the pie trio, part 2: spinach and cheese pie

We’ve made leek and cheese pie already; we’ll make the spinach filling today.

You can use either fresh or frozen spinach.  I had frozen so that’s what I used, but the method is the same either way.

Put the spinach in a nonstick pan with a little spritz of olive oil and let it soften.

Transfer the cooked spinach to a colander to drain.  Sprinkle the salt on the spinach and let it rest for about ten minutes.   The salt will help draw excess water out of the spinach.

Squeeze the spinach outside the colander into the sink, allowing the water to run out of your hands.  The volume of the spinach should reduce by over half.  It’s important to do this to avoid soggy spinach pie.

In a clean bowl, combine the spinach, dill, and cheeses.

Stir to incorporate everything.

Form the phyllo spirals following the instructions on the leek and cheese pie post.

Bake them for about 20 minutes until golden brown and cripsy!

Spanakotyropitakia Strifta | Spiral spinach and cheese pies
makes 8 small pies

4 cups spinach, fresh or frozen, stemmed, washed
1 tsp table salt
1 tbsp dried dill or 1/4 cup fresh dill
1/3 cheese for pies (see below)
1/3 package phyllo dough
olive oil for spraying

1.  Spray a non-stick pan with olive oil lightly.  Add spinach leaves.  Allow to soften.  Drain in colander.   Sprinkle with salt and allow to rest 10 minutes.

2.  Squeeze spinach with hands to remove as much water as possible.

3.  In a bowl, combine spinach with dill and cheese.

4.  Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F.  Cover a baking sheet with wax paper and spray with oil.  Form phyllo spirals:   cut phyllo in half lengthwise.  Put 1/8 of filling on each sheet along the bottom long edge, and roll up.  Coil the roll around itself to form a spiral.  Place spirals on wax paper and spray with olive oil.

5.  Bake at 180 C / 350 F for 20 minutes or until lightly golden brown in color and crispy.  Allow to rest 15 minutes before serving.

Note:  if not making other kinds of pies at the same time, triple the spinach and dill, double the salt, and use all the phyllo and cheese.

More detailed instructions on how to form phyllo spirals here.

Cheese for pies
makes enough for 24 small pies

140g feta cheese or lefko tyri
160g anthotyro or ricotta cheese
40g shredded parmesan or myzithra cheese
1/4 cup milk (lowfat or skim is fine)

To make cheese sauce, combine all ingredients and mash together.

Nutritional Information:
per serving, i.e., per 1/8 of this recipe including cheese

97 calories
3g fat (2g saturated, 1g unsaturated)
1g carbohydrate
3g protein
0g dietary fiber
9mg cholesterol (3% DV)
114mg sodium (5% DV)
113mg potassium (3% DV)
22% DV of vitamin A

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mixed greens pesto with walnuts

Pesto is pretty popular in our house.  There’s something very satisfying about a plate of pasta with pesto.  My favorite pestos are the ones that have depth of flavor, that are not just oily basil goop.  This is a bright and cheery pesto that comes together well before the pasta has boiled, from a few simple ingredients.

Start by putting your water on to boil for your pasta.  You can use any pasta shape you like.  I went with the braided pasta plexoudes because I love it.

Fresh spinach and arugula form the base of this pesto, in a 4:1 ratio.  Frozen won’t work here.

Put half of your cleaned and stemmed spinach and arugula into a food processor with 1 tbsp olive oil.   Process.  Add the rest of the spinach and arugula with another tbsp of olive oil.  Process.

Add the walnuts with another tbsp of olive oil.  Process.

Add the myzithra or parmesan.  Process again.

Add garlic to taste – because the garlic is raw, I just used one clove, and process a final time.  Your pesto is ready!

Two tablespoons per plate of pasta is a generous amount.

Mixed Greens Pesto with Walnuts
makes 4 servings

4 cups packed fresh spinach, stemmed and washed
1 cup packed fresh arugula (rocket), washed
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp walnuts
2 tbsp grated myzithra or parmesan cheese
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed

1.  Process the spinach and arugula with 2 tbsp olive oil in a food processor; do in several batches if necessary.

2.  Add walnuts with last tbsp olive oil; process.  Add cheese; process.  Add garlic; process.

3.  Serve with pasta, potatoes, chicken, etc.

Nutritional Information
per serving, i.e., 1/4 of recipe

134 calories
13g fat (2g saturated, 11g unsaturated)
2g carbohydrate
3g protein
1g dietary fiber
2mg cholesterol (1% DV)
68mg sodium (3% DV)
209mg potassium (6% DV)
Contains significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and manganese.

