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One of my favourite comfort meals is spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie), served with tabbouleh and golden roast potatoes.  It’s simple, easy and extremely good for you, especially as it is so high in iron from all those wonderful deep green vegetables.

I was first introduced to it  in my late teens and took it on as my own.  It was a great pseudo-hippy share house meal and although I couldn’t get hold of spinach back in early ’80s Hobart, I made it with silver beet, which was a passable alternative.  Since then I have researched, remodelled, refined and rejoiced in its simple goodness.  It is the perfect recipe for your vegetarian and meat eater friends alike.

This easy to make recipe has warmed many hearts and converted non-spinach lovers into fans of this gorgeous green. I’ve even had Greek friends say it’s up there with their mother’s spanakopita, which is a great compliment and confirms I have this recipe right.

Spring onion bunch

Notes: When I made this a few nights ago I was missing a vital ingredient — spring onions — but went ahead anyway.  Without them it lacked a certain pungency, but was still very tasty just the same. Furthermore, there are many different feta cheeses out there.  I use either Bulgarian or Greek, depending on what’s available.  They both have different flavours and do the pie justice. Do not compromise the ricotta … it must be fresh.

One more thing.  You can do one whole pie, covered with layers of pastry and cut into slices to serve. You may wish to fold triangles.  I chose to roll spanakopita cigars, which is what you see in the photos.

the recipe

Spanakopita fresh from the ovenYou will need
1 generous bunch of fresh English spinach (or silver beet)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
5 spring onions (whites and a little of the green tops)
1 medium brown or white onion
200 grams fresh ricotta cheese
220 grams feta cheese
1 large or 2 small free range eggs, lightly beaten
a small grating of nutmeg
a small grind of black pepper
6-8 sheets filo pastry
melted butter

preheat your oven to 180º

Clean and prepare the spinach
Cut the roots and most of the stalks off your spinach.  Half fill your kitchen sink with clean cold water and plunge the spinach in to give it a good wash and get rid of all the gritty dirt.  Shake it out well and place in a large saucepan with with the dried oregano and about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom.

Cover and turn on the heat then let it steam for a few minutes, until just wilted through.  Immediately remove from heat, drain and run under cold water to stop it cooking. Now squeeze and squeeze and squeeze all the excess water out of the spinach.  That large bunch of leaves is now just a handful of mushy green goodness awaiting some magic.

When dry, chop it finely and place into a mixing bowl.

Make the mixture

  • Chop the onions very finely and add to the spinach bowl.
  • Rinse, dry and finely slice the spring onions, then add to the bowl.
  • Place the ricotta cheese into the bowl and then finely crumble in the feta.  Take a fork and use its prongs to mush the ricotta and begin mixing everything together.
  • Add the nutmeg and black pepper and continue mixing.
  • When the cheese is all mushed together, change your fork for a mixing spoon and add the egg/s.
  • Continue mixing until you see everything is well combined.

Today we roll cigars

  • Take one sheet of filo pastry and place it on your clean work surface.
  • Place a spoonful of spinach mixture about one inch from the end closest to you and spread evenly across the pastry, about one inch from each end.
  • Roll the end over, then fold each edge in.  The pastry will probably break a bit at this stage.
  • Lightly brush the remaining pastry with melted butter and continue to roll up until you form a nice cigar shape.
  • Gently place into a baking tray.
  • When all your mix is rolled up, brush the tops of your cigars with melted butter.

Placing spinach filling on pastryRolling spanakopita cigarsCook

  • Place into your preheated oven and bake for about 20  minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the centre is cooked through.  Note: You’ll need to cook a single pie longer to cook the filling right through.  It’s a hard one to check and may require a bit of trial and error to perfect.
  • Turn the oven down if your pastry is getting too dark.

Normally I’d serve this pie with tabbouleh and potatoes, but for dinner last week it was served with roasted pumpkin, potatoes and beans.

Spanakopita cigars, potatoes and green beans for dinner

Eat.  Enjoy.

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