Spanakopita – spinach, feta, egg and filo pie
Spanakopita is the correct name for this Greek pie made of filo*, spinach, feta and egg. However my boys have named it ‘green pie’ rather than Greek pie since they are a) very literal, and b) not the best listeners. Regardless of the name, they and I agree (for once) that it is the most delicious way to eat a load of greens without fuss. Numerous children of my acquaintance have gobbled this down much to the amazement of their parents. But let’s not just save this for children. It is a perfect make ahead lunch, dinner, party or picnic food for all of us.
*American friends – if you’re wondering what filo pastry is, it is phyllo or fillo dough in your neck of the woods.
My first taste of Spanakopita
I first encountered Spanakopita when I was backpacking around the Greek islands with my lovely friend Megan when we were scarily young and footloose. I say backpacking, but although we set off with said backpacks and had our Lonely Planet island hopping route planned, we decided we liked the first island we stopped at so much we stayed there for the whole 2 weeks. We still reminisce about how simple life was then when we could laze for two weeks with no plan, no phones and barely any money. By the end of the two weeks we were running low on funds, so bought and fell in love with the fat wedges of wafer thin pastry filled with spinach and feta that were sold all over the place.
Since those carefree days I’ve had a go at making all sorts of versions of Spanakopita. I only really made it regularly once my boys started loving it, as anything that helps them gobble greens and hangs around well for a few days in the fridge is a huge help for dinners and portable lunches.
Make it individual or family size
Traditionally Spanakopita is made in a big rectangle to be cut into slices, or as triangle samosa-like individual pies. I find that the easiest way to make it at home is to make little individual pies in muffin pans or a bigger pie in my frying pan and then cut it into fat wedges. My boys love making it with me and it is so low stress to make that I always let them help.
A word on fresh vs frozen spinach or other greens
I love using organic frozen leaf spinach in this recipe and in lots of other recipes. To get the volume of spinach I’d need from fresh spinach I’d need to buy a vast quantity and then spend time wilting it. The frozen stuff is already wilted and just needs defrosting and draining. I use fresh vegetables all the time of course but have no guilt about using frozen when they are cheaper, easier and as delicious as they are in this case. Frozen vegetables retain all their vitamins whereas fresh vegetables may have been sitting in a supermarket fridge for days before you eat them. I also throw the pellets of frozen leaf spinach into soups, stews and curries and let the heat of the food defrost the spinach. They’re handy for small servings of vegetables for children and are great in smoothies too.
Usually you’ll see it made with spinach but recently I had a bit of a backlog with using cabbage from our veg box so I’m have also used that instead. In Greece, spanakopita is made with all sorts of wild bitter greens and the lemon, feta and nutmeg knocks down the green flavours that may cause problems usually. You can use spinach, kale or cabbage or a mixture.
If you’re using cabbage or kale, shred it as finely as possible and then steam-fry it in a pan with an inch of water and a lid on over a high heat for about 4 minutes, shaking it until it wilts (see this video) . Then take the lid off to cook off any liquid.
Because I used my Scanpan frying pan to cook the greens, I can reuse it without washing to cook the pie in the oven. It is a really good non stick one so I didn’t use any parchment. If your pan is more sticky, you may want to line it with parchment.
My favourite side with Spanakopita
I always like to serve mine with a parsley, tomato and red wine vinegar salad. I just half some baby tomatoes, toss them with sea salt flakes, black pepper, lots of roughly chopped flat leaf or Italian parsley and red wine vinegar. The sharpness of the vinegar and the sweetness of the tomatoes works really well with the salty feta and green flavour of the pie.
To make 1 Spanakopita pie to serve 6 people, or around 12 muffin sized mini pies
- Around 270g (9 oz) box of filo* pastry – you’ll usually find this wafer thin pastry in the chiller or freezer at the supermarket or a Middle Eastern store. You can freeze the any you don’t use for another day.
- 200-300g (7-10 oz) Feta
- 700g (1.5lb) frozen leaf spinach, defrosted – once defrosted and drained you’ll be left with about 520g (18 oz) spinach. Or a whole savoy cabbage or bundle of spring greens (see notes above)
- 5 large eggs
- zest of 1 lemon
- around a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg. Freshly grated is best. I use my Microplane
- half a teaspoon dried oregano
- sea salt (around half a teaspoon of fine grain or three quarters of a teaspoon of sea salt flakes) plus extra to sprinkle over the top of the pastry
- freshly ground black pepper (around half a teaspoon)
- olive or rapeseed oil
- Optional – a tablespoon sesame seeds to scatter over the finished pie before baking, 3 finely chopped spring onions (scallions) to add to the filling.
