Spinach pie helps roll out a new season

March 24, 2002|By Rob Kasper

According to the seasonal hype, spring is the time of year conducive to trying new things. As a confirmed same-old, same-old sort of cook, I find it difficult to attempt something novel in the kitchen, especially a dish that calls for a fair amount of work.

Yet fueled by the optimism of spring, and by the fact that I was on the prowl for a new side dish for Easter dinner, I tried my hand at "hortopita rollo," a Greek recipe for coiled spinach, leek and fennel pie.

Most of the labor involves making the dough, which turned out to be a task I enjoyed, especially when I got to roll the dough as if it were a cigar leaf.

As is true with recipes that are "keepers," the best part of the "hortopita rollo" experience occurred during the eating segment. The flaky dough and the currants in the spinach filling gave a lift to a weeknight supper, a tired old part of everyday life.

That, I guess, is what spring is all about.

Coiled Spinach Pie

Makes 8 to 10 servings

CRUST

4-4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 / 3 cup olive oil

1 cup dry white wine or beer

FILLING

2 pounds mixed greens (such as spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, mesclun)

1 cup olive oil

3 leeks (white part plus 3 inches of green part) thinly sliced

6 scallions (white and most of green part) thinly sliced

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley

2 cups crumpled feta cheese

2 cups coarsely chopped fennel fronds (or fresh dill)

1 cup currants (Zante currants made from seedless red grapes preferred)

salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

To make the crust: In a large bowl of a food processor, mix 4 cups flour and baking powder. Add the oil and wine and mix briefly in a food processor until soft dough forms. Add more flour, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary. Shape dough into a ball; let rest in food processor for 15 minutes.

To make filling: Rinse the greens, drain briefly and place in a large pot while still wet. Cook over high heat, stirring until greens are wilted. Let cool.

Squeeze excess liquid from wilted greens with your hands and coarsely chop.

In a large skillet, heat 1 / 4 cup of the olive oil and saute the leeks, over medium heat, 6 to 8 minutes or until tender. Add the scallions and saute for 3 more minutes. Add the wilted greens, the parsley and 3 tablespoons of the oil and saute for 4 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Remove from the heat and add the cheese, fennel (or dill), currants and add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 375; use some oil to coat a 12-inch pie pan or large baking dish, pour remaining oil in small bowl.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces, covering three with plastic wrap. On a floured surface, roll one piece into a 15- by 10-inch rectangle. Brush both sides of the dough with oil and place one quarter of the filling in it, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Roll it up from the long side, like a cigar, into a spiral shape, then place it, seam side down, in the center of the pie pan. Repeat with remaining dough and filling, adding the new coiled piece where the last one leaves off. Brush with oil and prick with a fork in a few places.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for 15 minutes, before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

-- From The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi, (Houghton Mifflin, 2000)

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