Gathering and cooking with the greens and herbs from the land around one’s home in Greece is a tradition that goes back to ancient times. After all, not only do they taste good, they are a free and deeply nutritious. A traditional Greek spanakopita traditionally features phyllo pastry filled with a mixture of foraged chopped greens and herbs, feta cheese, spring onions, eggs and seasoning. I’m just starting out on the foraging lark and, so far, I’ve impressed myself. For this version of the classic Greek pie, I made use of early spring nettle tops and borage leaves both of which become soft and delicious when cooked, the former tasting of spinach and the latter of cucumber. Trust me, this is really delicious and goes really well with my Wild Garlic Pesto (as shown here) and slow roasted tomatoes.
1 bunch of spring onions
200g of nettle tops (the first six leaves of the plant)
200g of baby spinach leaves
50g borage leaves, chopped
30g dill, finely chopped
200g feta, crumbled
2 eggs, beaten
1 lemon, tested and juiced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
7 sheets of phyllo (filo) pastry
1 tbsp sesame or poppy seeds
How I make it
Heat an oven to 200C. Wearing latex gloves, carefully cut the nettle leaves off the stalks. Fill a sink with cold water and wash the leaves using a slotted spoon to stir them around before transferring them to a clean tea towel to absorb the excess liquid.
Melt 50g of the butter in a large frying pan and fry the spring onions until softened. Remove from the pan and wilt the nettles and spinach, stirring all the time (you will have to do this in batches). Leave to one side to cool before roughly chopping them (the sting will have now been neutralised).
In a large bowl, mix the spring onions, chopped leaves, the herbs, the feta, two thirds of the beaten egg, the lemon zest and juice and a really generous grating of nutmeg (I’m crazy about it). Season to taste, adding even more lemon juice if needed.
Melt the remaining 50g of butter in a small pan.
To assemble, lay three sheets of phyllo end to end, overlapping each sheet by around 4cm. Repeat this step with three more sheets. Finally, add the last sheet in the middle to support the whole thing. Brush with butter.
Carefully spoon the filling along one edge until you get a nice even layer but leave clear around 4cm at each end. Tuck in the ends to stop the filling from coming out and gently roll into a long sausage shape. Then gently shape the whole thing into a spiral and place in a buttered shallow round pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Brush with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds.
Bake for 40-50 mins, turning around every 15 mins so that it browns evenly. Leave to cool for a few minutes and serve warm alongside a classic Greek salad.
A note on when to harvest nettle leaves:
Early Spring is when they’re at their best but you can freeze cooked wilted leaves and enjoy them all year round. However, I prefer to wait and enjoy their seasonality. Alternatively, you can substitute the nettles for spinach or Swiss chard.