Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Ode to Greece and Spanakopita

UPDATED 09/05/14: I've made a few tweaks to the original recipe, which I'm sure you'll like!

One of the main joys of travelling for me is the food. And last July we jetted off to Nikiti, a small town in Greece, on the Halkidiki peninsula of Greece. First things first: the Greek islands are overrated; beaches on the mainland are equally, or more wonderful! Particularly around the Halkidiki peninsula. That was our base for a week, where we with my brother's girlfriend's family. We then travelled around mainland Greece for another week and saw the sights (Meteora, Delphi, Kalavrita and Epidavros). 

It is true what they say about holidays: diet beforehand so you can put it all back on! Every night my brother's girlfriend's mother (phew!) prepared a huge spread of Greek dishes, and it was here I fell in love with Greek food. Now every time I cook for the house, I unwittingly choose Greek food. Spanakopita is one of the classics, and also one of the best. In the recipe below, I use frozen spinach for two reasons: its already wilted, and it works out MUCH cheaper. Less effort, less cost. A lot of sense. 

After trying several recipes for Spanakopita, this one takes the best elements of them all. Fresh herbs are essential. The aroma of fresh dill rarely frequents our home, but one whiff and it transports us to the fertile, sundrenched soils of the Eastern Med.  

A few holiday snaps first (credit for some of these goes to my sisters Eliza and Lydia):

The family BBQ

Image: Lydia Swinn

Cliff Monasteries at Meteora. Image: Eliza Swinn

Image: Eliza Swinn

Inside a monastery in Meteora

Image: Eliza Swinn



 I like to serve this with Greek salad, tzatziki and mushroom rice.

Makes 12 triangles (or serves 6-8)

700g frozen spinach
1 medium onion, diced
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
60ml olive oil
300g feta
250g ricotta
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to season
10 sheets phyllo pastry
1/2 cup melted butter/ margarine (or use 1/4 cup olive oil, mixed with 1/4 cup melted butter/ margarine)

Thaw spinach over a strainer with a tray or dish underneath to catch the water. Alternatively, thaw in microwave. Using your hands, squeeze as much water as possible out of the spinach or press into a sieve. Fry the onions on a low heat in 1 tbsp olive oil until soft.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F/ 175 degrees celsius/ gas mark 4. Put the spinach into a large bowl along with the onions, spring onions, remaining 3 tbsp olive oil, crumbled feta, ricotta, eggs, parsley, dill, nutmeg and season very well. Mix together and taste, adjust seasoning. 

Brush a large oven-proof dish with some of the butter/olive oil mixture. Unfold the thawed pastry, and place on a plate, with a tea towel on top to prevent the sheets drying out. Layer the bottom of the dish with 4 sheets of pastry, brushing with the butter/olive oil each time. Spoon in the filling. Cover with the remaining sheets of pastry, again brushing each sheet with the butter/olive oil. Score the top of the pastry so it will have a nice crack. Bake 30 - 40 mins.

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