There’s something special about handwritten recipes – decorated with scribbled side notes and drawings – that tells you a recipe has been tried and tested, perfected over the years, and passed on with love.
It sounds almost too wholesome to be true, but Sydney cook Fofi Gourlas has pages of recipes written out by her mother that she’s transformed into a cookbook. There’s one for this spanakopita, which originated in her mother’s birthplace of Thessaly, Greece, another for koulourakia (Easter biscuits) and one for soupa avgolemono (lemon chicken soup).
With these beloved recipes and more, Artichokes & Village Greens puts vegetables front and centre. The 72-recipe book is a tribute to Gourlas’s mother, but also to the importance of heritage and home-style cooking. “It’s my way of honouring the wealth of tradition passed down to me through cooking and sharing food,” she says, “and a means of preserving my Greek heritage.
“My mother measured the ingredients for her recipes using the collection of cups she had in her kitchen, and she would draw them into her recipe book as a reminder of which one to use.”
This spanakopita recipe is actually her yiayia’s, but Gourlas shares some of her mother’s advice for whipping up a quick feed that doesn’t require much prep time at all. “When it comes to cooking with pastry, we’re not precious,” she says. “Some of my favourite recipes of Yiayia’s, like this spanakopita, are no-fuss, quick and delicious and will have you saying ‘See you later’ to pastry sheets or spending hours waiting for your pastry to prove.”
The pastry has a rustic flakiness, she says, and the bitter greens in the filling are inspired by the mountainous region of Trikala (where her mother was born), which is known for its wild radiki and dandelion leaves, as well as sweet-tasting amaranth.
Gourlas’s top tip? “I have never bothered to place pastry in the fridge. I know this might seem like sacrilege to most pastry chefs, but my aunt Argiro taught me that adding vinegar to the pastry and leaving it on the benchtop while preparing the filling makes the pastry easier to work with. See for yourself.”
Fofi Gourlas’s spanakopita
Serves 12–14. This recipe makes two large pies.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
3 cups plain flour
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 cup warm water
1 large bunch silverbeet
2 bunches English spinach
1 bunch chicory or amaranth
2 bunches spring onions, chopped
1 leek, white parts only, thinly sliced
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 small bunch dill, chopped
200g Greek feta cheese, crumbled
200g Australian feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup kefalograviera cheese, coarsely grated
5 eggs, lightly beaten
125g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
To make the pastry, place the flour in a large, deep bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the oil, vinegar and warm water. Mix well with your hand to make a smooth dough (some extra flour may be required). Turn out onto a lightly floured workbench and knead well with both hands for about 5 minutes or until the dough is soft and smooth. Place into a lightly floured bowl, cover with plastic film and set aside until ready to roll out.
To make the filling, separately wash and drain the silverbeet, spinach, and chicory or amaranth. Discard the stems and coarsely chop the leaves, keeping each vegetable separate.
In a large saucepan, heat a drizzle of oil over medium heat and add the greens in batches, stirring until they wilt. Place in a colander for the liquid to drain and continue this process until all the greens are wilted.
In a frying pan over medium to high heat, heat a drizzle of oil, add the spring onion and leek and sauté until translucent and soft. Place wilted greens in a large bowl, add spring onion mixture, herbs and cheeses. Add eggs and stir to combine.
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Generously grease two tins (35–40 centimetres in diameter with sides 4 centimetres deep). Lightly flour the workbench and divide the dough into 16 balls about the size of a golf ball. Take 4 balls and roll each one into a 10-centimetre round. Stack the rounds on top of each other, brushing with melted butter between each round and leaving the top one unbuttered. Repeat with the remaining dough so you end up with 4 stacks of 4 rounds each. This is enough pastry to make 2 large pies.
Roll out one stack to a 35-centimetre round and place in the prepared tin. Prick the base using a fork and spread over half the filling in an even layer. Roll out another stack to make a pie top. Crimp the edge and score the top into serving pieces with a small, sharp knife. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling to make another pie. Brush the tops of the pies with the remaining butter and bake for 35 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
This recipe is from Artichokes & Village Greens by Fofi Gourlas with photography by Alan Benson ($34.99). It’s available to purchase here.
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