Monday, December 05, 2005

Spanakopita, my way

Spinach and feta pie / Spinati-fetapirukas
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
(Liisa spinati-fetapirukas)
Serves 10-12

500 grams of puff pastry

200-225 grams fresh (young) spinach leaves
olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
500 grams feta or fetaki cheese
a generous Tbsp of dried Greek oregano
1 egg

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.



Truly the Scottish Martha Stewart....very interesting recipes and anecdotes. Funny stuff. The scotch recipe that not a desecration of a fine scotch to mix with that wine? Hey if a Scot says it's cool, then I'm down with it...but personally I prefer my scotch with either water or soda.....good blog, I may try one of your recipes soon. Happy Holidays, one can only imagine the Christmas meal posting that's sure to show soon....PinF

Clivia said...

Hi Pille,
I like your blog very much, and even more because my boyfriend has Estonian-Swedish roots and we have spent quite some time in Estonia. Next time I am in Haapsal I will look for that Kama flour!
The spanakopita looks fantastic, I will try it soon but maybe with fillo (try it!)

chili&vanilia said...

I love anything with spinach and feta, so now there is this one and that great mini fritatta.. By the way, filo is really easy to work with and then you have an almost low fat pie..Very nice story too!

Anonymous said...

Dear Pille, what an enjoyable read ! I still have some filo dough in my freezer so I will give this recipe a try next weekend. And I agree with you that frozen spinach can never be compared to fresh, young baby leaf spinach from the market. What makes your blog so fascinating is that you are so polyglott, an Estonian living in Edinburgh making wonderful Greek dishes... Big hug, angelika

Anonymous said...

That is one yummy looking Spanakopita a la Pille :) Recipes changing hands, and evolving as they do, is how many wonderful dishes were eventually discovered...and this must be one of them :)

Thanks for sharing your recipe!

Pille said...

PinF - that's quite a compliment, I'm blushing:)
Re: the whisky mac cocktail. I guess it's a wee bit criminal. But I don't like spirits on their own and ginger isn't too bad with whisky..
And thanks for your holiday wishes - I indeed have already few Christmas post ideas in mind..

Clivia - you're my second reader with Estonian/Swedish connections (Anne being the first)! I'm sure you'll find kama in Haapsalu. And I promise to try filo soon - but this particular spanakopita must be made with puff pastry:)

Zsofi - thanks for convincing me to try to cook with filo pastry. Now that I've tackled macaroons, maybe it's time for filo indeed.
Did you ever have a chance to try the feta spinach frittatas? I remember you liked the idea when I wrote about them first..

Angelika - thanks for finding time to come to my blog despite of being so busy yourself! A big hug to you, too, in Vienna!

Joey - thanks! The first time I try a new recipe, I tend to follow it pretty closely. But usually there's some small changes every time, until I'm completely happy with the result. This one I haven't modified for the last few years already.
But what always amazes me is how you can give exactly the same recipe to a few different cooks, and although they all claim to do exactly as told in the recipe, they end up with a totally different final product. Mystery...

Anonymous said...

I think a greek person that tried it is the most appropriate to judge. It was mere perfection! In greek? Απλά καταπληκτική!!!

Pille said...

I'm glad you (and your parents, sister and numerous friends) liked it (every single time I made it), dear T:)

Anonymous said...

Tervist Pille, Retsepti pole veel proovinud. Tahtsin niisama nimetada et John (Liisa mees) ei ole "Canadian-Estonian" vaid "American-Estonian", tähendab USAs sündind. Ta on mul vana sõber Washington kandist. Hüvasti, Toomas

Pille said...

Tere, Toomas, aitäh täpsustuse eest - parandasin vea ära!
Aga Liisast inspireeritud spinatipiruka retsept tasub kindlasti proovimist:)

Anonymous said...

well the second greek to judge your spanakopita has not only tasted it from your hands but also made it... easy(for a begginer like me...)tricky, and so deliciously original(in both meanings;-))!all my friends loved it(and they were all greeks!)