Of all the plants growing in my garden, spinach probably loves spring the best. It just belts along in the gentle, growing warmth and the longer daylight hours. All I need to do is water it. Later in the year, in summer, spinach rapidly wilts, dies and can't cope with the heat. But spring is its Goldilocks season – just right. And so I've just harvested a good batch and am making some spinach pies – spanakopita – for our staff bakeoff (which I mentioned in more detail in my previous post on honey pie).
So here's the harvest of several plants from the patch. Not much pest damage, and a lovely green colour it is.
While out in the backyard I picked some shallots (spring onions), as they're required in the recipe, too. These are rapidly becoming one of my favourite food plants to grow in the garden. They last for ages, are easy to grow and are so versatile in the kitchen, too. I've got to the stage where I have a constant supply, or at least try to.
This 'Modern Greek' cookbook, by Andy Harris, which I bought last year has numerous really good recipes, including the spinach pie one I'm following this time round.
Then blanch the spinach in a steamer for a few minutes, until it wilts. Let it drain well, then squeeze out more moisture and let it keep on draining. Spinach can hold a lot of liquid, so make sure it's not too gluggy.
The weigh-in. The recipe called for 250g of spinach, and I've got 400g here. No worries, I'm sure I can toss in more cheese and shallots to compensate.
Combine the feta cheese and ricotta cheese well in a bowl. I use Greek Dodoni feta, which is made from a blend of pasteurised sheep's and goat's milk. It has a wonderful tang.
Finely chop two tablespoons of fresh dill. (This isn't home-grown, but this being a Greek neighbourhood it's always plentiful in the shops. It's one of the staples of authentic Greek flavour.)
As a very mediocre pastry chef there's no way I'd attempt to make my own filo pastry. So it's the shop-bought stuff, as thin as tissue paper.
Cut eat sheet into a three-inch (10cm) wide strip of pastry and brush with melted butter. Place a dollop of filling on one end and fold to form a triangle shape.
Keep on folding at neat right-angles all the way down the pastry strip. (That means about four or five folds in all.)
Make sure the final fold includes a good smear of melted butter, then wrap up and keep on making more triangles. As usual, your last few triangles are really good, while the first few are a bit rough.
Place the triangles on a flat baking tray and brush with butter. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F (180°C) for 30 minutes. I could fit about 6 triangles per batch on my tray, so I baked 6 in the first batch and 7 in the second, for the classic baker's dozen of 13 triangles.
400g spinach, washed and chopped
100g feta cheese, crumbled
50g ricotta cheese
6 spring onions (shallots), finely chopped, including green stems
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
filo pastry sheets
To make the filling, steam the spinach for 3-4 minutes until wilted then drain in a colander. Combine with the feta cheese, ricotta, spring onions, dill, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well.
To make the triangles, preheat the oven to 180°C. Lay out a single sheet of filo on a flat surface and cut into strips about 10cm wide (you'll get two or three strips per sheet). Brush each strip with melted butter (but keep all the unused filo covered with a cloth, to stop it drying out). Place a dollop of the filling in one corner of the strip, then fold over to form a triangle shape. Keep on folding the triangle at right angles, until it meets the end of the filo strip. Brush with melted butter and place on a baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes, until the pies are golden-brown.