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I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that vegetarian or semi-vegetarian (that’s a new one: dishes that do not star a slab of meat as a centrepiece) dishes are more sophisticated and skilled. Any idiot can fry a steak – there’s no flair to it, but the quality of the meat which is not down to the chef.
Now making a sauce to go with that steak calls for some knowledge. I once made (long ago) what I thought was a peppercorn sauce by boiling a saucepan of cream with dried black peppercorns – success it was NOT. Also vegetables to serve with the steak need some thought – hopefully the times of tasteless boiled carrots served in British restaurants with everything are long gone.
Pies are a whole skills set; unless you call meat covered with puff pastry a pie (don’t). Pie needs a bottom as well as the hat and they both should be crusty, not soggy. Filling a pie with wet spinach and wet feta, and making it crispy, crunchy and fragrant is an art to be admired.
You can make a handheld spanakopita and that’s how it’s most popular in Greece, as street food or meze. But the western middle class dinner party set have hijacked the concept and blown it up to an enormous pie, prepared ahead, frozen and slipped into the oven a couple of hours before serving. Nothing wrong with that, and it also has one more serious advantage: the ratio of filling to pastry nosedives in favour of the filling.
spanakopitaServings: 4Time: a couple of hours
- 20g (heaping tablespoon) each of whole raw almonds, pine nuts and walnut pieces
- 200g (7 oz.) feta
- 2 eggs, beaten lightly
- 50g (4 tbsp.) butter
- 300g (10 oz.) fresh spinach leaves washed and dried in a salad spinner; chopped roughly
- 6 sheets of filo pastry
- black pepper
- smoked paprika
- red pepper flakes
- a pinch of grated nutmeg
- 1 tbsp. grated cheddar
1. Chop the almonds and walnuts roughly and toast them with the pine nuts in a dry ovenproof frying pan or skillet until scorched and fragrant.
2. Mash the feta with a fork in a large bowl and stir in the eggs. Add the nuts and almond pieces when cooled.
3. Place the pan back on the hob over medium-high heat and add a small knob of butter. Gradually add in the spinach, twisting it around with tongs to wilt it evenly; and adding more when there’s space. Leave it to cool. Melt the rest of the butter in a small pan or in the microwave on very low power.
4. Place a large square of baking parchment on the worktop. Working quickly so it doesn’t dry, prepare the filo pastry: place two sheets over the parchment, overlapping horizontally, so they form a square the size of the longer side of the pastry. Brush the filo liberally with the melted butter, sprinkle with salt, pepper, smoked paprika and red pepper flakes. Layer the next two sheets, brush, sprinkle and repeat with the last two. Cover the pastry with a tea towel while it waits.
5. Scrape the spinach into the bowl with feta and eggs and stir it in with the feta mixture and the pinch of nutmeg. Wipe the pan with a paper towel. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5.
6. Carefully lift the pastry layers with the parchment and press it, parchment and all, into the pan with a sizeable overhang on all sides. Sprinkle the cheddar over the bottom. Spoon the filling into the pastry evenly and fold over the overhanging pastry to cover the pie completely. Place in on the hob over quite high heat to start the bottom off, while you brush the top of the pastry with any remaining butter. After a couple of minutes transfer the pan into the oven.
7. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and crispy including the sides and bottom (you can peek carefully underneath by pulling up the parchment).
8. Let the pie stand at least 15 minutes before cutting slices with a serrated edge. In fact it tastes the best just a little warmer than room temperature.
Serve with green salad.