This Portuguese gratin of shrimp and spinach might be less fussy than the original version, we think it tastes even better. Shrimp and spinach get layered with ham in a gorgeously creamy Port sauce. And don’t forget the melty, bubbly,, golden cheese on top.
This is a popular dish in and around the beautiful UNESCO town of Évora, in central Alentejo. A version is on the menus at Restaurante Tasquinha do Oliveira, A Bolota, and Herdade do Esporão. It even made a splash at Terreiro do Paço, in Lisbon, one of the city’s most elegant dining spots. This is the more casual cousin to the original.–David Leite
Spinach is a vegetable that keeps on giving—water that is. Squeeze it very well after cooling, or the dish will be adrift in a sea of khaki-colored liquid.
The original recipe calls for hard-to-find Limiano cheese, a type of queijo de Flamengo (Flemish cheese) identical to a mild, inoffensive Dutch Edam. I find a snappy Fontina or Gruyère makes a better substitute.
Portuguese Gratin of Shrimp and Spinach
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds medium shrimp shelled, deveined, and roughly chopped
- 1 pound fresh spinach trimmed
- 1 medium yellow onion minced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- One 1/8-inch-thick slice presunto, Serrano ham, or prosciutto trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1/8-inch cubes (about 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 cup tawny port or fruity white wine
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk warmed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
- 1 cup (about 3 1/2 ounces) shredded queijo Limiano, Fontina, or Gruyère cheese
- In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until just opaque, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium, drizzle in another tablespoon of the oil if the skillet is dry, and add the spinach. Cook, stirring often, until it gives off no more liquid, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a colander to cool.
- Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil into the skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and presunto and cook for 2 minutes more. Pour in the port and let it burble until almost evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape the mixture into the bowl containing the shrimp.
- Position the rack to the center of the oven and crank the heat to 350°F (175°C).
- Reduce the heat under the skillet to medium-low and warm the butter in the skillet until it melts. Add the flour and cook, stirring continually, for 2 to 3 minutes, being mindful it doesn’t color. Slowly add the warm milk, whisking vigorously. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer, whisking continually, until it’s the consistency of a creamy bisque and has no floury taste, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and scrape it into the shrimp bowl.
- When the spinach is cool, squeeze it in cheesecloth to remove excess moisture, add it to the shrimp mixture, and mix well. Spoon the filling into a shallow 2-quart ovenproof baking dish, top with the cheese, and bake until bubblingly hot and mottled with brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The unusual combination of shrimp, cured ham, and cheese–along with spinach, onion, Port, and garlic–intrigued me. Many say that pairing seafood and cheese in most applications is a no-no, but it works here. Make sure to squeeze out every molecule of water from the spinach, as this could otherwise spell disaster for the dish. I wrung my spinach out with a kitchen towel. The creaminess of this dish was what I liked best, along with the thick layer of melted Gruyere. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the ham, though I realize it is a Portuguese combination. I would actually prefer it without and will try it that way next time. The Port was very subtle but it could be discerned, which was lovely.
Originally published May 10, 2009