Oct 6, 2009


I have a soft spot for recipes that grandmothers use. I assume (perhaps condescendingly?) that grandmothers will make honest food, food they believe in, food they know. None of this newfangled fad chasing of the younger generation, maybe a carefully considered adjustment to lower the cholesterol risk, or sometimes a conservative experiment or two. But the honesty remains. It's not food that is meant to impress, it is food that cares. Which is why it excites me*.

Also, grandmothers really like it when a young man asks them for their recipe**. Especially grandmothers that cook well. If they're Greek, it might be accompanied by excessive gesticulation and raised voices. A friend had me taste some of her grandmother's spanakopita, freshly flown in from Greece. It was good. So I asked for a recipe. After a evening spent with the friend translating the Greek instructions into English (what is the gesture for dill?) the family recipe was mine. Or had I just joined the family? Is there any difference?

You'll need a big bowl. A lot of spinach is washed, shredded and squeezed dry, salted to taste, then mixed with semolina, to absorb all remaining moisture. Add a handful of chopped dill, some spring onions, an egg or two for binding for binding and a generous bit of olive oil follows. Add 25% of the weight of the spinach in feta cheese. Check the salt again. I can't map the flavour of salted raw spinach to the cooked product, but I suppose I still have years to learn before I become a grandmother. Then there is a pastry part to the recipe, but I couldn't find it the day I was making it. So I improvised, finding myself with a dough that was less than perfect, but passable. Next time.

Place two sheets of phyllo at the bottom of the pan, slightly oiled in between. Then the filling, squashed down firmly, before two more sheets come on top. An hour at 200C should provide an honest, but very good spinach pie.

* I am biased towards grandmothers from foreign cultures: overcooked beans mashed with undercooked potatoes accompanied by mutton and a broth like gravy don't excite me, although I've met several kind grannies who offered me exactly that.

** I do this to get good recipes, not to woo grandmothers, their daughters or granddaughters. Promise. That would be unethical.