Oh what a day! Blissed out baby mode, and when it came time to make dinner, I realised we had nothing in the fridge but bits and pieces – a handful of spinach, a few artichoke hearts, quarter of a butternut. Some days, you dont have one thing to work with, but many many little odds and ends of things. On days like these, I like to make something that will incorporate all the left over bits – a pie, tart, pasta sauce, even a bread pudding …
Tomorrow we go to Whole Foods once again, but tonight was incorporate all the remaining handfuls and try and make something yummy night. This is one reason why I love phyllo dough. I am not a master Greekie cook (like my beloved Osisters – their spanakopita is phenomenal!) but I do like its ease of use, its pliability and its wonderful presentation. I dont know why, but people feel very manja-ed (Malaysian word – means spoiledbelovedcaredforlookedafter all rolled into one!) when you present them with a baked good – pies, tarts, pastries of all kinds. People love them, and the presence of a crust seems to elevate a rather normal meal into something special. On a night like tonight, phyllo dough enabled me to incorporate lots of things quickly and seamlessly… and delectably!
I would never ever try and make my own phyllo dough. Its waaaaaay too delicate and intricate a process. Rather, I purchase the best phyllo I can find, and am thankful to those who take (almost) all the work out of it for me! There are a few general rules for working with phyllo. Use butter if you want a rich tart, and use olive oil if you want a slightly lighter version. Set up everything you need before you even begin to unwrap the phyllo because as soon as you do, you need to work quickly and efficiently. Phyllo will dry out or start to melt and stick together, so know what you want to do, and do it fast. And always try and work on grease proof or wax paper. This allows you to preheat your pan (I use a jelly roll or large flat cookie pan for this free form recipe) in the oven, and then slide your creation onto it, still on the wax paper. The bottom of the phyllo pie will be crisped because of the immediate contact with hot pan, and you wont get that soggy bottom which generally occurs when you bake the phyllo on a cold pan. And finally, try and drain as much of the moisture out of the filling as you can. You need some moisture to bind the vegetables, but dont put a very wet filling into the pie – it will leak and get soggy and be yucky. If you are making a vegan version, just boil all the juices down into a thickened sauce and use it in place of the ricotta and egg.
This will serve 6 hungry – 8 people
I am going to tell you what I put into this pie, but really, use up what you’ve got in the fridge – from tomatoes and carrots to spinach and pine nuts. You will need about 4 – 6 cups of cooked filling in total.
For the filling
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 large Vidalia onion, minced
- 3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced fine
- Small handful (may be 1/4 cup) sun dried tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 – 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 – 1/2 butternut
- 1 + 1 cup boiling water
- 1 cup mixed dried mushrooms – I used chanterelles, porcini and shiitake
- Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
- 1/2 cup chopped spinach
- 1/2 cup chopped french beans
- 1 cup chopped asparagus
- 1/2 cup artichoke hearts
- 3 heaping tbsp ricotta (optional)
- 2 eggs (optional)
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta (optional) – use toasted pine nuts instead if you are a vegan!
In a large, non stick frying pan, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, garlic and sun dried tomatoes together until the onions are softened and glossy, and have browned a little.
Add salt, pepper, oregano and paprika, and stir well.
Chop the butternut quite fine – you want little cubes about the size of the nail on your pinkie. You want it to have body, but you want the butternut to cook quickly. Add to the pan, and saute for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of hot water, and allow to bubble and cook for a while on medium high heat.
In a separate small bowl, immerse the dried mushrooms in another cup of boiling water. Leave for at least 10 minutes, whilst the butternut is bubbling away.
Once the mushrooms have softened, take them out of the water, and chop roughly, and add to the pan. Most of the water from cooking the butternut should have boiled away. Add about half a cup of the mushroom water, and allow to cook for a further five minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sometimes I add a little cinnamon for depth of flavour, or more salt, pepper and spices.
Turn off the heat (you should still have a significant amount of liquid in the pan), and transfer the contents of the pan to a sieve set over a small bowl. I usually use the mushroom bowl, cleaned out! Let the liquid drip through, and using your spatula or spoon, press down on the onion-butternut-mushroom mixture so that most of the liquid drains through. Reserve the cooking liquid, either to use as the base of a sauce for the pie, or as the binding liquid if you are baking for vegans.
Transfer the mixture back to the pan, and over medium heat, add the spinach, beans, asparagus and artichoke hearts. Saute briefly until completely combined, but make sure that the greenery does not cook too long – you want it to retain its colour and taste!
Tumble the vegetable mixture into a bowl, and set aside for at least ten minutes to allow it to cool.
If you are cooking vegan, transfer the cooking liquid to the pan, and boil it down until reduced by at least half. It needs to be thick and syrupy. You could add some wine to this if you like, though I didnt have any available. Add a few tablespoons to the vegetable mixture to bind it properly, and give it some body.
Otherwise, beat together the ricotta, eggs and feta, and mix gently through the vegetable mixture. Taste and adjust for seasoning, and set aside.
- 7 – 9 large phyllo leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil and pastry brush
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta or toasted pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 200 C and put a jelly roll or cookie pan into the oven to preheat.
Lay out your work surface. On a clean tea towel or a strip of waxed paper, unroll your phyllo dough. Have a small bowl with olive oil and a pastry brush handy. Also have a small bowl containing your feta, and your bowl of prepared vegetables.
Tear a strip of waxed paper long enough to fit your baking pan. Lay a phyllo sheet on the paper (my phyllo dough covered almost the entire paper), and gently brush with a bit of olive oil. Continue to layer leaves of phyllo dough, brushing each layer with olive oil. Its okay if the phyllo tears – just patch it up with olive oil, and keep going. You want to work quickly but surely, and dont worry about covering every inch of the pastry with olive oil – you really just want to give it a gentle brushing. I used 7 layers, but you can use as many as you want.
Sprinkle your crumbled feta onto the dough, going straight down lengthways the middle of the dough. Leave a 2 inch space on either side.
Spoon your vegetable filling over the feta, mounding it, and leaving space on either side. You will now have what looks like a log of vegetables centred on your phyllo dough.
To complete the pie, fold over both short sides, like an envelope, and then fold the longer ends over each other. Using the waxed paper, flip the phyllo log over on itself, so that the seam is bottom side down. Centre the phyllo log on the waxed paper. Brush the top with olive oil.
Using oven mits, take the hot baking pan out of the oven. Using the waxed paper, transfer the paper and the phyllo log onto the hot pan, and put back into the oven.
Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes, or until the phyllo is browned and crispy.
Let sit for a few minutes once out of the oven before slicing and serving.
If you are not baking a vegan version of this, use the reserved cooking liquid as the basis for a lovely sauce to serve with the phyllo pie. I boiled the cooking liquid until slightly reduced, and then lowered the heat and added a few tablespoons of creme fraiche, a tablespoon of pesto sauce, some salt and pepper, and a few drops of balsamic. I whisked everything together, and served in a little jug to pour over. It was delicious!