Yotam Ottolenghi: This crowd-pleasing pie feels like a big hug
Hugs-from-the-kitchen come in many forms, I know, but so often they come in the form of a potato
This savoury pie is so versatile. Photograph: Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times
Recently, when I posted a picture of a homely, frozen-spinach-filled pie on my Instagram, it got a lot of love. Usually, it’s red tomatoes that get the red hearts. It was interesting, then, to think about why this simple pie struck such a “Yes, please!” chord.
There are many words I could reach for to explain this pie’s appeal, and they’d all be true. It ticks many boxes. “Versatile”, for instance, with a filling that can be easily adjusted to what may already be in your fridge. Swiss chard works well instead of (or as well as) the spinach; mint and parsley along with (or instead of) the dill; cheddar instead of the feta, if you prefer; or even cubes of firm tofu for a vegan filling.
“Rustic”, a word often used euphemistically to mean “it may not look all that pretty or neat, but it will still taste great,” could also be reached for. Frugal also works, and nods to its appeal: no fancy kit or skills needed, no ingredients to go out of your way for.
You can “dress it up” with chermoula (a North African condiment made with garlic, cumin, coriander, chilli, smoked paprika, preserved lemon and olive oil), for example, or “dress it down” with just a squeeze of lemon, to keep things simple. A puff-pastry pie shell filled with spinach and feta is “approachable” and “crowd-pleasing”; “healthy” and “hearty”; “unpretentious,” with a bit of a built-in “wow.”
But what is missing from this list of words, though, is the very thing that makes it so utterly lovable and desirable and “I need this in my life right now-able” in the first place. It, like all good dishes (and good relationships), feels like a great, cozy nurturing hug. And that’s exactly what we all need right now.
After months of not being able to hug those we love, people are, I think, looking more and more to food to provide the comfort being denied to them in their day-to-day. It was this – the hug, the comfort – that people were connecting to with the picture of my pie.
Hugs-from-the-kitchen come in many forms, I know, but so often they come in the form of a potato. Yes, the rustic, versatile, approachable, unpretentious, healthy, hearty potato is what, to my mind, saw this pie get so many likes.
The thinly sliced layer that sits top of the filling says “comfort.” It says “love”; it says “hug.” Now, more than ever – when we have, for months, been denied so much of the hugging we were used to – this is what we need and want.
When autumn has set in and the odd supper-on-the-sofa is indulged, it’s a whole potato each everyone will be reaching for: baked in a hot oven and smothered with melted cheese. For now, though, while we’re still seeing out the summer and just beginning to wonder where our slippers are, one potato is enough to give the dish its “right here, right now, hold me” feel.
Until better times, stick to hugging those in your bubble, but make this for those you’re able to share food with or deliver food to. “Deliverable” and “shareable” – another couple of words to add to the list.
Spinach and chermoula pie
Servies: 4 to 6. Total time: 2 hrs, plus cooling and chilling
For the chermoula paste:
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
30g roughly chopped fresh coriander
½ fresh mild red chilli (about 10g), roughly chopped, seeds and all
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and roughly crushed using a mortar and pestle
1 tsp sweet paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp/60ml olive oil
For the pie:
4 tbsp/60ml olive oil
1 large yellow onion (about 360g, halved and thinly sliced)
350g frozen spinach, thawed, then squeezed to remove excess water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
15g roughly chopped fresh dill
1½ tbsp fresh lemon zest, plus 1½ tbsp lemon juice
Plain flour, for dusting
1 sheet frozen all-butter puff pastry, at least 24cm wide, thawed
130g roughly crumbled Greek feta
1 baking potato (about 250g), skin-on, scrubbed clean
1. Prepare the chermoula paste: Add the garlic, cilantro, chile, cumin, paprika, ½ tsp salt, a good grind of pepper and 3 tbsp oil to a food processor. Pulse into a coarse paste and set aside.
2. Prepare the pie: Add 3 tbsp oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high. Once hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and well browned, about 12 minutes. Add half the chermoula paste (reserve the rest), the spinach, 1 tsp salt and a good grind of pepper, and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat, then add the dill and lemon zest. Set aside to cool, about 20 minutes.
3. Line a 24cm pie or tart tin with a removable base with a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the base and a little bit over the sides. (The excess will help you lift the tart when it’s baked.) On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry with a floured rolling pin to a 30cm square. Lay the puff pastry on the parchment, pressing in the pastry to fit the base and sides of the pan and cutting away any excess so it overhangs by about 2cm.
4. Poke the base all over with a fork (about 10 times), then spread the cooled spinach mixture over the base evenly. Sprinkle the feta on top, then fold and scrunch the sides over the filling to create a rim. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.) Refrigerate the pie for at least 20 minutes, or up to overnight, covered.
5. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or equivalent.
6. Trim and discard the ends of the potato and use a mandolin or very sharp knife to cut the potato into paper-thin slices. Toss together in a bowl with 1 tbsp oil, plus ½ teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper. Fan out the slices on top of the spinach and feta in a circular pattern, overlapping slightly, to cover the filling but not the pastry rim.
7. Place the chilled pie on a baking sheet and bake until cooked through and nicely coloured, about 50 minutes. Set aside to cool, about 15 minutes, before gently transferring to a wooden board or serving plate.
8. When ready to serve, stir the lemon juice and remaining 1 tbsp of oil into the reserved chermoula. Spoon half of the chermoula all over the pie and serve the remaining in a bowl alongside. Serve warm, or at room temperature.