Monday, 2 March 2015

Spannakopitta - Spinach Pie

Nothing infuriates me more than people wasting my time. Time moves only in one direction: it never comes back.
I write this because I am still angry with the organisers of an art performance. The other day, I was invited to participate in a performance. I thought it might be interesting and fun and promised to be there. The beginning of the performance was announced for 6 pm – we were asked to be there half an hour earlier for a briefing. The evening before, an assistant even called me up to make sure I would be there at 5.30 pm sharp.

I have been educated that punctuality is a sign of respect and polite behaviour. It is ingrained in my soul. I don’t want to make people wait for me and I have difficulties if this courtesy is not reciprocated.

Goa is not known for punctuality but I thought I have to be there because they asked me to be sharp on time. Being familiar with local customs, I arrived 15 minutes late. Unfortunately, I was way too early. I had to stand around for three quarters of an hour before anything happened. The artist did not consider it necessary to apologize for the delay. He did not even mention it. He also took the fun out of the experience by forbidding all participants to laugh or to show any emotional reaction. At this point I was furious but I kept my feelings in check as best as I could.

The set up for the performance was so stupid and superficial that I deeply regretted my participation. I left with the promise to myself that I will never let anybody waste my time again and that I am done with performances that I don’t choreograph myself. Before committing my time again, I will think long and hard.

I should have stayed at home and cooked something healthy for my family – for example this month’s recipe, spannakopitta, Greek spinach pie. A real spannakopitta in Greece is made with puff pastry. I must admit that I never tried to make real puff pastry. It is one of the things I intend to learn before I die – if I don’t get caught up in too many art performances.

I make a short crust pastry with oil and whole wheat instead of puff pastry. My journey with short crust is a rather rocky one with many failures. I decided to give my spannakopitta a makeover after people complained that my pastry is too heavy. Honestly, I like a crust that I can sink my teeth into but many people don’t share this attitude.
As a consequence I learned a lot about different kinds of short crusts and I came up with the technique described in this newsletter. The main thing to remember is to move the flour as little as possible because you don’t want to activate the gluten. 
(for 8 servings or a 29-cm, 12.5-in pie dish)
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 10 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 bundles spinach (about 500 grams)
  • 2 leeks
  • 2 bundles spring onions
  • 1 ½ packets feta cheese (300 grams)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • cold water
  • salt
  • pepper


Clean the spinach carefully, throwing away all brownish leaves. Wash and cut into pieces roughly. Clean the leeks and the spring onions and cut them into pieces too. 

Mix the spinach, leeks and spring onions with three teaspoons salt in a big bowl thoroughly using your hands and crushing the leaves. Let it sit so the salt pulls out the water from the spinach.
Put the flour into a mixing bowl. Add eight tablespoons olive oil – also a little more would not hurt – and one teaspoon salt. Add some water and mix it carefully with a spoon. Add water until you feel that all the flour might bind.
Carefully press the mixture together until you have a big clump of dough. Never mind if it is not mixed completely and still a little crumbly.
Wrap the dough in cling film and let it rest for half an hour in the fridge.  

Drain all the accumulated juice from the spinach mixture in a sieve and put it into a mixing bowl. Cut the feta cheese into cubes. Mix the drained vegetables with the cheese, two tablespoons olive oil and pepper. Taste it, probably you won’t have to add salt.
Spread olive oil over a pie form with.
When the dough has rested enough, spread cling film over your working surface. Take a bit more than half the dough. Never mind if it looks spotty. This ensures a flaky crust. Place it on the cling film, flatten it a bit and cover it with cling film.

Roll it out as thin as possible. You need to lift the upper cling film as the dough spreads out to give it room.
Make sure that the dough is big enough to cover the bottom of the pie form and more than height of the sides.

Pull off the cling film from the top and place the sheet upside down into the pie form with the help of the rolling pin. You need the dough to overlap the sides of the form.

Spread the spinach in the pie form and tuck the overlapping dough over it.

Roll out the rest of the dough between cling film and cover the spinach. Cut off any overlapping dough from the cover. You can use leftovers to cut out some decorations if you feel inclined to do so. I always make a few leaves.
Mix the egg yolk with a pinch of salt and brush the surface of the spannakopitta. Poke some holes with a fork so the steam can escape during baking.

Bake the spinach pie in the oven at 190 degrees Celsius for about one hour and 20 minutes until it is golden brown. It tastes good warm or cold.