Monday, December 05, 2005
Photo updated in June 2010.
Somewhere in Toronto lives a lovely Canadian Estonian woman, Liisa. Every now and then Liisa and her husband John (an American Estonian) take their 4 children and move to Estonia for a while, where I've had couple of chances to meet up with her - we belong to the same student organisation, which is how we met. Many years ago Liisa served us a very yummy feta spinach pie at one gathering, where it was a huge success. Many asked for the recipe, but I was the only one to get one. I don't know whether it was because Liisa's middle name is Pille, or whether she could see that I really really wanted the recipe much more than others:).
Just like I've remained loyal to my first apple cake recipe, I'm loyal to my first feta spinach pie recipe. I've changed it a bit over the years (omitting the milk from the filling, using fresh spinach instead of frozen and using less puff pastry), so it's not strictly Liisa's feta spinach pie any more. But I still owe her a huge thank you for sharing her recipe all those years ago.
As most of you know, a proper Greek spanakopita is made with filo pastry. I admit, all in shame, that I have never cooked with filo pastry in my life. I did once buy a packet, but I have no idea what happened to it (the joys of living in shared university residences?) Also, more often than not, I use one of those tetra pack feta-type or fetaki cheese and not 'proper feta cheese'. So it's a cheat's spanakopita throughout. But many Greek friends have announced that this spanakopita - spanakopita a la Pille - tastes just as good, if not better, than their mothers. Or even grandmothers. And that's a creme de la creme compliment from any Greek person..
Spanakopita á la Pille
500 grams of puff pastry
200-225 grams fresh (young) spinach leaves
1 large onion, chopped
500 grams feta or fetaki cheese
a generous Tbsp of dried Greek oregano
Wash the spinach leaves, removing any large stalks. Drain slightly, put into a large frying pan and heat until the spinach has wilted. Quickly refresh under a cold running water (see the banner). Press dry, chop roughly.
Heat the olive oil on the pan, add the onion and fry gently for 5-10 minutes. Add chopped spinach and feta cheese. Stir, until the mixture is even. Season with oregano. Let cool a little, then add the egg.
Roll out the puff pastry, cover with the feta spinach filling and roll up into a large fat sausage. Criss-cross slightly with a knife to make a nice pattern, brush with egg and sprinkle with Maldon sea salt flakes and/or dried oregano.
Bake in the middle of a 200˚C oven for about 30-45 minutes, until the pastry is nicely golden brown (dark rather than light, to be sure that it's properly baked throughout).
I find this makes a perfect dish for a buffet table (when cold, it can be cut into small slices quite easily). It's great as a snack. Very very good as a late night nibble. Goes down well for breakfast. Universally delicious..
And I am yet to meet a Greek person who:
A) doesn't help himself/herself for a 2nd or 3rd or even further slice;
B) points out that this is not like the spanakopita their grandmother or mother makes (alias questions the authenticity of my version despite of this obviously being a rather non-authentic version; I consider this quite a compliment!);
C) doesn't ask me if this is on the table when they're invited around (read: are suggesting that they wouldn't really mind having some of my spanakopita).
If you fancy some feta and spinach, but don't feel like baking a whole pie just now, then you can always try these lovely mini spinach & feta frittatas/omelettes.