This is the best recipe for the classic Greek spanakopita I know – believe me when I say I have tried dozens of them during my lifetime. It’s inspired by my friend Elena whom I met on the tiny island of Paxos one hot and sultry evening. She used to run a teeny tiny little taverna with just four tables covered in waxed gingham cloths around which sat 16 beautiful old white chairs with faded rafia seats covered in dusty plastic. This pie is all she made – in vast quantities I might add – day in and day out. She was justly proud of it and served it with a toothy grin, crisp roast potatoes, a generous bowl of Greek salad, tzatziki and jugs of ice cold retsina. This is my very favourite menu for a Sunday dinner with family and friends.
2 tbsp Raphael’s Cretan extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
Knob of salted butter
2 large leeks, trimmed and finely sliced
1 tbsp sumac (optional)
700g tender green leaves, including spinach, chard, nettles (stings neutralised, see note above) and dandelion, thoroughly washed in plenty of free-flowing water
100g wild rocket
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
400g feta cheese
250g Greek anari cheese (you can also use good quality ricotta but make sure to drain it first)
100g pine kernels, toasted
2 lemons, zested
Small bunch of mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
Small bunch of dill, finely chopped
Half of a whole nutmeg, finely grated
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
250g filo pastry (I love JR Feuilles de Filo, available at Waitrose)
Nigella and mixed sesame seeds
Pul biber and chopped dill for garnishing
How I make it
Heat an oven to 180C.
Heat up a large frying pan, add the olive oil, the butter and a pinch of sea salt. Turn down the heat and sauté the leeks for 20 minutes. Add the sumac and stir around for a further minute. Set aside to cool.
In the same pan, add the greens in batches, cover and leave to wilt slightly but not entirely (the trick is to retain some of the crisp texture of the greens). Remove from the pan and place into a colander to drain. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, mix the eggs and crumble in the feta and anari cheese. Add the cooled spinach, the rocket, the pine kernels, the lemon zest, herbs and nutmeg. Mix everything together very gently and season to your taste. Set aside for a few minutes to allow any residual liquid settle at the bottom of the bowl.
To make individual pies, place one sheet of filo on a floured surface and brush it will olive oil. Place another sheet over the top at 180 degree angle and brush with oil. Finally, place a third sheet on top to match the original one and brush with oil. Place a quarter of the pie filling in the middle, arrange into a square shape and wrap the pastry around it as if wrapping a gift. Repeat three more times to make four pies and turn them over to hide the folded edges. Place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment, brush with olive oil and scatter the nigella seeds over the top.
To make one large pie, arrange the filo sheets on a large round pie dish brushing each layer with olive oil, making sure that you cover the bottom and leave plenty hanging over the edge of the tray. Tip the greens and feta mixture onto the pastry – making sure to leave any excess liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Spread the filling to the edges using a fork then gently fold the overhanging layers over the top, brushing each layer with olive oil as you go. Brush the top of the pie with olive oil and sprinkle the nigella and sesame seeds over the top.
Bake the pie(s) for around 25 minutes until the pastry turns golden and the top feels firm. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes before serving – it should never be served piping hot. Here, I’ve served it with a bowl of amba sauce, a dizzying mix of Alphonso mangoes, lime, lemon and a fruity little spice mix from Iraq. Alternatively, you can serve it as Elena did with hot roast potatoes finished with a squeeze of lemon juice and a scattering of wild oregano, a crisp Greek salad and a bowl of refreshing tzatziki.
Suggested wine pairing from Ben, Director of Novel Wines
Ben has chosen the Lebanese wine Chateau Oumsiyat Cuvee Memliarus Assyrtico 2018. He says: “This wine is bursting with citrus alongside hints of spice and a juicy, mineral finish. It has plenty of zing to charm the spanakopita, without compromising on body and mouthfeel, key when you have such a quality olive oil in the dish.” Winemaker Joseph Bou Sleiman is behind Oumsiyat and oversees their 78 hectare estate, situated 1,000m above se level in Lebanon’s stunning Beqaa Valley. Nestled between Mt Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon mountains, Sleiman’s planting of the Greek grape variety Assyrtico is a first for the valley and gives a distinctly different style of wine. Expect white peach, passion fruit, melon and grapefruit, alongside floral and citrusy aromas.
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