My first ever foreign holiday (bar a school trip to Holland in sixth year) was a fortnight in Kavos on the Greek Island of Corfu. It was the summer of 1991 and I traveled with a dozen newfound friends from my first year at Uni. Admittedly the majority of the time was spent drinking, but I also got my first ever taste of 'foreign food'. At that point you'd never have even thought about taking a photo of your meal. The 36 exposures were far too precious to waste on such frivolities. However I do recall tzatziki, stifado, deep fried squid, stuffed vine leaves, olives, taramosalata, and moussaka. But the dish I took home and have recreated in various shapes and forms ever since was Spanakopita and I'm delighted to have teamed up with James Villas to share my version of the iconic Greek dish.
Over the years I've discovered that one of the best things about going on holiday is discovering a new culture, and particularly trying the food. Part of what makes a villa holiday so much fun is the freedom that self-catering offers. You have the flexibility to dine out in a local bistro, indulge in some Michelin starred cuisine, or even try your hand at recreating local delicacies in your home from home. James Villas have teamed up with chef and author Jo Pratt to create a range of #MyHolidayDish recipes to take you on a gastronomic tour of the destinations where they have Villas. I'm a huge fan of Spanish Tapas and Jo's quick and easy Pepper & Goats Cheese Tarts have gone straight onto my must make list. Washed down with a large glass of Sangria of course!
Back to my own dish. One of the problems that I faced when attempting to recreate authentic Spanakopita at home is the sheer quantity of spinach that you require. What seems like a huge bag disappears to nothing when cooked. In the recipe I'm sharing below I've bulked out the traditional spinach and ricotta filling with basmati rice. For speed and convenience I used a packet of pre-ccoked rice. I reckon it could be seen as a nod to rice stuffed vine leaves. The Greek flavours are encapsulated further with the inclusion of olives, mint and lemon. Bon Appetite! Or Καλή όρεξη! (Kalí óreksi!) as they say in Greece.
Greek Spanakopita Pie
300g Spinach, washed
50g Sliced Olives, drained
3 sprigs of Mint, stems removed and leaves finely shredded
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
200g Feta Cheese, cubed
280g Pouch of Pre-cooked Basmati Rice
Salt & Pepper
7 Sheets Filo Pastry (defrosted if frozen)
50g Butter, melted
Preheat your oven to 180c
Place the damp spinach in a large pan and let it wilt down over a low heat. Drain well in a sieve or colander, squeezing to remove as much moisture as possible. Roughly chop using a scissors or knife.
In a large bowl mix together the chopped spinach, sliced olives, shredded mint leaves, lemon zest and juice, rice and cubed feta cheese. Combine well and season with freshly ground salt and pepper.
Brush a 25cm loose bottomed quiche tin with melted butter.
Lay out the filo pastry sheets and lightly brush the top one with butter. Carefully place it in the quiche tin to line the base with an overhang at each side. The pastry doesn’t have to fit in smoothly – a few wrinkles and folds in it are fine.
Brush the second pastry sheet with melted butter and this time lay it down into the tin the other way round, so it drapes over and lines the base. Repeat the criss-cross layering with 6 out of the 7 butter brushed filo sheets.
Spoon the spinach, rice and feta mixture into the pastry lined tin. Crumple the final sheet of filo to cover the top then fold in all of the other pastry to form a parcel.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.
Remove the tin and transfer the Spanakopita to a serving plate.
Can be served warm or cold, ideally with minted yogurt, a Greek salad and a glass of Ouzo!
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