Spanakopita is a Greek pie made from spinach and feta cheese wrapped in crisp filo pastry.
I would like to tell you tales of Greek sunshine and ouzo but, actually, the first time I ate it was in the Lake District. We were on our way home at the end of a week’s holiday and we had just called in at a deli in Ambleside to buy picnic food for the journey home. We made the classic mistake of going into a really good deli when we were hungry and we bought a little bit of everything off the counter; olives, marinated artichokes, roasted peppers, crusty bread and…spanakopita. I had no idea what it was but it looked really tasty. I was right; we ate it in the car before we even left the car park and it was really delicious. We seriously considered going back for more.
I have since eaten spanakopita in Greece and I can tell you that it is wonderfully enhanced by sunshine. We had been learning to sail and, after a fun but exhausting day on the water, we needed a little something to sustain us until dinner. A street vendor was selling hot, crisp spanakopita from a little stall at the end of the jetty. These did not look anything like the photo above but were, instead, compact triangles which looked more like samosas than the more classic pie but they tasted every bit as good.
I hadn’t eaten spanakopita for years but was reminded of how much I loved it when we had lunch at The Taphouse last week. The “Tappy” is a bar in the village where I live and it’s only a five minute walk from the office so it’s a favourite lunch time haunt. They were serving a spinach and cheese filo pie – they didn’t call it spanakopita and it might not have been feta but it was still really good. So good in fact that I had some for lunch and then I went home and I made some for everyone else.
As with all “authentic” recipes there are about a million variations: Some use dill whilst some use mint, some use butter to brush on the filo whilst others use olive oil, lots of recipes include ricotta but many don’t…. You begin to get the picture.
For the record, ricotta adds creaminess but it can be a little bland so I used Greek yoghurt – this gave it the same creaminess but also added a welcome sharpness to match the tang of the feta – plus, I had some in the fridge.
At the Taphouse they serve it with sweet potato fries (yum) but I also love it with a crispy, crunchy salad and some really ripe, flavoursome tomatoes.
500g / 1 lb young Spinach
3 Spring Onions (trimmed and finely chopped)
1 handful Parsley (chopped)
1 handful of Dill (chopped)
200g / 7 oz Feta
100 ml Greek Yoghurt
Salt and Pepper
3 Eggs (lightly beaten)
100g / 4 oz Butter (or 100 ml Olive Oil)
12 sheets Filo Pastry
Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Place the spinach in a colander in the sink. Boil a kettle and pour the boiling water over the spinach until it is just wilted. Leave the spinach to drain and cool, then squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Break up any clumps or, if the leaves are very big, chop the spinach up a little.
Put the spinach into a bowl with the spring onions and chopped herbs and crumble over the feta. Stir in the beaten eggs and yoghurt. Season well with salt and pepper and add a generous grating of nutmeg.
Melt the butter over a low heat. Brush a Brush a 20×20 cm pie dish or cake tin with melted butter (or olive oil) and lay in a sheet of filo (while you work, cover the remaining sheets with a damp tea towel to stop them from drying out). Brush the pastry with more butter / oil and add another sheet. Keep layering pastry and butter / oil until you have used 6 sheets – alternating the way you lay them to get even coverage. Make sure you have lots of “overhang” so you can fold the pastry over the filling.
Pour the filling into the tin and level the top. Cover the filling with more filo / butter layers and fold over the overhanging pastry from the base until the filling is well encased in buttery pastry. Brush the last two filo sheets with butter and tear into squares (six per sheet) and scrunch up onto the top of the pie.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden. Serve warm, cut into generous wedges.