Sunday, August 19, 2012

Greek Spinach & Feta Pie

Greek Spinach & Feta Pie 6

Vefa's Kitchen is a cookbook I've had on my shelves for a while now, and is one I often pick up when I want a culinary trip down the memory lanes of Greece.  And whenever I think back to one dish or another that I've eaten on one of my trips to the Greek islands, and am wondering whether or not I can recreate it, I only have to pick up this weighty tome and I can almost always find what I'm looking for.

This week I had the need to come up with some portable food, and what could possibly be better for portable food than pie?  Actually what could be better for all sorts of things than pie?  Not a lot, but as a self-confessed pastry-phobe (making it that is, not eating it), it's not something that gets produced very often in my kitchen.

Of course, phyllo pastry is an absolute God-send to a pastry phobe.  For a start no-one, not even for an instant, expects you to make your own.  It's readily available in most supermarkets, and keeps for ages in your fridge.  It's also very easy to use, but produces stunning results.  This is another one of those examples of the end result always earning you more credit than the effort that actually went in merits.  Love things like that.  Also, there is something about those delicate, flaky, crisp shards of pastry that almost makes me feel like this is the health food equivalent of pastry.  Of course, layered up with all that extra melted butter or oil, we know it's not, but I like to think it is.

As soon as I think about phyllo pastry, I am immediately reminded of Greek pies and pastries, and the way they use phyllo to stunning effect in so many ways.  So it was that I turned to Vefa once again, thinking of perhaps creating some spanakopita.  I found her recipe for a Spinach & Cheese pie, which in this case was simply several layers of phyllo in the base of a pie dish, filled with the spinach and cheese mixture, and then topped again with several layers of phyllo.  And you could certainly keep it as simple as that and still end up with a great pie.  However, I'd seen pies made into coils like this in some of the Greek bakeries and decided to give that a try.  It really took very little extra effort, and the results were stunning.

Greek Spinach & Feta Pie 9

I hope you'll give this a try.  It is perfect for a light lunch or supper with a simple salad, and it also makes great picnic food if you happen to live some place where picnicking might be an option right now.  Of course, there's also nothing wrong with throwing a colourful blanket and a few cushions on the living room floor and having an indoor picnic to inject a little bit of summer into the middle of winter.

Greek Spinach & Feta Pie Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Vefa Alexiadou
Serves 4
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek
flaky sea salt
500g (1 lb) spinach
generous handful fresh dill, finely chopped
generous handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
200g (7 oz) feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons Greek-style natural yoghurt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
15 sheets ready-made phyllo pastry

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F), and lightly grease a 23 cm (9 inch) flan or pie tin with oil.

Cut leek in half lengthwise, wash and dry well, and then slice each half thinly, crosswise, so that you end up with thin half circles.  Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat, sprinkle with flaky sea salt, and cook until the leeks are softened but not browned.  Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

Remove the coarse stalks from the spinach and put the leaves into a colander.  Sprinkle liberally with sea salt, and using your fingers, rub the salt into the leaves.  They will start to give up some of their moisture and start to "wilt" down.  Rinse well, and drain.  Tip the leaves into a clean tea towel, and squeeze firmly to wring out all the excess moisture.  Alternatively you could blanch the spinach, but why dirty a pot unnecessarily?!

Put the spinach into a large bowl.  Add the cooled leeks, the chopped dill and parsley, the crumbled feta, yoghurt, beaten eggs, and melted butter.  Season liberally with pepper - you won't need to add salt, as there will be more than enough saltiness from the feta.  Mix everything together until well combined.

Lay your stack of phyllo sheets out on a clean tea towel.  You will be working with one sheet of time, and it helps to always keep the remaining sheets covered with a damp tea towel, as they tend to dry out quickly.

Place one sheet of the phyllo dough directly in front of you, and brush lightly with olive oil.  Place a second sheet on top, and brush it with olive oil.  Repeat with a third sheet.  With the long edge towards you, place a few spoonfuls of the spinach mixture all the way across the width of the dough.

Greek Spinach & Feta Pie 1

Now roll the dough up into a long sausage - see photo "step one" below.  Then, take that spinach roll, seam down, and curve into your pie dish, and brush the top with a little olive oil - see photo "step two" below.  Now repeat the above steps, to make four more spinach rolls.  As you make each one add it to the pie dish, overlapping the end of the previous roll, and starting to coil the rolls in towards the centre of the dish - see photos "step three" and "step four" below.

