Spinach, feta, raisin & pine nut pie
June 14, 2009
Spare a thought for poor old Boabdil, the last Muslim king of Granada, who on being forced to leave the treasured Alhambra Palace by Queen Isabel la Catolica in 1492, turned to look one last time at his glorious citadel high in the Sierra Nevada. And he wept.
History records that at the now aptly named Suspiro del Moro pass (the Moor’s Sigh), he was rounded upon by his mother who whipped him with her words: “Now you weep like a woman over what you could not defend as a man.”
Perhaps a little pie filled with delicious raisin-sweetened spinach and cheese would have soothed Boabdil’s soul. Just about everywhere on the shores of the Mediterranean, and beyond, boasts a flaky pastry pie. Spanakopita, boreka, empanada, sambusak, samosa, boyos – they are all a variation on the same theme. I read recently that sambusak, so beloved in the Middle East, is actually Persian (the -ak at the end of the word indicates this) and as the Persian Empire stretched to India in its heyday, I am wondering who gave what to whom in the first place. I think it’s possible the Jews brought back the little stuffed pies from their Babylonian exile, but it is historical fact that they did take the idea to the Ottoman Empire, when they too fled Spain at the hands of the bloodthirsty Isabel.
In summer, the Sierras are a hazy blue. In Granada, even in the height of summer, the highest peaks are always snow covered and they form a barrier against any winds sweeping down from the high plains of central Spain. This is the perfect place to sit, on a hill that has a view sweeping down to the Mediterranean, with a glass of cold white wine and this delicious Sephardi pie.
In Spain, you can buy ready made, chilled but not frozen, pastry. It comes rolled in greaseproof paper, ready for use. The type of pastry used for this pie is not filo or flaky or puff, but something in between – short enough for a perfect crust yet light enough to be almost a puff pastry. Here it is called Hojaldre de Empanada and I don’t know enough about making pastry to be able to categorise it properly but the pie works with puff and filo just as well.
Soak the raisins for half an hour in hot water and toast a large handful of pine nuts. If you use frozen spinach, you must squeeze the life out of it or the excess water will ruin your pastry during cooking. Fresh baby spinach is perfect and is cheap in Spain and takes a few spoonfuls of water to sweat over a low heat. When cooked, I cut it up with scissors while it’s in the colander, let it cool and drain and then squeeze out the water. The recipe also has 1 boiled egg, finely chopped, and 1 beaten egg. In a large bowl, crumble up a fair sized lump of feta (all of this depends on how large your piece of pastry is obviously) with the spinach and the finely chopped boiled egg. A good lashing of freshly ground pepper also. Stir in the beaten egg, raisins and pine nuts and spread the mixture over one half of the pastry, so that when you fold it over, it’s a lovely envelope of yumminess. Crimp down the edges with a fork.
Put the envelope on a well greased tray or on silicone paper, glaze with a bit of milk and whack in a hot oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
Let the pie sit and cool for about 10 minutes before you cut it into slices. Serve with a salad and some zhug. This is also excellent cold for breakfast with more zhug and strong coffee.
Did you know….that while the Alhambra is one of the Moors’ greatest legacies in Spain, it was designed and built by a Jew?
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