MELT IN THE MOUTH Spinach and feta combine with delicate filo pastry to make a Greek classic.
We can’t go away this summer, but we can still get the taste of holidays
With that long and very horrible winter nearly behind us, it’s time to look forward to warmer days and fresh, light foods.
Recently, we’ve been in the mood for salads. For lunch, we’ve been having a lot of crunchy lettuce, like little gem lettuces. At the Westport Country Market, Chris Smith has been selling the first of the season’s organic floppy lettuces, firm and tasty. Get there early or they will be gone! The kids have been planting cress, a real peppery treat that grows like lightening and elevates any salad.
The great thing about salads is that they are quick and easy. You can use so many ingredients, just reach for whatever’s handy. Make lots of little plates and then help yourself.
For extra crunch and flavour in your leaves, toss a handful of toasted sesame seeds on top. Heat the oven to 180C, spread the sesame seeds onto a baking tray. Cook for a few minutes, checking often, until they are golden. When cooled, sprinkle over the salad.
For a simple but delicious dressing, pour over a little extra virgin olive oil and a shot of vinegar. I am addicted to Wildwood balsamic wild blackberry vinegar. It’s made in County Mayo, and it is exceptional.
Recently, I’ve been serving the greens with lightly boiled eggs, Jerry Hasset’s (very delicious) Achill smoked mackerel, chopped cherry tomatoes marinated in olive oil and Achill seaweed salt, thinly sliced radishes, beetroot relish and wild garlic flowers. There are endless combinations.
Hearing we won’t be travelling abroad this year gave me a pang one day for Greek food. I made a spanakopita – a classic Greek spinach and feta pie – for a taste of summers to come. In the following recipe, you can use spinach or chard, but use mature strong leaves; baby leaves will crumble to mush. You could also use frozen spinach – defrost it then pop it in a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. The mint and dill is to taste, in Greece they will use up to 25g of each herb, but for me that’s a bit overpowering. The rice is to absorb extra liquid from the spinach as it cooks. Serve your pie with fresh greens.
What you need
- 600g spinach
- 1 red onion or leek
- 4 spring onions
- 2tbsp olive oil and extra for brushing
- 600g crumbled feta cheese
- 10g chopped dill
- 10g chopped mint leaves
- 3 sprigs of oregano – leaves picked and finely chopped
- 50g uncooked rice
- 2 beaten eggs
- Zest of a lemon
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 250g filo pastry
What you do
Trim the woody stalks off the spinach. Roughly chop the leaves and finely chop the stems. Put the spinach in a colander in the sink, add a generous sprinkle of sea salt then massage the leaves with your hands until they wilt. Leave to drain.
Chop and soften the onion (or leek) in olive oil over a medium heat. When softened – but not browned – take off the heat and mix in the chopped spring onions. Transfer to a large bowl. Crumble the feta cheese into the bowl then add the chopped herbs. Add the rice and mix well.
Squeeze the spinach to remove as much liquid as possible then add it to the bowl. Mix in the eggs, a dash of olive oil, a pinch of nutmeg (or a decent grating if using fresh) and mix thoroughly. For best results, use your hands. Add a pinch of salt – not much as the feta is already salty.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly brush a 30cm x 25cm baking tin with olive oil and line with half the filo pastry, lightly brushing each sheet with olive oil. Don’t press the sheets down hard or they will compact. Leave the excess pastry to hang over the edges of the tray.
Add the filling to the tin, flatten, then gently layer the remaining filo sheets (lightly brushing each one with oil) over the spinach mix to make a lid. Fold the overhanging pastry into the tin to form a crust. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden. Allow to cool before serving.
The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.