Greek Spinach & Feta Pie Making Collage

Make sure the whole top is lightly brushed with olive oil.  Sprinkle with a little water and bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until golden brown.

This is heavenly while still warm from the oven, but is also pretty hard to beat served at room temperature too.

Greek Spinach & Feta Pie 10

Vefa's Kitchen is available from Amazon in the US, Amazon UK, and from Fishpond in New Zealand.

                    Vefa's Kitchen

I am sharing this pie this week with my friends Michelle at Ms. enPlace hosting See Ya In the Gumbo, and with April at The 21st Century Housewife hosting Gallery of Favourites.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

This and That & Thoughts on a Thursday

It's a sign!

In our garden right now there are these ...

Almost Spring Garden 3

and these ...

Almost Spring Garden 1

and there are also these ...

Almost Spring Garden 2

Ask any normal person what this means, and they will probably tell you it's a sign that spring is on the way.  Ask any foodie, on the other hand, and almost to a person they will probably tell you it's a sign that asparagus season is just around the corner.  In my mind, and quite possibly in yours too, daffodils and asparagus are inextricably linked.

Asparagus - grilled 1 copy

Yesterday I baked bread.  Now I may possibly be the last blogger alive to have discovered Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, but just in case I'm not, let me tell you that this is the bread that is going to change your life.  As long as you have the foresight to start your bread roughly 20 to 24 hours before you want to eat it, it is hands down the simplest bread ever to make and the results are sublime.  I cannot find adjectives enough to describe this bread.

No-knead Bread 2

Still, with spring just around the corner, which will soon become this ...

I probably need to start eating a lot more of this ...

Green Olive & Broad Bean Salad 3

and a bit less of this ...

No-knead Bread 1

Well, maybe just one more slice!!

Hope you're having a great week everyone xo

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tangy Peanut-Avocado Salsa

Tangy Avocado Salsa 2

So, if you've been reading here the last couple of weeks you'll know that I, and my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs, have been getting to know Rick Bayless.  Despite my initial reticence, after a couple of dishes, I've warmed to him slightly, so with our theme this week being "Feel the Heat!" I was wondering just how warm things were going to get.  We were challenged to break out the chillies and dial up the heat.

Quite a challenge indeed, as I do have chilli issues - not that I have a problem with chillies, it's just that getting anything that packs a bit of a punch here is not so easy.  I wasn't sure what I was going to make, but I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be a big pot full of chilli.  Funny thing, but I'm pretty sure that if someone made chilli for me I would love it and scoff down every single mouthful, probably even go back for more, but it's not something I've ever felt inspired to make myself - and still don't - but never say never, maybe that will change before we're done with Rick.

Anyway, trawling through his website for some inspiration, I came across his recipe for a Tangy Peanut-Avocado Salsa and, incredibly, I actually had all the necessary ingredients on hand.  Well ... actually ... not exactly.  The recipe did call for a couple of serrano chillies, which are not available here, so I used one of the long skinny ones I showed you in this post last week (seeds and all), and the little round one from the same post, which turned out to be quite hot, without the seeds.

Now, looking at the photos, you probably don't need me to tell you that in the looks department this is probably the least appealing thing I've ever posted.  Still this "salsa" which is really more like a sauce or dip, certainly makes up for its unfortunate looks in taste, and packs quite a punch.  Just how much punch will of course depend entirely on the chillies you use.

I had a friend for dinner last night and served this salsa with a simple piece of pan roasted salmon, and a fresh green salad with fennel and avocado.  The salsa was perfect to cut through the richness of the salmon, and at the same time the fats in the salmon seemed to balance out the heat of the salsa.

This is a great quick accompaniment to make to go with almost anything, and chances are you'll almost always have all the ingredients on hand, ready to quickly liven up a piece of fish or even (as I discovered tonight) roasted vegetables.

Tangy Avocado Salsa 1

Tangy Peanut-Avocado Salsa Recipe
Adapted (hardly at all) from this recipe by Rick Bayless
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

2 tablespoons roasted, unsalted peanuts
2 chillies, stemmed (deseeding, optional), roughly chopped
large handful fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 ripe avocado
flaky sea salt

 Put the peanuts, chillies, coriander, water, and lemon and lime juices into your blender, and blitz until smooth.

