The classic Jaffa orange – shamouti – was originally developed by Palestinian farmers in the mid-19th century and takes its name from the city of Jaffa – Yafo – where it was first produced for export. These are the oranges that I was given as the occasional treat when I was a child so the intoxicating aroma of the blossoms that filled the air as I first sped from the airport into the metropolis of Tel Aviv-Yafo was a deeply moving experience for me. It is a very delicate and fleeting scent but it is definitely there like a sensual breeze lightly dancing across the land. In Hebrew, an orange grove is called a ‘pardes’ – as in paradis or the Garden of Eden – a word that is derived from ancient Persian referring to a garden of trees enclosed by a wall. I’ve since walked across many a grove – breaking and entering if needs be – just to sit amongst the trees. This recipe is inspired by the delicate citrusy bourekas that I used to buy in little paper bags from a tiny backstreet bakery in the streets that curve around the port in Jaffa from where from my childhood oranges would have started their journey.
400g feta cheese
100g flaked almonds, lightly toasted
1 orange, zested and juiced
2 tsp dried wild oregano
Orange blossom water, the tiniest amount (optional)
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
4 sheets filo pastry
Extra-virgin olive oil
Mixed sesame or nigella seeds to garnish
Pomegranate arils, to garnish (optional)
How I make it
Heat an oven to 180C.
Add a splash of water to a large lidded frying pan and add the spinach, cover and allow it to wilt. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool then gently squeeze out any excess water and roughly chop.
Meanwhile crumble the feta into a large bowl and add all the other ingredients including the orange zest (but not the juice) and the chopped spinach. Add a couple of tablespoons of the orange juice (not too much as you want the filling to be quite dry) and gently combine. Add a couple of drops of orange blossom water (if using) and season to your taste.
Take a large pie dish and arrange the filo sheets over it allowing each sheet to hang over the edges. Tumble in the spinach and cheese mixture and gently bring in the overhanging filo sheets to cover the pie filling. Brush with extra-virgin olive oil and garnish with the sesame or nigella seeds. Place into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp and golden.
Remove from the oven and serve immediately alongside your favourite mezze dishes. The pie can also be eaten at room temperature and will keep in the fridge for a couple of days (take it out an hour before you want to eat it and put it in the oven for 10 minutes to crisp up the pastry).