Friday, 28 March 2008

Spanakopita spiral for Lent (Στριφτή χορτόπιτα νηστίσιμη)

I love any sort of spinach pie. Give me anything green encased in crust - I dig it (although I myself may not have dug it). There's the last remaining lot of spinach and silverbeet to chop up. The pastry maker sold me the filo (phyllo) yesterday - but I'm bored of making the same pies again and again: square kalitsounia, half-moon kalitsounia, pastry twists, spanakopites. How about a strifti pita (spiral pie)? This sort of pita is made in Northern Greece, but it's become a popular shape for spanakopita and hortopita all over Greece, and is sold in traditional fast food outlets here in Crete.

Recently I came across a recipe for seskoulopita (sefklopita), a strange name, meaning silverbeet (Swiss chard) pie. Although I could have made it using only Swiss chard, I added spinach, simply because we had plenty of it. The recipe also included cheese, but I wanted to make something I remember my mother making in New Zealand during Lent - lenten kalitsounia, which were always fried in a shallow pan (unlike the kalitsounia which included cheese, which were baked in the oven).

Here's a very rustic recipe for a pie using wild greens. Don't be put off by the 'raw' taste you imagine you will encounter when you bite into it; I had friends over from New Zealand, and everyone thought it was a super vegetarian pie. My son ate one eighth on his own. Lenten spanakopites/hortopites are also made and sold in takeaway shops during Lent. Some people like their food simple.

You need:
3 thick filo pastry sheets, cut into halves (ie six sheets in all) for a 36cm round tin (but you can substitute thin filo pastry for thick - you will then need six sheets, and you will leave them intact - they will be folded in half instead)
a large bunch of spinach, chopped finely
a large bunch of silverbeet, chopped finely
1 large onion, chopped finely
a few sprigs of herbs that you have handy: I added parsley, mint and fennel, all finely chopped, as well as dried oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons of dry breadcrumbs (to soak up any excess moisture)
salt, pepper
For this pie to be successful, you need to make sure that all the greens are clean (no grit) and DRY. The less water retained in the cleaned and washed greens, the less likely the ingredients will spill out of the pastry which will break open (if it's too damp) while cooking. This is why I added breadcrumbs to the finely chopped greens - to soak up any excess moisture. You can also substitute semolina for breadcrumbs; it depends on what you have handy. The olive oil is added to the greens to keep them compact. The greens will not wilt and cook properly if they are too dry.

Mix all the ingredients together. Form long sausages (or snakes) with the rectangle pastry sheets. Place them in rounds in the tin. I started my spiral from the rim; Peter started his cheesy striftopita from the centre. Form the strips into a continuous spiral. When all the twists have been laid, brush them with oil (for a completely vegan lenten version) or butter or egg (if you can't fathom the idea that there is no cheese in the pie - I brushed it with egg, more out of habit; I simply broke the egg into a bowl, and before I realised that this was supposed to be a lenten pie, the bowl of egg was finished). Cook the pie for forty minutes at moderate heat, till the pie crust is golden brown.

When you are ready to serve the pie, cut it lengthwise into quarters, and then cut the pieces in half again. The pie is meant to be eaten in spiral bits, rather than as a piece, otherwise it may fall to pieces and lose its shape. I served this meal as part of a very green luncheon (which included stuffed silverbeet dolmades topped with meat patties) for Ian and Anne, who had wearily travelled from so far away to see me, so this post is dedicated to them. You might also like to look at my leek spiral pie, another delicious use of filo pastry and greens.

And if you don't want to use filo pastry, why not try using this pie filling in caneloni, like Chef Richard did in Burundi!
chef richard in burundi cooking greek-inspired food by me

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Kalitsounia fried
Kalitsounia in the oven
Wild asparagus
Hortopita (spanakopita)
Horta in winter
Horta in summer
Swiss chard (silverbeet)
Eggs with mustard greens
Mountain tea

Kalitsounia fried
Easter kalitsounia
Kalitsounia in the oven
Hortopita (spanakopita)
Filo-pastry making
Sfakianes pites
Summer kalitsounia