Recipe: Spanak-not-ika (Green leafy things and cheeses in pastry)

We have been getting some disgustingly hot weather recently, and as a big fan of not cooking in hot weather, I’ve been trying to be organised so that we can get something healthy on the table without having to heat up the kitchen.  I have a few different strategies for this, but this tart is one of my favourites – you can make it the night before, stick it in the fridge (where it will be perfectly happy for several days), and bring it out about half an hour before you want to serve it.  

It can be quite rich, so I usually add a tomato salad on the side – a tomato and peach salad would be even better, now I think of it, or any nice, fresh-tasting, acidic sort of salad that you enjoy eating – and call it dinner.  And then lunch the next day, or maybe dinner the following night, if the cool change has not yet arrived.

This recipe is vague because it is versatile – I make it with whichever greens and cheeses I have to hand.  So when Ceres sent me a box containing leeks, bok choi, silverbeet, asparagus, and my friend gave me a bunch of beetroot greens, I combined them with ricotta and parmesan and called it dinner for four, or maybe five.  And when, last week, I was hosting friends who couldn’t eat onions, I combined kale, broccoli, gai lan, and more bok choi with all the leftover stinky cheeses (gorgonzola, kefalograviera, gruyere) from my cheesy biscuits, and some ricotta to make a pie with a rather stronger personality which was enough to feed seven or eight people.  

Basically, use what you have, and don’t worry too much about sticking to conventional flavour profiles.  Yes, greens with gentler flavours will work better with less offensive cheeses (it has to be said, the second pie was *quite* offensive, but everyone else loved it… I found it a little excessive, personally…), but cheese and green leafy things are a winning combination – it’s pretty hard to get them wrong.

Your shopping list

3-4 sheets shortcrust pastry (naturally you can make your own, but I never do for this)
3-4 large bunches of green leafy things
olive oil
1 slightly more substantial vegetable – broccoli, a bunch or two of asparagus, broccolini, a sweet potato, potato, pumpkin – go wild
1 leek, or 1 onion, or garlic, or none of the above
Fresh herbs are nice, if you happen to have them – mint and dill are traditional, oregano and parsley can also work.
350 g ricotta
150-250g other cheeses, depending on how much your greens cook down, how much you like cheese, and what is in your fridge. You want a salty cheese like parmesan in the mix here – beyond that, it’s up to you.
1-2 eggs, depending on how much mixture you have
salt, pepper
nutmeg
chilli or paprika

Now what will you do with it?

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, fan forced (and if you have the option of using the bottom or top heat elements, pick the bottom one).

Place one sheet of pastry in the base of a 25cm tart or flan tin with deep sides. Cut wide strips off another sheet to line the tin properly up the sides. What a terrible sentence. I haven’t had enough sleep.

You are going to blind bake this pastry, so now you will prick the base all over with a fork, and line it with baking paper. If you own baking beads, I am very envious, and you should pour them evenly into the pastry case. If you don’t, decide which dried beans you are willing to sacrifice, and pour them in instead. (They won’t be much good afterward, so this is where you go hunting for the ones that have been lurking at the back of your pantry since 2017).

Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is beginning to get golden at the edges. Let cool a bit while you continue to prepare the filling, then carefully gather up the baking paper and pour out the baking beads or beans.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. If you are using leek or onions, chop them fairly finely. Wash all your greens, and separate the stems from the leaves – the stems should be chopped and put with the onions or leeks, and you will slice the leaves roughly and set them aside to cook last.

Wash your herbs, if using, then chop and put into a very large bowl with the ricotta.

Consider your substantial vegetable. If it is something like a sweet potato, peel it, dice it, and microwave or steam it until it is just tender (if you have leftover roast vegetables, they could also be used in this dish – you want 1-2 cups, depending on how much other stuff you have). If it’s something like broccoli or asparagus, don’t worry about it – it will cook fine with everything else (but if it’s broccoli, peel and dice the stem and put that with the onions – the florets will go with the leaves.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan, and add the oniony stuff, the stems, and the bulky vegetable with a little salt, pepper, chilli and nutmeg. If you are using kale, the leaves should be treated like stems, because kale takes a while to soften. Sauté for a few minutes – you want the onions and stems soft and the bulky vegetable to be golden in places. Tip them into the big bowl.

Now add more oil to the pan and sautee the leaves – if you are using garlic, add it now. The leaves will want a bit more nutmeg. Once the leaves are wilted, add them to the bowl with 150 g of cheese

Stir everything in the bowl together with one egg and see how it all looks. You want a mixture that isn’t too sloppy, but that is also not a great big mess of greens with a little cheese sticking to the edges of it. Essentially, you want something that looks like a cheesy filling with a LOT of greens, rather than a green filling with a bit of cheese. Add more cheese if you need to, and if you feel as though the mixture isn’t going to come together properly, add another egg. (I know this is a terrible description, but I can’t give you a better one!)

Pour and scrape your mixture into the prepared pastry case. Now for the fun bit – you are going to create a lattice top. Slice your remaining sheet and a half of pastry into strips about the width of your finger or thumb. Line about half of them up on top of the pie, a finger-width apart, all going in the same direction. Tuck them in on one side, but not the other.

Now weave the remaining strips across, one by one, tucking them in at both ends (but not too tightly, as the filling will expand a little as it cooks), until you have a pretty lattice.

Return the pie to the oven and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the lattice is nicely browned, and the filling is firm when you poke at it (it doesn’t have to be solid-firm, but it should bounce back rather than staying poked, if you know what I mean).

You can eat this hot, of course, but I prefer to let it cool, then remove it from its tin and put it in the fridge to eat cold or at room temperature.

Variations

This is vegetarian and nut-free, but decidedly non-vegan. It’s fairly low in carbohydrates, so it might be quite good in terms of GI. If you have access to gluten-free pastry (the O’Hea Street Bakery near us has a good one, I believe), you can make this gluten-free, and if you skip the onions and their friends, it will then be low-fructose, too. Nothing will make this dairy free – I mean, you could maybe use vegan cheeses, but I think in these quantities, you’d run into difficulties because they just wouldn’t behave quite like dairy cheeses. I’d be wary of removing the eggs, but you could try it and see.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 comments for “Recipe: Spanak-not-ika (Green leafy things and cheeses in pastry)

  1. January 3, 2019 at 11:59 pm

    A suggestion: you can fill your baking paper with sugar instead of beans. It fills the space better, and the heat will gently toast the sugar, giving it a slightly caramelized flavor which is wonderful in all kinds of patisserie. Stella Parks has a piece about it at Serious Eats https://www.seriouseats.com/2016/05/how-to-make-caramel-without-melting-sugar.html

  2. filkferengi
    January 5, 2019 at 1:14 am

    I just posted the link to this homepage over in the “kitchen” chat room of M.C.A. Hogarth’s discord app. Thank you for the fun way to combine food and music!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.