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Creamy lemon pasta
Creamy Melian lazania with spinach & a tour of Milos
Orange-scented chorizo pasta with dried figs

creamy Melian lazania with greens & a tour of Milos

No, that wasn’t a typo!  We’re talking about lazania, not lasagne!  The island of Milos is one of my favorite Greek islands.  I’ve only visited twice, once in 2003 by myself, and once in 2011 with S and my mother.  Although it took me seven years to return, I never stopped yearning for Milos.  Before we start cooking, let’s visit just a few spots on the island to get us in the mood.

And who knows… maybe it will inspire you to visit Milos some day!

The village of Klima, located at sea level below the town of Trypiti, is a row of bay-front two-story buildings.  The ground floor is a ship-shed and the upper level is living quarters.  A ship-shed is exactly what it sounds like:  a garage for a fishing boat.  Although Klima is the most famous ship-shed village, there are dozens of villages like this here in the region of the Southwest Cyclades islands.

Across the bay on the northern coast of the island is the lagoon of St. Nicholas.  It’s an important wetland (one of several on Milos), and the two white buildings you see are little churches.  A road goes along here and ends at the village of Emporeio, one of the most peaceful spots on the island.  However, to get this photo, you have to be high up in the area of Xerokampos.

Xerokampos is one of my favorite parts of the island.  Very sparsely populated, it’s green and filled with wildflowers in spring (as is the whole island, of course) with a panoramic view.

The cliffs of Sarakiniko, where we went swimming in April.  The rocks are so white and smooth that it is often called a lunar landscape.  We were completely alone for our swim and long, leisurely picnic.

The dramatic sea-cut channels at Papafranga.  I went swimming here in 2003, when I was in Milos in July, but when we came back last April the rock-cut steps down to the beach were off limits.

So… are you hungry yet?

I came up with this recipe in an effort to replicate a dish I ate once, about a year ago.  I don’t know how accurate it is, but it was delicious and I will definitely make it again.  One of the famous traditional foods of Milos is the pasta ‘lazania,’ which is basically pappardelle.  I can’t buy Melian lazania up here on the mainland (they sell it at restaurants and at traditional shops in Milos though!), but they do sell pappardelle.  However, the pappardelle cost exactly twice what the lasagne cost.

So I buy lasagne and cut it myself.  If you can’t get pappardelle or if your supermarket does the same crazy thing, do what I do!  I promise, the results are excellent.   (Use the flat lasagne, rather than the ruffle-edged kind.)

The original restaurant version only used spinach, but I liked it much better with arugula also, so definitely use both.  The peppery taste of the arugula balances the spinach very nicely.

First, boil the lasagne noodles.  I put olive oil in the pasta water because I think it helps keep the noodles from sticking to each other, which is important.  The worst thing is to have your lasagne noodles come out in a single clump.  I also stir them around pretty much the whole time to reduce the likelihood of sticking.

Meanwhile, clean the spinach:  twist the leaves off the roots and drop in a large pot of cold water with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar in it.  This will help loosen the dirt on the leaves.  Agitate forcefully with your hands.  When you feel that the leaves are clean, lift them out in handfuls to a colander.  Don’t pour them out, because the dirt, which has settled on the bottom of the pot, will just come out onto the leaves again.

Don’t chop the spinach, but chop the arugula.  You don’t have to discard the stems.  No reason to throw anything away!

Saute the garlic in a nonstick pan; then add the spinach and arugula.  Salt.

Drain the lasagne.  If you used pappardelle, ignore this step.  Carefully lay out a lasagne noodle on your cutting board and cut into three equal strips.  Transfer to a plate and continue with the other noodles.  Be very careful not to get a steam burn.

When the noodles are ready, add the lemon zest to the spinach and arugula, and then the noodles with the olive oil, which will keep them from sticking here too.  Stir in the yogurt and the myzithra (or parmesan).

Season with freshly ground pepper and serve.

Creamy Melian Lazania with Greens
Serves 2 (generously)

240g pappardelle or lasagne noodles
1 colander full fresh spinach, washed
1/2 bunch arugula (rocket), ends removed, chopped in 2″ pieces
2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp grated myzithra cheese (or parmesan)
salt & pepper

1.  Boil pappardelle or lasagne noodles in water with 2 tbsp olive oil.

2.  Saute garlic in non-stick pan; add greens and allow to wilt; salt.

3.  Drain pasta.  If using lasagne, cut each noodle into three equal strips.

4.  Stir lemon zest into greens.  Add pasta to pan with remaining olive oil.  Stir in yogurt and cheese.

5.  Serve with freshly ground pepper.

Nutritional Information
per serving, i.e., half the recipe, omitting any salt added at the table

621 calories
18g fat (3g saturated, 15g unsaturated)
95g carbohydrate
21g protein
5g dietary fiber
5mg cholesterol (2% DV)
165mg sodium (7% DV)
646mg potassium (18% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
vitamin A, calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, folic acid, food folate, manganese, and copper.