Remove the pit and skin from the avocado, and discard.  Roughly chop the flesh and add to the blender  Pulse until well blended.

Add salt to taste, and add extra water if necessary.

Tangy Avocado Salsa 3

If you would like to get to know Rick a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...

Rick Bayless @IHCC button rounded

Friday, August 10, 2012

Italian Sausage with Gnocchi & Red Peppers

Italian Sausage with Gnocchi & Red Peppers

It's hard not to get caught up in Olympic fever.  Every time you turn on the TV or radio or internet, there it is - some captivating image of someone's jubilation in triumph or despair in defeat.  Of course, most of us here in New Zealand are by now suffering severe sleep deprivation, as most of the events are taking place in the middle of the night for us.  It's hard to go off to bed when you want to watch just one more race ... oh, hang on, just one more ... okay, this is definitely the last one - you understand the scenario.

Anyway, London seems to be doing a great job of hosting the games, and even if you are not a huge "sports nut", you can not help but find the skill and power, dedication and determination with which so many athletes participate uplifting and inspiring.

Of course, the games will always have its detractors, and as I understand it the location of the Olympic park in London's East End, and its impact on that community has not found favour with many.  One of the great tragedy's has been the loss of the Manor Garden allotments.  The gardens were established in 1900 by Major Arthur Villiers to provide plots of land for local families in a deprived area to grow vegetables.  Divided into 80 plots, a tight-knit community tended their allotments for over a century.  Although, many plot holders have been long-standing East End families, newer plot holders brought a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds to the community.

One couple to find themselves part of this community was Sam and Sam Clark, the couple behind London's Moro restaurant, and their book Moro East offers a collection of recipes that chronicles a year of life in this community garden.  With the gardens having been demolished in 2007, this book is a real treasure documenting something which is gone forever.  I have read that the gardens may be re-established after the games are over (does anyone know if that is true?), but in my mind some things can never be regained.  Anyway, Moro East is a wonderful book - I've borrowed it from the library on a number of occasions, and have it on my wishlist for adding to my collection.

So why am I telling you all this.  Well, apart from the fact that it's a story which I think is worth the telling, the recipe I'm sharing with you today is adapted from one which I came across in a recent issue of Cuisine magazine, and on reading the introduction to the recipe I noted that it was adapted from a recipe in Moro East.  And that is the end of the story.

Now, on to the food!!  This dish could not be simpler to make.  It is a one-pan-wonder which is totally my favourite kind of dish, both to cook and to eat.  I used gnocchi instead of the potatoes called for in the original recipe, making this a dish that can be knocked out in about 10 minutes flat instead of half an hour.  I was thinking to add in some chillies for a bit of extra heat, but then I noticed that my sausages were already seasoned with red pepper flakes, so instead I added in some red peppers, making this somewhat reminiscent of another of my favourite recipes from Lidia's Italy by Lidia Bastianich.  This needs nothing more than a fresh green salad on the side and a good glass of wine, to make a quick and easy dinner that is sure to become a real family favourite.

Italian Sausage with Gnocchi & Red Peppers 2

Italian Sausage with Gnocchi & Red Peppers Recipe
Adapted from this recipe in Cuisine Magazine
Serves 3-4 normal people or 2 gluttons
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

300-350g Italian pork and fennel sausages
1x red pepper, cored, deseeded & cut into strips
olive oil (approx 3 tablespoons)
flaky sea salt
500g gnocchi (I used De Cecco brand)
1x bay leaf
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 preserved lemon
1 tablespoon capers
generous handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Remove the sausages from their casings.  This is easily done by just running a sharp knife down the full length of the sausage, then peeling the casing away.  Then break the sausage meat into bite-sized pieces.

Set a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, and add a tablespoon of olive oil.  As soon as the oil is heated, add the sausages pieces.  Move them around in the pan from time to time, and when they look as though they are half-cooked, add the red pepper strips.  Sprinkle with a small pinch of flaky sea salt (be restrained, as there will be saltiness from the sausages, chicken stock and preserved lemon), and continue cooking until the sausages are brown and crispy and the peppers softened.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, and then add the gnocchi.  Stir them around to coat them all in the oil, and then fry for a few minutes to brown a little.  You will get bits that stick to the bottom of the pan, but those little stuck bits soon become little crispy bits, and they will all lift when you add the chicken stock and help to make the sauce.

