A spana and the worksSeptember 21, 2009
Apologies for the lack of posts lately – I’ve been preoccupied with various things, not least some family-visiting travel up and down the land, from the tropics to the tundra. Okay, Launceston is not quite that cold, but our weekend there just gone did involve a significant temperature dive, quite a shock for your warmth-loving correspondent. Anyhoo, I’m back on deck now so prepare for possibly more posts than you ever wanted…
Back to Tassie. Luckily the company and the cookery (and the walks – it is beautiful there) were so much fun in compensation for the crap weather. At my brother’s place I had a bad case of vegetable plot envy, as S&J have a rather beautifully tiered, walk-through affair in their backyard, compared with our jam-the-veg-between-the-ornamentals-in-the-inner-city-courtyard approach. Pictured above is our haul from said garden on Saturday – an armful of silverbeet, a couple of perfectly white leeks, lots of herbs and other goodies.
An armful of silverbeet says spanakopita to me, no matter how much I know the real thing is made with English spinach, not silverbeet (or Swiss chard, as I believe they call it in northern climes). I just love those sauteed stems, so Jacq and I set about making a giant tray of Spana for dinner on Saturday. We pretty much followed the usual format, guided by the recipe in Stephanie Alexander’s orange book (or stripey now, I suppose) with a couple of alterations. I have replicated it at home today with a couple of other alterations, which in my book means this is a beautifully forgiving dish that allows lots of flexibility depending on what’s in the fridge.
- an armful of silverbeet (about two shop-bunches), stems separated from leaves, both chopped roughly
- heaps o garlic – about five to eight cloves
- two leeks, finely chopped
- 200g feta cheese, crumbled
- about 500g ricotta (or less, and some other cheese grated)
- a giant handful of pine nuts (Jacq’s idea, inspired)
- big handful currants
- half a cup of chopped pancetta
- half cup finely chopped mint (from Stephanie, and it’s a must – gives the whole thing some extra zip)
- filo pastry – 10 sheets on the bottom, 10 on the top, brushed with butter every one or two…
- 1 lightly beaten egg (I discovered this is quite optional after forgetting it – and now I think I won’t bother, but if you would like a little extra protein and bindability, go for it.)
- Saute the leeks, garlic & silverbeet stems over high heat till translucent and liquid has evaporated.
- Add the chopped leaves and cook till liquid is gone.
- In another pan, saute the pancetta till crispy, then sling the pine nuts into the pancetta’s oil for a few minutes. Add both to the silverbeet mix, and finish by adding the mint and currants.
- In a roasting pan, lay out the bottom layer of filo as directed, chuck the mix on top, then add top layer of filo, tucking the edges in and brushing well with butter at the end. Stephanie recommends slicing a cross in the top but not cutting through to the bottom – I forgot this both times but I bet it makes for crispier pastry. Totally fine without, though … Bake for 40 minutes in a moderate oven.
- Tuck in, accompanied by a green salad or whatever else takes your fancy.
One other advantage of this recipe is its adaptability for vegetarians in the household – for the ethically conscious Ms R we left one end free of pancetta (and toasted the pine nuts separately), while the rest of us hoed into the bit with the piggsy boost. Delicious all round, and a big hit even with kids, the youngest of whom, a discerning three-year-old, generously proclaimed that I was “a good cooker”. What more can an aunty ask, I say.
Thanks for the lovely weekend, kids all.
Oh, and speaking of family:- happy birthday Al, and to Gracie for tomorrow …