We had a very traditional Christmas dinner with turkey, stuffing and all the usual accompaniments, but as Rachael is vegetarian, I wanted to think of a nice alternative for her, and something also quite special. The initial plan was to bake Rick Stein’s ‘Horta Pie’ from his Venice to Istanbul book. Horta are wild greens that are gathered in Greece to make pie or which are simply boiled, drained and served warm or cold with olive olive drizzled over the top. Twickenham doesn’t provide a piece of wild land to collect wild, edible greens – or not as far as I’ve discovered but I have to confess I’ve not really got into foraging, despite its current gastronomic popularity. I therefore settled on a pack of spinach and another of cavolo nero from Waitrose; you want greens that soften and wilt nicely. It did actually feel like quite wild shopping amongst the Christmas crowds last Friday! But not of the kind Rick had in mind. Another compromise was the pastry. Rick uses filo pastry – well, this is a Greek recipe – but Waitrose was out of filo pastry and I wasn’t about to risk sanity and limb in another supermarket. I therefore bought frozen puff pastry and decided that would make a very nice pie. (I always make my own shortcrust pastry, but I think few people make puff or filo pastry.)
Having diverted a bit from the original recipe, I took another leap into compromise and decided the huge pie Rick makes wasn’t necessary for one vegetarian. I therefore settled on a smaller size in a pie dish of 20cm diameter and cut down the quantities of the ingredients. And to complete my changes, I decided against mixing the filling in one go and adding it completely uncooked; instead I wanted to soften my onion in oil first and cook the greens a bit. This is how I like to cook: taking inspiration from one, two or three recipes and putting them together in my own way. [However, you can’t usually do this with cakes, pastries and other baking and generally it’s wise to follow those recipes exactly. But savoury dishes are amazingly tolerant of a cook’s fancy.]
Mixed Greens & Feta Pie (serves 4-6)
- 250g frozen puff pastry, thawed
- 1 egg yolk and a little milk
- 200g spinach
- 200g cavolo nero
- 2 medium onions, finely sliced
- olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 eggs
- 200g feta cheese
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grease the pie dish. Roll out half the pastry and line the dish. Make an egg wash with the egg yolk and a little milk, beating well. Brush some over the pastry base to prevent it becoming soggy from the filling.
Soften the sliced onion in a little olive oil. While it’s softening prepare the greens. Strip the cavolo nero leaves from the hard stem and chop roughly. Chop the spinach a little if you have large leaves; I had baby leaves so left whole. Add the greens to the softened onion. Mix well and cook until starting to wilt but don’t cook right down.
Beat 2 eggs in a bowl and crumble the feta into it and mix. Season with a little salt (remember feta is quite salty) and black pepper.
Now tip in the wilted greens and onion and mix gently but well together.
Fill the lined pie dish. Roll out the second piece of pastry. Brush the edges of the base with a little of the egg wash and then lay the second round of pastry on top. Press the edges together and crimp. Now brush more egg wash over the top and pierce the centre a couple of times with the end of a sharp knife to let out steam as the pie cooks.
Bake at 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4 for about 35-40 minutes, or until nicely browned.
I made this on Christmas Eve evening and then reheated to serve on Christmas Day. It makes 4 large portions but would easily stretch to 6.
Rachael ate it with the vegetables I’d prepared for everyone else. Happily, she loved it. Of course it’s the kind of pie you could make anytime for a vegetarian meal, and really at any time of year – it would work well in summer too.
I had some leftovers the following day for lunch, eating it cold with salad. It’s really delicious and I’m sure to make it again sometime.