If you’re thinking of Greece and baking, the chances are that spanakopita is at or near the top of your list. But what exactly is it? The most usual answer is “spinach and feta pie”, but the truth is, you can take pretty much any leafy vegetable, any set of alliums, your favourite dairy products to enrich it (or not, if you’re vegan) and your favourite herbs and spices: wrap that in filo pastry in a shape of your choice (bite-sized or pan-sized), bake it and you get something that’s arguably a spanakopita. There are probably as many recipes as there are cooks.
So I’m not in any way claiming that what follows is a definitive spanakopita. But I will claim that it’s tested, it’s absolutely delicious, it’s filling, it looks good, it doesn’t take all that long to make, it’s highly tolerant of inaccurate quantities and as long as you take it out of the oven before it starts burning, you’re unlikely to ruin it. In short, whether you’re a frequent vegetarian cook or not, it’s a winner.
The filo pastry and butter is a given, and unless you’re going to opt for kale or other leaves, so is the spinach (the recipes I’ve seen recommend fresh non-young spinach, but all I have available in my local supermarket is the young stuff, and it works fine). For alliums, I like a mixture of leek, shallot, onion and garlic – but you can leave out at least two of these. For flavourings, I go for nutmeg and lemon rind, which gives a real zing, plus a mix of dill, oregano and flat leaf parsley. But again, the first time I made this, I only had parsley in the house, and it was fine. For enriching the filling, I like eggs and feta cheese with a generous dose of grated Parmesan. But you get the idea: don’t feel overly bound to my choices and quantities. Lots of variations will work. So here goes…
The recipe serves four generously as a meal on its own, or would do a starter for at least 8.
I used a square 23cm x 23cm metal baking tin, which probably better than a thick ceramic dish, but you can adapt the instructions for whatever you have.
You’ll need a brush of some sort for spreading the butter – otherwise, you’re likely to break the filo too much – it’s very fragile.
- 400g fresh spinach (frozen is said to work well, but I haven’t tried)
- 2 leeks – around 300g, 240g after trimming
- 1 red onion – around 120g
- 3 cloves garlic – around 20g
- 1 banana shallot – around 50g
- Bunch of dill
- Bunch of oregano
- Bunch of flat leaf parsley
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 200g feta cheese
- 120g Parmesan or similar hard cheese
- Rind of 1 lemon, grated
- Grated nutmeg and salt to taste
- 12 sheets of filo pastry (around 150g)
- Melted butter for spreading – I needed around 100-120g
- Olive oil for frying
Here’s the usual collection of in-process shots:
Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
- Boil a kettle, put the spinach in a colander and pour the boiling water over it. Leave it to wilt and drain while you prepare the rest of the filling.
- Chop the leeks, onion, shallot and garlic and fry gently in some oil (I add a bit of salt at this stage). Meanwhile, chop your herbs: when the mixture has gone transparent, add the chopped herbs and stir well so that everything is nicely blended. Keep frying gently for a few minutes until it’s all soft and beginning to go golden: don’t let it go dark brown. Remove from heat.
- Crumble the feta into a large bowl, add the grated parmesan, beaten egg, lemon rind and nutmeg and mix thoroughly. Make sure the leek and onion mix is no hotter than lukewarm – you don’t want it to scramble the eggs – then combine it with the mixture. Now squeeze some water out of the spinach, add this, and stir/chop vigorously with a spoon or spatula so that the filling is thoroughly blended – you don’t want lumps of cheese or lumps of pure spinach.
- Spread a layer of melted butter over your oven dish or tin. Open your packet of filo and work quickly (the stuff dries out): spread two pieces across the bottom of the tin so that they hang over the sides, brush melted butter over the area lining the bottom and sides the tin now repeat this but going the opposite way. When you’ve done this, your square tin will have filo draped over each of its four sides. Repeat this twice, so you’re using 12 sheets of filo in total.
- Pour your filling into the pastry-lined tin and even it out into a single, thick layer reaching the corners.
- Take the overhanging edges of the last pair of pieces of filo you put in, wrap them back over the dish, and brush them with melted butter. Repeat for the remaining five pairs. Make sure you have enough butter left to give the top a good brushing: that’s what will make the pie go gold.
- Bake for around 30-40 minutes, until a deep golden colour.
You can serve it straight out of the oven, cold for a picnic, or anywhere in between.