Although my tastebuds recognise it’s Greek provenance, to my heart & mind it’s Catalan cuisine. Specifically post-cava and cocktails street food in late night Barcelona about 10 years ago. You see I had friends that lived there after we graduated, and deep in the heart of tapas land, my vegetarian friend Fiona introduced me to the wonder of spanokopita, or spinach pie to give it its’ more pedestrian name. It was purchased from a tiny shop in a dingy square* and the flaky pastry parcel combined with the tangy feta was perfect post pub grub. The lashings of spinach were just a positive by product, and set it apart from a greasy kebab.
Fiona herself has made spanakopita (not for me mind, hmph!) but I’d never had it outside of holiday scenarios. I don’t cook with pastry a lot, or ever really, but when the ever reliable Domini Kemp featured it in the Irish Times last saturday, I had to give it a go. It really is pretty close to store cupboard stuff. Only, with our small freezer I wouldn’t generally have a kilo of frozen spinach lying around, it would take away space from the Ben & Jerrys. Still, Popeye type quanties of spinach though it seems, it was actually less than 1.5 bags from Dunnes. This is definitely a frozen spinach recipe, you would need a ridiculous amount of the fresh stuff to the same yield. Feta & puff pastry are everywhere, though I got mine in Aldi, and the rest I had. I believe filo pastry is more authentic but whats a million layers of flaky pastry between (hungry) friends?
1kg bag frozen spinach, ideally defrosted
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 large onion, finely sliced
Few pinches dried oregano or mint, or any herb
Squeeze of lemon juice
100ml crème fraiche
35g pine nuts
300g puff pastry
Salt and pepper
Heat an oven to 200 degrees/gas six. If the spinach hasn’t defrosted, you can heat it up in saucepan with some water and a good knob of butter, then drain and squeeze it dry in a tea towel. Sauté the fennel seeds in a frying pan until you can get a good whiff from them and then add the oil and onions and sweat it slowly. Add the herbs and when the onions have softened up a bit, add the lemon juice. Roughly chop the spinach and then add it also. Mix well and season lightly, then take it off the heat and let it cool down.
Beat the eggs and pour a small amount into a cup, which you can use for glazing the puff pastry later. Chop the feta into cubes and add it and the rest of the beaten eggs to the spinach mix, along with the crème fraiche and pine nuts. Mix well and adjust the seasoning.
Pour the filling into a buttered gratin dish. Roll out the puff pastry big enough to cover the spinach. Press the pastry into the edges of the dish, trim off the excess, and glaze with the beaten egg. Make a few slits in the pastry. Bake for about 30 minutes until it has puffed up and is golden brown. Allow it to settle for a few minutes and then serve.
This was absolutely beautiful, and I can see me coming back to it again and again. I didn’t change one single thing about the recipe either. A complete miracle! We had an impromptu grateful dinner guest, Dom ate loads (he was particularly enamoured by the pine nuts) I ate seconds, and husband bagged the last slice for his lunch today. You could feed 4 hungry or 6 polite adults I reckon. I would like to try it as picnic lunch type pastry parcels though, so I might have to experiment. Mark’s making mac n cheese for tonights dinner as I type, but I really wish I had more leftovers for of this for me now!
*update, Fiona has a remarkable memory and tells me that it was Dionisos, The Quick Greek, in Placa De George Orwell