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- If using frozen spinach, put it in a colander and sit the colander in a large mixing bowl. Leave to defrost for a few hours then use a spatula to squish the spinach so that the juice goes through the colander into the bowl. You’ll be amazed how much water comes out and you’ll need to empty the bowl a couple of times probably. Once the spinach is dry you’re ready to go. In a rush? If you don’t have time to do this ahead of time you can defrost the spinach in the microwave and then push the liquid out in the same way as the above method. If using other types of greens, wilt them (see note above)
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan) or 400°F (375°F convection)
- Put the drained spinach/wilted greens into a large bowl (I use the emptied bowl that I collected the liquid in below the colander to save washing). Add the eggs, roughly crumbled feta, lemon zest, nutmeg (I use my Microplane to zest the lemon and grate the nutmeg), oregano, salt and freshly ground black pepper and sliced spring onion if I’m adding it.
- Use a spatula to stir everything together well. This is an easy job for children to help with – my 6 year of cracks the eggs, my 4 year old crumbles the cheese then they take it in turns fighting over who mixes it while I tidy up a bit.
4. If you’re making one big pie go to stage 5. If you’re making individual muffin sized pies go to stage 6…
5. To make a big pie…
- Grab a pie dish or ovenproof frying pan (I use my Scanpan) – something no smaller than 20cm (8 inch). If your pan isn’t non stick, take a piece of baking parchment, around A4 size and crumple it into a ball. Then flatten it out and rub a little oil on it and put it into the pan. Crumpling it makes it easier to fit into the cooking pan.
- Take a sheet of filo and lay it across half the pan, then lay another next to it so it looks like two pages of a magazine, with the long side of each overlapping by about a half inch and the edges hanging outside the pan (see video). Sprinkle or spray with a little olive oil and sea salt then lay the other two pieces on top, but this time laying landscape. Doing this reinforces the joins in the pastry.
- Sprinkle or spray oil and sea salt all over the top of the pastry which should now be in two layers, or you can add a further layer of 2 pieces to make it more sturdy. The pastry should be hanging quite a long way beyond the edges of the pan.
- Tip the spinach mixture onto the pastry, where the bowl of the pan is. Then use a spatula to gently push the spinach down so that it fills the base of the pan.
- Then take each corner of the overhanging pastry and roughly fold it over the top of the spinach. Tuck it all in so it looks like a messy bed, or a pile of fabric. Spray or rub the top with a little oil and then sprinkle with sea salt flakes and sesame seeds and transfer to the oven to bake for 40-45 minutes.
6. To make individual pies,
- Take 4 sheets of filo. Lay them on top of each other then use scissors to cut them in half lengthways and then into squares.
- Spray or sprinkle the base of a 12 hole muffin pan with a little olive oil. Then lay 3 squares of the pastry into each hole, spraying or dabbing a little oil between each layer and gently pushing them into shape with your fingers. I like to lay each square at an angle so that the corners of the pastry look like a flower rather than all being lined up.
- Sprinkle or spray oil and sea salt all over the top of the pastry which should now be in three layers.
- Spoon equal amounts of the spinach mixture into each hole. Then use a spatula to gently push the spinach down so that it fills the base of each hole.
- Then take each corner of the overhanging pastry and roughly fold it over the top of the spinach. Tuck it all in so it looks like a messy bed, or a pile of fabric. Spray or rub the top with a little oil and then sprinkle with sea salt flakes and sesame seeds and transfer to the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes.
7. Cook the pies until the tops are dark golden and the base is pale but more golden than when you started. The bottom of the pie won’t be as crisp as the top but it will still be cooked.
8. Take the pan out of the oven and leave the pies to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before gently taking them out to cool. I like to serve the pies at room temperature with a room temperature tomato salad rather than straight from the oven.
Any leftovers can be wrapped in foil and kept in the fridge for 2-3 days. The pies are best popped in a hot oven for 5 minutes before eating if they’ve been in the fridge.
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