Last year when I found myself with an abundance of spinach, I wilted it in a pan with leeks onions, three kinds of cheese, and herbs, to make a delectable filling for a phyllo pie. It was so good I immediately jotted the recipe down to be published later. Last week I happened to have all the necessary ingredients and amazing produce from Terra Madre so knew it would be my first recipe for the year. I won’t call it spanakopita (a Greek spinach pie), although it hovers around that universe, but rather spinach and three cheese phyllo pie with herbs.
I absolutely love working with phyllo pastry. It’s so forgiving when you become confident working with it. Always feeling a little impressive and fancy, it has the most amazing crisp texture. The perfect covering for pies and I will wrap almost anything in it to make one. You can turn this into phyllo triangles as I have done with my sweetcorn and cheese phyllo pies, or my zesty spinach and feta pies, but I love it snaked into a serpent pie like this.
You only use 4 sheets of phyllo to make this so it’s not as indulgent as you think. I used a LOT of spinach too, around 36-40 large leaves stripped from their stems. Baby spinach is wonderful, but I like the firmer large-leaf spinach more for this. It adds more texture to the dish.
The cream cheese binds the mixture together adding creaminess and the grated halloumi and Parmesan add saltiness and flavour. You can use Pecorino if you prefer or even a very mature Cheddar. I don’t think it really matters too much.
I’ve used a combination of leeks and onion and added finely chopped fennel stalks and a few leaves as I always have these around and leftover without a use. Use dried or fresh dill, fresh mint, and a lot of fresh flat-leaf parsley.
I added the zest and juice of half a lemon only as I felt this was enough to give it a citrus hit but not overpower.
I paired this with the iconic Iona Elgin Highlands Sauvignon Blanc, a perfectly zingy wine to stand up to this dish. Iona has just released their 2021 which marks the 21st vintage of this wine which was first released in 2001. It was a privilege for me to taste this first wine which still had so much life at a celebration lunch recently.
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Spinach and 3 cheese phyllo pie
- 2 very large bunches of spinach about 36 – 40 stems (leaves washed stripped from stalk)
- Olive oil
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 2 leeks washed, trimmed, and finely chopped (white and pale green part only)
- 2 fennel stalks and a few leaves finely chopped
- 3 large garlic cloves minced
- 1 tsp dried dill or 2 tsp fresh finely chopped
- Finely grated zest from half a lemon plus its juice
- ½ cup cream cheese about 125gm
- 110 gms halloumi cheese – grated about 1 heaped cup
- 30 gms of finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese about a 1/3 cup
- Large bunch of parsley chopped (about 20-25gms)
- 10 mint leaves finely chopped
- Salt & pepper
- 4 sheets of phyllo pastry
- About 3 Tbs butter melted
- 1 Tbsp aprox white and or black sesame seeds
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
- Wash the spinach leaves that have been stripped from the stalk and roughly chop. Drain in a colander.
- Heat a large nonstick frying pan and add a generous splash of olive oil. Fry the onion, leeks, and fennel until translucent over medium / low heat (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or so.
- Add the chopped spinach in parts, wilting it as you go and until you can fit it all into the pan. add the dill, lemon zest, and juice and cook for about 5 – 8 minutes until soft and cooked through. Allow to cool slightly.
- Once cooled, stir through the cream cheese, grated halloumi, Parmesan, chopped parsley, and mint. Adjust seasoning to your taste adding salt and black pepper as required.
- Remove 4 sheets of phyllo from the roll quickly seal the remainder of the pack and either re-freeze or refrigerate until further use (I just refreeze).
- Roughly divide the mixture into 4 parts. Place the first sheet on a work surface with the thinner side at the bottom and spread one-quarter of the mixture along the bottom in a log shape. Lightly brush the whole top side of the sheet with butter. Roll the log of spinach up and place it in a. lined baking pan.
- Repeat with the remaining 3 sheets of phyllo, joining and twirling it into the pan. Allow a little space between the rolls although it should be snug. It does expand slightly when baked. Brush the tops generously with melted butter and sprinkle white and or black sesame seeds over the top.
- Bake for 40 minutes and until golden.
- Serve on its own or with tzatziki.