Trail Chef: Tomato Pasta with Spinach-Cheese Sauce

New research shows spinach makes your muscles work more efficiently, so power up with this savory dish.

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As much as I want to avoid a Popeye reference, I’m afraid it’s unavoidable. The Sailor Man was right: Spinach does make you stronger. In a study published in the February issue of Cell Metabolism, Swedish researchers reported that when people consume small amounts of inorganic nitrate (found in leafy green vegetables like spinach) for three days, they use less oxygen while riding a bike.

The reason appears to be that your body (with the help of mouth bacteria) eventually converts the inorganic nitrate into nitric oxide. In a series of complex steps, the nitric oxide then makes your mitochrondia (the powerhouses of your cells) less “leaky” and, thus, work more efficiently—so you’re able to get more energy using less oxygen. The best part is that you don’t have to take a supplement or eat ridiculous quantities of spinach to get the benefit. The amount used in the study is equivalent to about a plate of the green stuff.

So enjoy some saag or a fresh spinach salad before your next backpacking trip, then get your fix on the trail with this tasty recipe.

Tomato Pasta with Spinach-Cheese Sauce

Makes one serving of 1.5 cups

1 1/2 tablespoons dried cream of spinach soup or spinach powder (buy it at sites like or at outdoor stores, or dehydrate your own)

3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

1 1/2 tablespoons buttermilk powder or butter powder

1 tablespoon powdered milk

1/4 teaspoon oregano

A few grains of cayenne pepper

3/4 cup (3 ounces) tomato-flavored pasta (semolina-based pasta works too)

At home

Combine all ingredients except pasta in a zip-top bag. 

In camp

Mix powdered ingredients with 1/4 cup boiling water. Let stand. Meanwhile, bring to boil 3 to 4 cups of water and add the pasta. Follow package directions for boiling time, stirring frequently to make sure pasta doesn’t stick together or to the pot. When pasta is al dente, remove from the stove and pour off liquid. Combine with spinach-cheese sauce. If you’re using spinach powder rather than soup mix, add salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe excerpted from BACKPACKER Backcountry Cooking, by Dorcas S. Miller