We returned from our visit to Canberra with a carload of fresh, seasonal vegetables courtesy of my father’s garden: asparagus, beetroot, celery, cauliflower, spring onions, spinach, silverbeet, rocket, lettuce, raddicchio, snow peas and parsley. Beautiful organic produce in copious quantities.
My children adore my father’s garden, every time we visit there is something new to harvest. I think my poor old dad secretly thinks his grandchildren are deprived growing up in a terrace in inner city Sydney with no garden to speak of. This time he sent them home with punnets of seedlings he propagated in his greenhouse; tomatoes, basil, parsley and a mystery herb vegeta. There goes the lavender in the planter box in our courtyard. Next weekend its going to be transformed into a pocket sized urban vegetable garden.
What to cook with all that produce? Spinach, silverbeet, rocket, parsley and spring onions – sounds like its time for a spinach pie of some description.
My version of spinach pie uses three varieties of cheese, eggs and cream – the flavours of a Greek spanakopita, the texture of a quiche, topped with a flaky pastry lid. Not quite spanakopita, not quite quiche, it must be a pie. The filling in this pie is generous. I tend not to cook the spinach before I assemble the pie, but I do make sure that the leaves are stripped from their stalks, washed and very scrupulously dried in the salad spinner before shredding. As I have an aversion to soggy pastry I also take some extra precautions – partially baking the bottom layer of the filo pastry before adding the filling, adding dry breadcrumbs to the filling to absorb any errant moisture released by the spinach as it wilts, and finally baking the pie on the lower rack setting of the oven.
And here is the decidedly non soggy result
Spinach and Three Cheese Pie
For the Pastry
10 sheets prepackaged filo pastry
50g butter melted
For the Filling
1 bunch silverbeet or 2 bunches English spinach; leaves stripped from stems and ribs, washed, dried and finely shredded. This should yield about 2 cups of shredded silverbeet or spinach
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 long green spring onions (shallots) chopped
½ small bunch mint, chopped
½ small bunch parsley, chopped
50g rocket, chopped
Rind of one lemon, finely grated
3 tablespoons unseasoned breadcrumbs
300g (1 ½ cups) ricotta, crumbled
100g (1 cup) feta, crumbled
40g (1/2 cup) parmesan, grated
4 free range eggs
1/3 cup cream
Generous pinch of grated nutmeg
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 170C
Brush a 25cm x 25cm baking dish with some of the melted butter. Line the bottom and sides of the dish with 5 sheets of the filo pastry, brushing with butter between each sheet. Trim any overhang with kitchen scissors. Place baking dish in oven for 5 minutes, or until partially cooked.
Add oil to a heavy based saucepan and gently sauté the spring onions for 5 minutes on low heat. Add butter keeping saucepan on low heat until butter has melted. Remove from heat and add mint, parsley and lemon zest. Allow flavours to infuse.
Meanwhile sauté the shredded spinach or silver beet in a fry pan with a little olive oil until just wilted. Take off the heat to cool.
Transfer the cooked spinach /silver beet to a colander to drain, making sure you squeeze any excess moisture from the leaves. You can do this by hand or wringing the cooked mixture through a clean, dry towel or Chux super wipe cloth.
In a large bowl, combine cooked and thoroughly drained silver beet (or spinach), rocket ,breadcrumbs, ricotta, feta and parmesan with the herb butter mixture. Season to taste with sea salt and a good grinding of pepper. Spread the mixture evenly onto the prepared pastry base. The mixture will almost fill the baking dish to the brim. The spinach or silverbeet will collapse as it cooks.
In a glass jug whisk together eggs, cream and nutmeg. Pour evenly over spinach mixture.
Top the pie with the remaining uncooked five sheets of filo pastry, brushing generously with butter between each sheet. Tuck any overhanging edges of the pastry into the sides of the baking dish. Brush top of pie with any remaining butter.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes on bottom rack of the oven until filling is set and pastry is puffed and golden. Stand for 5 minutes before serving.