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baked spanakoryzo

Spanakoryzo is a lovely Greek dish that combines spinach and rice.  It’s basically a spinach risotto, with onion and dill, cooked on the stove.  I used to make it that way too, but when I started cooking in my Siphnian clay pot, I reevaluated several of my favorite recipes for clay pot potential.  This was one of the big successes.

I only ever make spanakoryzo on Saturday afternoons.  That’s because Saturday morning is the farmers’ market.  I only buy spinach at the farmers’ market.  The price is great.  I got all of this spinach:

for €1.00.  Can’t beat that!

I used Greek shallots, but the best kind of onion to use is green onions.  I just didn’t have any.  But if you do, use those instead.

You can use any kind of rice you like.  Brown rice works great in this dish.  I used white because brown rice costs about four times as much!

Dill and parsley are the two big herbs used in Greek cooking.  I am the crazy American who uses dried dill.  Greeks usually buy a bunch of dill and a bunch of parsley every week.  Or several bunches of each.  That can easily add up to €100 per year.  You can grow your own, but you’d have to grow a lot to supply a Greek kitchen, where many recipes call for 2-3 cups of parsley.  Dried herbs don’t work everywhere, but dried dill works great here.  It saves me a lot of money because there is no waste and a bottle costs only a few euros and lasts a whole year.

The ground meat is completely optional.  This is the only time I’ve ever used it.  My mother in law uses ground meat (I suppose ground pork) in hers and S wanted me to try it.  That’s why it’s in the photos.  But I’d recommend you try it without the meat the first time.  The presence of the meat makes the dish less all about spinach.  That might be a good thing for some people, but I think I prefer this the vegetarian way.   Greek cooks usually use either ground pork, or a half-and-half combination of ground pork and ground beef.  Ground lamb is very rare, despite what many Americans think.  I found ground beef on sale last Halloween so that’s what I used.

First, clean the spinach:  grasp the spinach plant by the root end and hold the leaves in your other hand, and twist your hands in opposite directions.  Put red wine vinegar in a lot of cold water – in a large pot, or in a very clean sink if you are doing a lot of spinach – and drop the leaves into the water.  Swirl around really well and transfer the spinach to a colander with your hands.  You shouldn’t need to do multiple rinses unless your spinach is really muddy.  Preparing spinach doesn’t have to be a huge waste of water.  The vinegar helps get the dirt off the leaves.

Chop the onions.  If you’re using green onions, include the green parts and the white parts.

If you want to use ground meat, go ahead and brown it first.

Put the ingredients into a large bowl or pot – I find that my pressure cooker pot is best for this because it’s so large – in layers.  Put a layer of spinach on the bottom, then some rice, some meat if using, some onions, and some of your dill and salt; repeat, but reserve about 2 handfuls of spinach for later.

Mix it all up.

Put it in your clay pot.  You will probably need to press down on the spanakoryzo to get it all in the pot.  Remember, the spinach will lose the vast majority of its volume when it cooks.

When it’s all in there, put your reserved spinach on top.  The reason for this is that whatever is on top is going to be dried out; dried out baked spinach is delicious, but dried out baked rice is not.

Pop the lid on and put it in your cold oven.  An hour later…

Baked Spanakoryzo
Serves 4 (or 2 if they’re really hungry)

as much spinach as you can fit in your clay pot (250g in my case)
200g rice
1 cup green onions, chopped
1 tbsp dried dill or 3 tbsp fresh dill
1 tsp salt
red wine vinegar to wash the spinach
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
Optional:  150g ground beef, ground pork, or a mixture of the two

1.  Wash the spinach with the vinegar and cool water in a large pot.  Remove the spinach in handfuls to a colander and set aside.

2.  Brown the meat if using in its own fat (no added oil) with freshly ground salt and pepper.

3.  Set aside 2 handfuls of spinach leaves.  In a large pot, combine the remaining spinach, rice, onions, dill, and salt in two layers.  Stir it all together, and fill the clay pot.  Layer the reserved spinach on top, pour 1 cup water over everything, and place the lid on the clay pot.

4.  Put the pot in a cold (not preheated) oven.  Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 1 hour.

5.  Serve with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt on top.