Spanokopitta (spinach and cheese pie)

spanokopita - cheese and spinach pieMakes about 6-8 servings

1 pack frozen puff pastry (500g), thawed
about 14 sheets filo pastry

1 large onion (or two small)
2-3 tblsp olive oil
400-450g feta cheese (US: about one pound)
100-150g cheddar or other hard cheese (US: 4 ounces)
4 eggs
400-450g frozen spinach (US: about one pound)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of black pepper
extra egg or milk for glazing (optional)

Initial preparation: make sure that the pastry is thawed - preferably overnight in the fridge. Defrost the spinach, over a colander or large sieve, so that the liquid drains away. Chop the onion finely. Grease or line a flat swiss-roll type baking tin around 20x30cm size (US: 9x12 inches).

When you are ready to make the spanokopitta, heat the oven to 190C (US: 375F)

Gently fry the onion pieces in the olive oil over a medium heat, stirring, until they are softened and translucent. Allow to cool slightly, while you grate the hard cheese, and beat the eggs lightly.

Place the feta cheese in a large bowl, and use a fork to break it up roughly. Stir in the grated cheese and eggs, and mix well.

Press the spinach down in the sieve so that most of the remaining liquid drains out, then add it to the cheese mixture with the onions, nutmeg, and a little pepper. Mix again to combine.

Roll the puff pastry to a large rectangle, or two smaller ones, on a well-floured working surface, turning frequently. Roll it as thin as possible without breaking it, until it is a little more than twice the size of the prepared tin (or, if using filo pastry, place the sheets along the tin so that they overlap and form a large rectangle (or two smaller ones).

Spoon the cheese and spinach mixture evenly into the pastry base (or bases), leaving a gap of about 2cm around each edge. Take a little water, and dampen the edges, then fold the sides in, pushing the ends together, to form a parcel.

If you want to glaze the spanokopitta, use a pastry brush to cover it with milk or lightly beaten egg. Bake for about 40-45 minutes until golden brown and well risen.

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Spanokopitta is a traditional Greek or Cypriot pastry, readily available in bite-sized or single portion pies, ready-made. I prefer to make my own, which has a higher proportion of filling, and is ideal for a meal when entertaining vegetarians who are happy to eat dairy products and eggs. You can make your own puff pastry if you prefer, but I find it too much effort! Puff pastry works well so long as you can roll it thinly enough, although filo pastry is more traditional and does not need rolling!

The ingredient amounts are approximate, and can easily be adjusted to taste. If you want to make just one pie, to serve 3-4 people, it's easy to halve the ingredients; if you have a 500g block of pastry, thaw it just enough to be able to cut it in half then return the unwanted section to the freezer.

You should not need to add any salt, as feta cheese is quite salty already. But you could use different herbs or spices to vary the flavours. If you prefer to use fresh spinach, you would need about 800g (US: one and a half pounds) which should be prepared and lightly steamed before using.

Serve spanokopitta with cooked vegetables or a big green salad. Any leftovers can be refrigerated and eaten cold.