3.22.2018

SPINACH PIE // elspeth

WINTER BEGONE! Or, as Nora once told a coyote: Beat it nerd.



Where I grew up, in Maine, winter was different. It was cold, yes. But it was snowy—snowy straight through from December to mud season. I love snow. Sunny days with snow on the ground are incredibly bright and uplifting, and during a snowstorm the world is at peace, quiet.


Cape Cod winters, with all their rain and grey, are a challenge for me. But we're almost there ( ! ) and in the meantime we'll keep taking our cod liver oil and planting our seedlings and getting mood boosts through fatty fish and chocolate and oysters and dark leafy greens. Which brings me to my friend Sarah's spinach pie:


Sarah wrote a beautiful, clever, delicious cookbook called Feeding a Family, and I can't say enough good things about it. She and I met through our food writing work only to discover our husbands are old friends, and when she was writing the book, she asked me to contribute a few recipes for a seasonal meal. Four families besides her own are featured—one for each season—and two Septembers ago she sent out a photographer and we cooked a late summer harvest meal of ratatouille pie and mint chocolate chip ice cream. The photographs came out beautifully, and we got to share the ice cream, and she sent me a copy of the finished book at press time last winter. 

It's a treasure. It sits on my most-used shelf alongside Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking and the Joy of Cooking and Nina Planck's Real Food Cookbook and Ottolenghi's Jerusalem and Plenty and Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain. In the past few weeks alone from Sarah's book I've made a rainy day chickpea stew; a simple dish of red lentils, rice and spinach; pasta with mussels, and a chicken tortilla soup. Finally, the other day, I tried the spanikopita, or spinach pie. 


My mom made spanikopita all the time when my sister and I were kids, but recipes I'd found before always seemed too fussy. Also, we've been aiming for zero waste, or at least much less waste, in our house the past few years, and the necessary ingredients for spanikopita involve a terrible amount of packaging. But no one's perfect, least of all me. The picture, the ingredients—they called me—and when I read that it bakes in a skillet rather than some pan that would need to be scrubbed afterward relentlessly, I was sold, all in.

I'm glad we tried it. It was so good, so satisfying—we all devoured it, and it felt like we all needed it. I'm sure you could make a version with fresh spinach when it comes into season, or now if you're able to get some this time of year at your local market, which many of you probably can. If you do that I guess I'd blanch the spinach first, then wring the water out, and aim for about the same weight.

In the meantime, even if you can't get local spinach, try the recipe anyway. It's easy and addictive and no one's perfect, and one day, when you do come into a supply of local spinach, you'll have a plan.

SKILLET SPANIKOPITA

This recipe comes—with very minor tweaks—from Feeding a Family by Sarah Waldman. Very soon fresh spinach will be in season, but in the meantime frozen works well. This recipe makes plenty of leftovers for our family of four. One note: take the leftovers out of the pan and store them in a glass container, as leaving them in there will give them a metallic taste as they soak up iron from the skillet.

30 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
6 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 cups whole-milk ricotta
4 eggs
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked pepper
6 sheets phyllo dough, thawed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Meanwhile, wring any excess water from the spinach. Add the onions to the butter and sauté until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the spinach, ricotta, eggs, feta, dill, lemon juice, and pepper to taste. Mix well. Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan.

Lay the first sheet of phyllo dough over the spinach mixture and brush it with melted butter, scrunching up the edges up to fit in the pan. Repeat with remaining sheets of phyllo. Sprinkle a bit of salt on top and put the pie in the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes until heated through and crispy and golden on top.
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P.S. ! Sarah and I will both be part of a day long symposium on food, writing, and community this June at Castle Hill in Truro. There will be panel discussions, workshops, and of course, local eats. Check it out: organizers are calling it Beyond the Plate.  

In addition, I'm teaching a four week writing workshop at Castle Hill, Wednesdays in May. Hope to see you there! 

48 comments :

Laurie said...

I finally got around to trying the Butternut Squash Brownie recipe last night, substituting cushaw squash we had stored from last year's garden. They're yummy! I've never made spanokopita, but have lots of lambs quarter in the freezer, so that may be next. Thanks for sharing!

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