As soon as the gnocchi have browned a bit, add the sausages and peppers back into the pan, stir to combine, add the bay leaf, and then pour in 1 cup of the chicken stock.  Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen all those stuck bits, and keep stirring as the liquid thickens.  If needed add the remaining 1/2 cup of stock.

Remove from the heat.  Discard the flesh from the preserved lemon, retaining just the peel.  Thinly slice the peel and stir into the pan along with capers.  Sprinkle parsley over the top and serve immediately.

This dish ticks all the classic comfort food boxes, while the spicy heat of the sausages coupled with the little hits of preserved lemon and capers elevate it to something less ordinary than just sausage and potatoes.  I hope you'll give it a try.

Italian Sausage with Gnocchi & Red Peppers 3

Moro East, and other Moro cookbooks are available from Amazon in the US, Amazon UK, or Fishpond in New Zealand.

Moro East

This week I'm sharing this post with at Gallery of Favourites hosted by April at The 21st Century Housewife and at See Ya in The Gumbo hosted by Michelle at Ms. enPlace.

Secret Recipe Club

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chilli Lime Mussels & Broad Bean Salad with Green Olive Dressing

Chilli Lime Mussels with Green Olive & Broad Bean Salad 1

You could be forgiven for thinking that sounds like a rather unusual combination of ingredients.  Indeed I though the same thing myself when I first came across the recipe which inspired this post.

After my debut foray last week into trying out the recipes of Rick Bayless with the I Heart Cooking Clubs group, I was eager to give him another try and see if we could get a little better acquainted.

Our theme this week is "Green, Green, Green Is Everything I'm Wearing", and whilst most of my fellow bloggers in the group might have access right now to lots of lovely, exotic green things like tomatillos, jalapenos and cactus paddles, such is not the case here.

What to make?  I spent a few hours trawling through Rick's website looking for something suitable, but almost every recipe I looked at required some ingredient I couldn't access.  Now ordinarily that might not be such a big deal - after all, I can surely come up with a few substitutes - but, as it turned out, the thing that usually needed to be subbed out was the green thing.  And seriously, you can't front up to the green themed party without the green thing, now can you.

And then, just as I was about to give up all hope, I went to the section on Rick's Season 8 recipes and his recipe for Green Olive Dressed Salad with Mussels & Fava Beans simply jumped out at me.  After all, green olives I can do (I have jars full of them in my pantry);  salad is one of my preferred meal options any time of year;  broad beans (that's fava beans to many of you) - out of season here right now, but I have frozen ones on hand and they will do perfectly well;  and as for mussels - not only are these plentiful and inexpensive here, but we have New Zealand green-lipped mussels - now, take that for green!

Chilli Lime Mussels 1

The original recipe called for simply steaming the mussels, then chilling them, removing them from their shells, and serving them on the broad bean salad.  But I decided to go in a slightly different direction.  For starters, I'm not that fussed on cold mussels, and what's more I have been wanting to share my recipe for Chilli-Lime Mussels with you for ages.  So I decided to take Rick's green olive dressed broad bean salad (to which I also added some avocado) and to serve that as an accompaniment to the mussels.  I knew the two would work well together, and the chilli lime seasonings added to the mussels echo those in the salad.

I halved the quantities for the salad dressing, since I was only cooking for one, and still ended up with way more dressing than I needed.  Not that I'm sad about that - the dressing is fabulous and it will be finding it's way onto just about every meal for the next week!!  I also, as I did with last week's recipe, included some lemon juice in the dressing, rather than just the lime juice that was called for, because the limes here are expensive and just don't render that much juice.

Green Olive & Broad Bean Salad 1

A word about chillies.  The original recipe calls for poblano chillies, and no doubt where many of you live you may be able to buy chillies by variety.  Here in New Zealand, however, we don't get a great deal of choice - the chillies we usually see are generally long and skinny, they come in red or green, and occasionally orange, and are usually not very hot.

Chillies 1

On occasion we do seem to see other varieties of chillies, but they are not usually named, and available advice about them is generally very limited.  Case in point:  When I picked up my chillies for this dish at the supermarket yesterday, there were some I hadn't seen before in the chilli basket.  They were smallish, roundish and actually quite hard and fleshy.  They didn't have the kind of hollow, empty feel that a chilli usually has.

