The term Florentine is used in French cooking to indicate a dish is served on top of or with a bed of spinach. It has been used since the mid 1500’s, when Queen Catherine de Medicis, who was married to King Francois I of France, came to the thrown. Queen Catherine was born in Florence, Italy. She was suspicious of the French cooks, so she brought her own cooks from Florence to cook for her. She had them cook a lot of her foods with spinach. She also brought spinach seeds to plant with her as well. Preparing foods with spinach became so popular in France, that the style of cooking with or adding spinach to a dish became known as the Florentine style of cooking.
It is believed that spinach originally came from Persia over 2000 years ago. It then made its way to China around 647 BCE, but did not make it to the Mediterranean parts of Europe until the 9th century, when the Saracens invaded Italy. In the 11th century, the Arabs brought spinach to Spain. It did not make it to England and the rest of the European continent until around the mid 1500’s. The word spinach is derived from the Persian word aspankh. When spinach was introduced to the Europeans, there were many different spellings and names for the word spinach. Some of these were spinech, spinage, spinnage and spynoches. Today, we Americans refer to it as spinach.
I love spinach and cook in the Florentine style quite often. Usually I add mushrooms, garlic, onions or shallots and tomatoes as well, and that is exactly how I cooked my chicken a la Florentine. I served it over a bed of red lentils mixed with barley (I had some leftover barley that I mixed with the lentils to give it more texture), some warm bread with my olive oil and balsamic vinegar dipping sauce and a nice crisp chardonnay to complete the meal. It was simply rustic and simply delicious. You can also serve it over pasta or rice. You can also serve the Florentine topping with fish or pork too or tofu if you want to make it vegetarian or vegan.
I marinated the chicken breasts in Italian dressing for about 4-5 hours, to make it nice and flavorful and tender. Any kind of Italian dressing will do.
Chicken a la Florentine
1 1/2-2 lbs of chicken breasts, marinated in Italian dressing
2-3 cups fresh spinach, stems removed, chopped rough
5-6 mushrooms, sliced
1 large shallot, sliced thin
1/2- 3/4 cup of tomatoes, small dice
salt & pepper to taste
Saute the spinach, garlic, mushrooms and shallots together in olive oil and add the salt & pepper to your likings. Cook for bout 5-7 minutes, or until the spinach is soft and all the vegetables are completely cooked. Add the tomatoes right at the very end and mix thoroughly into the vegetable mixture. Serve atop the chicken. You can also serve this over fish or pork or tofu too.