Spanakopita: Spinach, Mint and Feta Pastries
These remind me of a holiday in Crete I had many years ago. It was in a village just outside Chania where for the first time, after many trips all over Greece, I finally found a restaurant where the cooking was excellent. Greek cooking was a bit of a joke to us back then, but this was something amazing. There were snails in a sauce made with local wine vinegar, beautiful kleftiko served because it was Easter, stamnagathi, or boiled wild chicory, with olive oil and lemon, and the most sublime spanakopita. The restaurant was run by a young couple, and the wife was the cook. I was in love with her by the time we left. It was not so much to do with her looks, which were very nice, but her sublime cooking. My enduring memories are of these feta and spinach pies, snow on the mountains, wild fennel in the meadows and that curious slightly eerie call of scops owls at dusk.
|1 tbsp||olive oil|
|½||small onion, finely chopped|
|2||spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped|
|100g||Greek feta cheese|
|1 tbsp||finely grated Greek kefalotiri cheese or parmesan cheese|
|A pinch||of freshly grated nutmeg|
|2 tbsp||chopped fresh mint|
|250-275g||packet filo pastry (about 6 sheets)|
|Salt and freshly ground black pepper|
Wash the spinach, remove the large stalks and dry. Finely shred the leaves. Heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the onion and cook gently until soft but not browned. Add the spinach a handful at a time, until it has all wilted down. Tip into a colander and drain, press out all the excess liquid, then return to the pan with the spring onions and cook for 1 minute. Leave to cool.
Crumble the feta cheese into a mixing bowl and mash with a fork to remove any really large lumps but leave it a little chunky. Mix in the eggs, grated kefalotiri or parmesan, the spinach mixture, nutmeg, mint and salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Unroll the sheets of filo pastry and cut the stack lengthways into strips about 7.5 cm wide. Brush the top layer with melted butter. Place a heaped teaspoonful of the filling in the centre of one strip, at the end nearest to you, and fold one bottom corner of the pastry diagonally over the filling, so that the corner touches the opposite side to make a triangle. Then fold over the filled triangular corner, and continue folding it along the whole strip into a triangular parcel. Repeat to make all the spanakopita.
Brush the undersides of each one with more butter and place on a lightly buttered baking tray. Brush the tops with butter and bake for 25 minutes until crisp and richly golden brown. Serve hot while the pastry is still crisp and brittle; it will soften the longer they are left to stand.