Spinach Pie with a Twist

A spinach pie with a real twist I gave it. Just to make more fun the process of eating. And increase the mystery that surrounds the pie. The concept is actually not original. It is inspired by a pie called saricopita and it is very very common at the mountains of Crete. It resembles the way the sarici (a cretan traditional head-wear) is wrapped around the head. Spinach pie (spanakopita), in every form, is a great summer food. Light, tasty and goes great with Ouzo.

Spinach pie is one of the most staple and recognizable greek dishes served in almost every greek restaurant. The philosophy is to contrast the sweetest of the spinach with the saltiness (and the mild sourness) of the feta cheese. Accommodating those ingredients are some other satellite vegetables (onions and dill) and the proper spices. The story of spanacopita (spinach pie) is lost to the depths of history and nobody really knows when and how it started. It is considered as the development of a Byzantine dish cooked with spinach and enclosed by two sheets of dough. The current form, however, did not reach completion before the creation of the feta cheese, a cheese as greek as the parthenon. Talking about feta is a whole another charter, but I just have to mention here that is a relatively light cheese, using largest portion of the milk solids compared to the the other fattier cheeses and it is preserved in salty water.

The most common form of spinach pie is the one with the philo dough, which I don ‘t consider very greek. Philo it is an arabic influence and although it is extensively used in greek cuisine, it is not 100% greek. So, for the greek pie I am strongly suggest the home made pie crust. For the pie enclosure we will need:

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup of soda water
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • All purpose flour (as much as is needed)

The ratio between the soda and the water will determine the crispiness and the flakiness of the dough. The more soda the more flaky and crisp it will be, but also it will be hard to open since it will become very very elastic. So experiment with this. I usually go with 1/3 of cup soda water and 1 2/3 cups water. The oil seems a a lot but it is required; it will help the browning and the texture of the final crust. Mix the liquids and the salt and start adding the flour. You want the dough to become elastic and slightly, very slightly sticky to touch. I recommend making the dough ahead of time, even the night before, and let in the refrigerator to relax and give time to the flour to absorb the liquid. This is why you need to be “cheap” with flour. If you have a good dough after you are done making it, it will absorb more water while relaxing or baking than needed and will eventually become drier and tougher. It is very likely to have more dough than required. You can adjust the recipe to fit your pan. But even if you have more than you need wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it up to 3 months.

While the dough is relaxing it is time to focus our attention to the ingredients that put the spinach in front of the pie.

  • 4 packs of frozen chopped spinach (yes frozen, more on that later)
  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 1 big white type onion
  • 2 bunches of scallions
  • 1 bunch of dill
  • 2-3 gloves of garlic (no more than 40.. just kidding…)
  • 1 pound on feta cheese
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of cumin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tiny pinch of salt

Start by defrosting the and draining the frozen spinach. Frozen… I know, but it is as tasty as the fresh, and the fresh has much higher content of water which is not known. So you might end up with a pie with very little filling and lots of water. That ‘s not good. With the frozen spinach you are avoiding this. But, even for the frozen spinach make sure there is no moisture left. Squeeze it tightly to get rid of al the water. Continue by heating up the oil over medium heat. Add the onion finely chopped with a the salt. Remember we will add the feta which is very salty so you will have to hold back to the salt till you add the feta. Add the garlic and stir to cook. Add the spices (1 tbsp of pepper and 1 tbsp cumin) and let them give their aroma. Cook it till the onions becomes translucent. Turn the heat down to simmer and add the scallions (with most of the green part) and the dill. Kill the heat and let them in there to slightly cook. Add the last part of the spices, the spinach and the feta cheese grumbled, but not in big junks or completely melted. You need a salty surprise here and there. Stir vigorously to mix everything.

Take dough out of the refrigerator and divide it in two parts one a bit bigger that the other. It is going to be used on the bottom so it will have to be larger to get all the way up the sides of the dish. Use a dough roller and make it as thin as possible. Roll it around the roller and lift. Place it on a well oiled pyrex dish. I use pyrex, since as a ceramic it distributes heat much slower and much more uniformly compared to the metal. Add the filling. You should have now something that looks like this…

DSCN0177

The pie with the filing.

Roll out the remaining dough and cover the pie. Curl the edges to seal the sim to close it tightly. And you are done. The final pie should look almost like this.

DSCN0181

The complete pie. Don ‘t mind the knife.

Mix a couple of tbsps of milk and olive oil (or butter) and brush the top to promote a nice browning and prevent the drying of the crust while baking. Bake at 350 F till golden brown and delicious. The spices, cumin and pepper, and the dill, makes it perfect with ouzo, the greek liqueur, blended with anise (a dill like spice) and licorice. It is a light great summer food. And yes! You can cut down the oil if you want. 

The Twist

For the twist follow exactly the above recipes. Just use a pasta maker (or a your great skill on handling the dough pin) and open the dough in sheets about a foot and half long. I have no skills in the dough rolling so I rely on the italian miracles. For a more flaky dough brush the sheet with olive oil, and fold in thirds. Open again, and repeat. The oil will keep the layers apart and they will puff up during cooking, making it extra flaky.

Put the filling loosely across the dough (meaning don’ t pack it tight) and close it. Cut the excess dough and carefully roll in “snail” type as seen on the main blog picture. Brush with the milk-oil mixture and bake as previously, till golden brown. This way the pie becomes more fun, more mysterious and can be eaten as an individual servings.

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