Summer is all about simple meals that make good use of seasonal produce. Bursting with flavour the ingredients often don’t need very much preparation at all. On hot, sweltering days we love a casual mezze style of eating. Char grilled vegetables, hummus, tzatziki, baba ganoush, olives and loads of flat bread. Perhaps a little skewered and barbecued meat.
Arriving home from holidays with armloads of silverbeet and chard from my father’s garden, my family asked if I would make little spinach and cheese triangles for them. Perfect accompaniments for any mezze feast. I must admit my heart sank a little. As much as I adore these little flaky filo treats, I’ve always thought them to be a little too time-consuming and fiddly to make. Why go to all that effort when a simple spanakopita; spinach and cheese pie, tastes just as delicious and is so much quicker and easier to prepare?
Pester power finally gave way to compromise. I’d prepare the filling and provide a quick tutorial on how to fold the filo. Anyone who preferred spinach and cheese triangles over a pie would be quite welcome to assemble them. And so it transpired; the least culinary minded of my daughters found she had quite a knack for folding pastries and managed to produce 16 small triangles and 24 larger ones at lightning speed. But only after persuading her sister to tidy up the kitchen after her. Unsurprisingly their brother emerged, only after all the hard work was over. No doubt lured by the delicious aroma of those pastries baking in the oven. Somehow I think once his sisters are a little older and wiser, circumstances may be a little different.
We had a very casual and very early dinner that evening. Alfresco dining on the back deck. There was much discussion about what other delicious fillings could be wrapped in filo pastry. Lamb with pine nuts, caramelised onions and goats cheese, pumpkin and ricotta, or nuts and chocolate for something sweet. With a very nimble fingered sous filo pastry chef in the house to assist, I’m sure I’ll now be more than willing to give these a try.
Spinach, Herb and Cheese Triangles
Makes 48 small or 36 large triangles, or any combination of both
For the Pastry
1 box (24 sheets) pre-packaged filo pastry
75g butter melted
For the Filling
1 large bunch silverbeet or chard (or 3 bunches English spinach) leaves stripped from stems and ribs, washed, dried and finely shredded.
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 long green spring onions (shallots) chopped
½ small bunch mint, chopped
½ small bunch parsley, chopped
1 small bunch rocket, chopped
zest of one lemon, finely grated
300g (1 ½ cups) ricotta, crumbled
100g (1 cup) feta, crumbled
40g (1/2 cup) parmesan, grated
2 large free range eggs
2 tablespoons sour cream
generous pinch of grated nutmeg
sea salt and pepper to taste
To Prepare The Filling
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, chard 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, rocket, egg, sour cream, ricotta, feta and parmesan with the herb butter mixture.
SEASON to taste with nutmeg, sea salt and a good grinding of pepper.
To Prepare The Pastries
PREHEAT oven to 200 degrees C.
UNROLL the filo pastry sheets on a flat surface. Keep a damp tea towel over the sheets while you work.
LAY out a sheet of filo pastry on a clean work surface, brush with melted butter and cover with a second sheet. Butter the top sheet and cut the filo lengthwise into three (for larger pastries) or four (for smaller pastries) strips.
SPOON two rounded teaspoons of filling on one short end of each strip for the smaller pastries (use a tablespoon of mixture for larger pastries).
FOLD the end of each strip over the filling so it forms a triangle. Continue folding the strip as you would a flag to create a neat triangle. Ensure the filling is totally enclosed by flipping the triangle along the pastry strip diagonally from corner to corner as shown in the accompanying slideshow. Use a little melted butter to secure the ends.
TRANSFER the folded pastries, seam side down, to a baking paper lined oven tray and cover with a clean tea towel as you repeat the process with the remaining filo sheets and filling.
BRUSH the tops of the pastries with a little butter and a light sprinkling of sea salt. Bake for 15 -20 minutes or until crisp, puffed and golden brown. Serve warm.