Spanakopita – Greens, Cheese, Pastry’n’Lard. And the shame.
I went to Melbourne, recently. One of the best eating experiences was wolfing down a hot, crisp, wet and salty slice of spanakopita in the drizzle at a bus stop outside St Paul’s cathedral. It was messy, satisfying, quick with no napery, cutlery or manners required. That is the point of street food.
I bought it in Degraves Street and after four days on the lash in a big city I was somewhat overwhelmed with the relentless sameness of the cafes and bistros crammed in to that short street. Not surprising then that standout item was the uncovered, un-primped and, quite frankly, loose slice of authentic spanakopita stacked right on the counter of LINK In-a-Rush, which is a chain and not a groovy little nook.
Back home in Perth I head straight for the veggie tanks and reached for, if I were an utter ponce I would call it a cathedral of cholorphyl, the patch of greens that has grown up strong and crisp in the winter rain. Spanakopita is pretty much the best way I know to transfer the goodness of fresh, garden greens in to a savoury snack. When they are combined with sauteed onions, ricotta and feta cheese and sealed in a crisp pastry shell they tick all the snack boxes; convenience, mouth-feel and as far as flavour is concerned it is certainly going to light up your umami/well-cooked steak/salty/crispy pleasure receptors despite being fit for vegetarians. In fact, it is so sensual that it is the kind of thing you may want to eat in private with the blinds drawn and the phone off the hook. However, nutritonally, it is making you look like 8 year old at first communion thanks to the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre from the greens, the calcium from the cheeses, and good fats in the olive oil. If you brush the pastry crumbs from your chin you may just get away with the whole package.
Personally, I could not pull the wholesome image off as I decided to make the pastry with butter and lard. Not philo, not polyunsaturated canola but rendered pig fat. And there is very good reason for that: Lard and butter in pastry are alchemy, the route to pastry perfection. However my spanakopita experience ended in shame. Reader, I ate the entire pie over 18 hours. By myself. Both inside and outside the house, sitting up and standing down, hot and cold, with decorum and with both fists, saturated fat and refined carbohydrate debris snagged in my clothing. But it was a wonderful experience, a once a year fiesta and, the healthy stand of greens still left in the veggie tanks not withstanding, not one I shall be repeating for another 12 months.
And this is the recipe:
Serves – you be the judge depending on your own self restraint Preparation time – 2.5 hours including chilling
500g of fresh greens, for example spinach, kale, chard
1 pack of frozen chopped spinach, take this out of the freezer as soon as you can
either one medium red onion finely chopped or a handful of spring onions chopped
Small handful of fresh herbs such as mint, parsley, dill, coriander if you have them
Salt, Pepper and ground nutmeg
250g ricotta cheese
250g feta cheese
600 g of pastry, anything you like ready-made, puff, philo etc. But if you want the top shelf experience follow the link PASTRY but it must have been chilling for at least 30 minutes before you start to work with it. LINK TO SCIENCE REASON
Melted butter for brushing
- Wash you greens, drain them and chop fairly roughly
- Heat a large, wide pan and add a generous amount of olive oil, it is pointless worrying about fat content.
- Sautee the onion until soft and throw in the greens and turn up the heat. Season with plenty of pepper and a little salt. Stir to coat with the oil. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the frozen spinach and poke it around until it separates and mix it in. Sprinkle on a little nutmeg.
- In a large bowl combine the cheeses and break them up roughly with a fork. Add the greens and blend. Set aside to cool.
- Prepare a space for your pastry, turn on the oven to 200 degrees C and get a thick baking sheet.
- If you will insist on using philo pastry you can read the instructions on the packet, otherwise cut the pastry block in half and roll out one half to a thickness of 5 mm. It doesn’t matter a bit if it is ragged round the edges. Transfer to the baking tray. Roll out the other half to a similar size and shape, there are no prizes for presentation. It is not Sweet Genius.
- Brush the perimiter of the bottom sheet of pastry with water and spoon on the greens and cheese mixture, test the seasonings at this stage.
- Take the other sheet of pastry and make a pie. Squeeze, crimp or affix the two sheets together making sure you have a nice rim and that there are no holes. Brush the whole thing with a bit of melted butter and poke three slits in the top. Bake for at least 15 minutes at 200 degrees and then turn down the heat to 180 for another 15. Make sure it doesn’t burn.
- Take it out and leave to cool on the baking sheet, well I say cool, I mean until you reckon you can start eating it without burning your soft palate. Leave the beast whole and cut off slices as and when you need them.