September 29, 2008
Orange roses were in bloom and the whole garden was lush from weeks of rain. It’s a proper English country garden with hollyhocks and lavender and at this time of year huge floppy dahlias in crazy colour combinations.
Sometimes in the early morning you can find deer cropping the lawn, their noses in the dew. They also ate up all the lettuces in the vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden. There wasn’t much of anything left in the patch this weekend, except potatoes, but I liked the criss-crossed bean canes; the beans had all been eaten but you could look through the canes at the hill-side beyond the garden, where cows were munching their way through the day, and it was all like something from a film of Jane Austen.
The pie was great. Spanakopita just means ‘Spinach Pie’ (I presume ‘pitta bread’ is ‘pie bread’ because it is bread which can be filled). Mum used a recipe by the great and grizzly Antony Worrall Thompson. We ate it cold, as you should, which was a new idea to me, but one which worked. I think I might have added even more feta than Mr AWT.
Back in London where the sky had inevitably clouded over, I began to dream up a winter version. The more I thought about it the more complicated it got, with pine-nuts and cream and then mushrooms and finally – why not? – in a moment of brilliance the filo pastry was replaced by puff. So all in all what I came up with might not be recognisable to a Greek. But I think it’s pretty damn fine.
Cheese and Spinach Pie (for 4, at least. 4 large people)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 courgettes, sliced
450g/1 lb fresh spinach, washed and shredded
110g/4 oz mushrooms (button is fine)
55g/2 oz pine-nuts
3 fl oz milk
3 dsp cream
225g/8 oz ricotta
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp English mustard
1 tbs vegetable bouillon powder
450g/ 1 lb puff pastry
Beaten egg yolk to glaze
Sesame seeds to decorate
Set the oven to 180C/250F/Gas 4.
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion, gently, for about five minutes. Add in the garlic, courgettes and mushrooms, and cook for a few minutes, until the vegetables are almost, but not quite tender. (ie they should still have ‘bite’).
Add in the spinach, cover, and give it a couple of minutes. Stir. Throw in all the spices and a good grind of fresh pepper and cook over a low heat for another few minutes. Remove from the heat.