Air Fryer Bacon or Baked Bacon in the Oven over your spinach just before serving.
- Sautéed Spinach with Cheese. Prepare this recipe as directed with the Parmesan cheese or a similar nutty aged cheese. Add an extra tablespoon for ultra cheesy spinach.
- Sautéed Spinach with Lemon. A squeeze of lemon juice would be delightful on this spinach. Stir 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice into the spinach just before serving.
- To Store. Refrigerate spinach in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Gently reheat spinach in the microwave until warm.
- To Freeze. Pack the sautéed spinach leaves into the wells of an ice cube tray. Freeze until solid. Transfer the frozen spinach cubes to an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Thaw the cubes in the refrigerator as needed.
While frozen sautéed spinach isn’t ideal for thawing and enjoying on its own, it works beautifully as an addition to other recipes. Try incorporating it into your favorite soups, pastas, and pizzas.
What to Serve with Sautéed Spinach
Mild in flavor, sautéed spinach goes well with a wide range of proteins.
- Chicken. Everything from Chicken Cacciatore to a simple Grilled Chicken Breast would pair well with this spinach.
- Pork. Serve sautéed spinach alongside Air Fryer Pork Chops or Stuffed Pork Tenderloin. Up your chicken game, and make Stuffed Chicken Breast with spinach.
- Seafood. Pair this spinach with Grilled Swordfish, Baked Cod, or Lemon Pepper Salmon.
- Beef. Enjoy your sautéed spinach with an Air Fryer Steak.
- Vegetarian. For a tasty vegetarian meal, pair this spinach with Mushroom Pasta or Tuscan White Bean Toasts with Garlic and Tomatoes.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Dutch Oven. Perfect for making this sautéed spinach recipe.
- Wooden Spoon. One of my most-used and loved kitchen tools.
- Colander. Ideal for everything from washing spinach or draining pasta.
Cooked spinach can be delicious!
If Popeye (and my parents) had followed this recipe, I probably would have started eating it at a much younger age.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, sautéed spinach is a healthy and nutritious side dish. Spinach is low in calories but high in vitamins A and C, as well as iron, calcium, and fiber.
While fresh baby spinach is the best choice for sautéed spinach, you can use frozen spinach in a pinch. Be sure to thaw and drain the spinach before cooking it in the skillet.
Sautéed spinach is best when served fresh, but you can make it ahead of time and reheat it before serving. To reheat, simply place it in a microwave-safe dish and heat it for 1 to 2 minutes or until hot.
While fresh garlic is the best choice for this recipe, you can swap garlic powder in a pinch. Use 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder.
- In a Dutch oven or similar large, deep pot, add the oil and butter over medium heat.
- As soon as the butter begins to bubble and foam, stir in the garlic.
- Add the spinach by big handfuls, stirring as you go so that it begins to wilt down and you can fit more in the pot.
- Once all of the spinach has been added, cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium low. Let cook 3 minutes. Uncover and stir. The spinach should be fairly wilted, but if it’s not, continue to stir until it is.
- Stir in the salt, 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan, and the red pepper flakes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. With a slotted spoon, remove it to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Enjoy immediately.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate spinach in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Gently reheat spinach in the microwave until warm.
- TO FREEZE: Pack the spinach leaves into the wells of an ice cube tray. Freeze until solid. Transfer the frozen spinach cubes to an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Thaw the cubes in the refrigerator. While frozen sautéed spinach isn’t ideal for thawing and enjoying on its own, it works beautifully as an addition to other recipes. Try incorporating it into your favorite soups, pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, and more.
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