Recently my family and I spent a relaxing week in the tropical northern city of Cairns. As we often do, we took the long way home, which means a drive up to the Atherton Tablelands. It is a beautiful area reminicent of the rolling hills of Tasmania, New Zealand or some have said England. It is also a food bowl for North Queensland producing fabulous dairy products, fruits and vegetables, peanuts, sugar cane, wines and coffee. We always pick up something delicious. At the Big Peanut Fruit stall we stopped for the obligatory bag of hot roasted peanuts. This time we chose the smoked variety. Munching and enjoying the view we came across a hand drawn sign that simply said “FIGS” and after following a dirt road past lychee, mango and fig trees we came across the farm house. Beautiful, plump, purple figs, rare for our part of the world, were for sale for $10 per kilo. Really, a steal. I bought a few kilos for myself and a few for my sister. Hubby patiently emptied the esky so that the figs had pride of place. Finally we made a stop a the Mungalli Creek Dairy to pick up some fresh cheeses before the drive south.
I chose a beautiful whole milk ricotta and award winning fetta which I knew were destined for spanakopita. I have been making spanakopita for years and always form the same spiral shape. I am not Greek and do not claim to make a traditional Spanakopita but what I do make is delicious and my family enjoy it and I’d like to share it with you.
It’s not so much a recipe, as maybe a method and I often don’t really measure but make do with the quantities I have so I’ll do my best to give measurements. Please, don’t feel that you are bound by measurements – this is not an exact science as it would be if you were making a sponge cake!
Have your oven preheated to 180C then take a brown onion and 3 cloves garlic, chop finely and saute in some olive oil until golden. Cool. Now you’ll need some spinach. If you can buy fresh spinach (I can’t!), remove the stalks and steam. Then squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Moisture is the enemy of spanakopita – if there can be one – because it will result in soggy pastry. If you can only purchase frozen spinach (that’s me!) defrost and squeeze out the moisture. I know, frozen isn’t the best but if that’s all one can buy…… Ok, now you want a quantity, well about 330 g of cooked, squeezed spinach. Now chop it a bit and mix it with the cooled onion mixture, 325g ricotta, 300g crumbled fetta, about a cup of chopped flat leaf parsley, 4 or 5 tablespoons of grated parmesan or romano cheese, grated nutmeg, 3 beaten eggs, pepper and maybe a little pinch of salt, remembering that the fetta is in brine! It should look a bit like this.
Then you’ll need a 500g packet of fillo pastry, preferably not the frozen type. Follow all the rules for fillo, you know, work quickly and keep the fillo covered with a clean towel. Take 4 sheets of fillo brushing with olive oil between each sheet. Spoon about 1/5 of the mixture along the long side, roll up and twist into a coil on a large oil baking tray. Don’t panic if it splits a little – this is rustic, traditional cooking! Continue this way until you have used up all the mixture and your spanakopita looks like a large coiled sausage. Now, beat another egg and add a pinch of salt. Brush with the egg getting into all the joins. Make sure to use all of the egg. Bake it for about an hour by then it should be crispy brown all over and the gorgeous smell should be invading your house. Now you know it’s ready. Let it cool a little to set then cut it into generous wedges and enjoy!
Oh, you may be wondering what I did with the figs … well… that’s for next time!