:: It’s been a while since I’ve posted thanks to a certain mishap involving my laptop and an overfilled gin and tonic. Apparently my keyboard didn’t appreciate the healthy slurp of Tanqueray and had to be rushed to the PC emergency unit, where after many days of tests my little laptop was pronounced stable and only in need of a new keypad. Phew.
Last week I made spanakopita, a Greek savoury dish of filo pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese, which is normally baked into a pie or individual triangles. The light, crispy layers of pastry and wonderfully earthy spinach mix make a lovely, light meal during the warmer months but I enjoy it so much that I’ll make it all year through.
This meal actually revolved around the beautiful heirloom cherry tomatoes I picked up on a trip to the local grocers. There’s a stall at my local farmers market which sells a range of larger heirloom varieties but I had never seen such an array of cherry tomatoes before so I snapped them up with enthusiasm and set about planning how best to prepare them and what to pair them with.
I was curious to find out the different varieties in my little punnet and after doing a bit of searching I came across this website. Who knew there were so many different types of tomato! The Cherokee Purples in my lot are particularly striking – deep, burgundy-coloured fruit with green zebra stripes and a rich, beefy texture.
The only part of spanakopita that presents a bit of a challenge is working with filo pastry. Filo sheets are very thin and prone to drying out easily, and if the condensation from the freezer melts on them, they’ll stick together and tear. Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to get a whole batch of filo that rips and the perfectionist in me has been known to throw more than a few tantrums at defective pastry. My top tip is stick with a brand that works and don’t keep any leftovers in the freezer for more than a month or two – it will just crack and break when you come to use it and you’ll have to make a last minute pre-dinner dash to the supermarket for a new box.
12 sheets filo pastry
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g Greek feta , crumbled or grated
250g fresh ricotta
2 bunches spinach, washed thoroughly and leaves picked
2 onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
50g melted butter
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Heat a large saucepan over low heat and cook the onions until golden. You don’t want to brown them but agitate just until they begin to stick to the pan. Add the spinach leaves in batches and allow them to sweat until they are completely wilted. Remove from the stove to cool.
In a large bowl combine the feta, ricotta, eggs, nutmeg and pepper. Taste your feta and season with salt accordingly; it’s a cheese that’s normally stored in brine so you don’t want to be heavy handed with additional salt. Wait until the spinach has cooled completely (you don’t want the warm mixture to set the eggs) and add to the cheese mixture.
On a cool surface, place one sheet of filo pastry. Paint with melted butter and top with another sheet. Repeat this process until you have a stack of six sheets and place in a baking tray with the sides overlapping. Fill with the spinach mixture and fold each side inwards towards the centre. Make another stack of six filo sheets and place on top of the exposed spinach mixture, carefully folding the excess pastry underneath the bottom layers. Brush with melted butter and bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pastry is crisp and golden brown.
While the spinach pie is baking, prepare a salad of cherry tomatoes to serve as an accompaniment. The beautiful fragrant punch of basil provides the perfect partner to the sweet tomatoes.
1 punnet of heirloom (or regular) cherry tomatoes
1 cup basil leaves, tightly packed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredient except tomatoes in a blender until a smooth green dressing forms. Taste and season as required.
Halve cherry tomatoes, place in a serving bowl and drizzle over dressing. Serve immediately.