Chillies 2

Wanting a bit more information, I found some hapless staff member who was replenishing the banana area and asked him if they were chillies.  He confirmed that they were.  "What are they like?" I asked.  "Are they hot? Mild? Medium?"  He smiled sheepishly and said he didn't know.  "Well, is there someone here who does know?" I enquired.  The reply ... beat this ... "Nope.  Nobody knows.  Perhaps you can buy one and try it, then you can tell us."  I'm not kidding, that is exactly what he said.  A timely reminder, if one were ever needed, that if you really want to know what you're eating and where your food comes from, then the supermarket is probably not the place to find it.  So, if you can get poblano chillies then go for it - I used these long, skinny, red ones as that was what was available.  If you can identify them, I'd love to know what they are, and even more so, I'd love to know what that little, round one is.

Green Olive & Broad Bean Salad 3

Broad Bean Salad with Green Olive Dressing Recipe
Serves 1 for a light meal or 2-3 as a side dish
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

For the dressing:
1x chilli (poblano if you can get it)
2x cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
flaky sea salt

For the salad:
1x cup broad (fava) beans, frozen (by all means use fresh if you can get them)
1x avocado, flesh cut into chunks
2x large handfuls of salad greens
(I used a mixture of baby cos and spinach)

Begin by making the dressing.  Roast the chilli, either directly over a flame or under a hot grill, until blackened all over.  Remove from heat and drop into a plastic bag.  Close bag and set aside until the chilli is cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, put the garlic cloves into a small, dry skillet set over medium heat, and roast until the cloves have softened, and blackened in a few places.  Remove and set aside to cool.

Put the lime juice, lemon juice and olive oil into a blender.  Add half of the green olives, setting aside the rest for garnishing the salad later.

Remove chilli from plastic bag and rub off the blackened skin.  Cut off the stem and cut the chilli in half lengthwise.  Scrape out the seeds and membrane.  Roughly chop one half of the chilli and add it to the ingredients in the blender.  Set the other half aside for garnishing the salad.

Slip the skins off the garlic cloves.  Add to the blender along with a generous pinch of sea salt, and blend everything until smooth.

For the salad, bring a small pot of water to the boil, salt the water and then add the broad beans to the pot.  Bring water back to the boil, allow to boil for 1 minute, then drain and immediately plunge beans into a bowl of ice water.  Once they are cool enough to handle, slip the thick greyish skins off the beans and discard.  Set the beans aside in a small bowl.

Put the salad leaves into another bowl and toss lightly with the dressing, then transfer to a serving bowl or platter.  Scatter the broad beans and chunks of avocado over the top.  Finely slice the remaining chilli and sprinkle over the salad, along with the remaining green olives.  Finish with another drizzle of the dressing and serve immediately.

Green Olive & Broad Bean Salad 2

Chilli-Lime Mussels Recipe
Makes one very generous serving or
Serves 2 as an appetiser
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

18x green-lipped mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2x cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chilli jam
1x kaffir lime leaf or grated zest of 1x lime
1/2 cup white wine
fresh coriander leaves

First make sure that all your mussels are still "alive".  Before cooking, all of your mussels should be tightly shut.  If there are any that are open, give them a sharp tap on the side of the sink (or bowl) - if they're healthy they should close up.  If they stay open, discard them immediately.  Similarly, once cooked, if there are any mussels that remain closed, they too should be discarded.

Heat olive oil in a large pan (I use a large skillet which has a lid) over medium-high heat.  Add garlic, and as soon as it becomes fragrant add the chilli jam, lime leaf or zest, and white wine.  As soon as the wine begins to boil, add the mussels and cover.  Cook until the mussels have opened, shaking the pan from time to time - this will only take about 5 minutes.

As soon as the mussels have opened, remove to a serving bowl, pour over a few spoonfuls of the broth, and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

Chilli Lime Mussels 2

If you would like to get to know Rick a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...

Rick Bayless @IHCC button rounded

I'm also sharing this post this week with a couple of lovely friends ... Deb at Kahakai Kitchen, hosting Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays and Michelle at Ms. enPlace, hosting See Ya In the Gumbo.