Thursday, 27 October 2011

Greek spinach and feta pie




The rain is lashing down outside and I have the central heating turned on. I long for the scorching heat of a holiday in the Greek islands, with enough cheap pink wine to sink a ship, sandy beaches and Euro pop blaring out of cafes and rolled-down taxi windows. I want to go to a cheesy nightclub where they serve dreadful cocktails containing weird mixtures of blue curacao, Baileys and cream (urgh!) and dance the night away. One of my happiest memories is being on holiday in Naxos years ago and being brought glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice and little deep-fried cheese pies to where we wallowed on our sun loungers – total bliss. Right now, I want food to remind me of all of this, so I’ll settle for a slab of spinach and feta pie, spanakopita.

Cooking holiday food is a good way to lift a gloomy autumnal day, and to be honest, a piece of this feta and spinach pie is good all year round. It’s pretty easy to make, as you don’t need to make the pastry, you use shop-bought filo.

Serves 6

You will need:

1kg bag frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
2 medium white onions, chopped into small dice
2 bunches spring onions, chopped into small pieces
1 bunch each of fresh dill (approx 25g), mint and parsley, finely chopped
4 large organic eggs
400g feta cheese
250g ricotta
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 packet frozen filo pastry, 270g – defrost before use

Put your defrosted spinach into a saucepan and cook almost all the water out of it over a medium flame – takes about 20 minutes. While you are doing this, shallow-fry your chopped white onion until translucent, then add the chopped spring onions and cook until wilted, about five minutes. Set aside, with the spinach.

Beat the eggs together, then add the ricotta and crumble the feta into the same bowl. Add the nutmeg and a few grinds of salt (go easy, as feta is salty anyway) and pepper, and roughly mix together.


Tip in the chopped fresh herbs. Add the spinach and fried onions as soon as they are cool, then mix everything together.

Grease a rectangular baking dish with olive oil. Line the dish with two layers of filo, making sure to brush in between each layer of pastry with olive oil, then add half the spinach/cheese filling, then add another two layers of filo on top of this, with olive oil brushed between them, then repeat, adding the rest of the filling, then finishing with 2 layers of filo pastry to make the top. Generously brush the top of the pie with more olive oil. You can roughly fold in the edges, and don’t have to be neat about it.



Bake in a preheated oven at 180C, for about 35 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown on top. Serve wedges of pie with a nice tomato salad and a carafe of wine. Darned good!


Monday, 17 October 2011

Mighty big bangers


My husband N loves sausages almost more than life itself, and probably slightly more than me and our baby. If he’s not eating sausages, he’s thinking about when he can next eat them. He takes his sausage-worship to almost evangelical heights – not only does he have selected friends that he talks about sausages with in great detail (stop tittering at the back) but he’s now taken it upon himself to make his own bangers at home, using a meat grinder that his sister gave him for his birthday, that of course came with a special sausage attachment!

You have to be serious about sausages to want to make them, as it’s a loooong laborious process. For starters, you have to order hog casings from a specialist on the internet. (There are sites that actually sell these kinds of things!) The slippery looking casings are basically pig intestines stored in salt, which need soaking in water for 2 hours prior to sausage making. Then you have to peruse various sausage recipes and pick the type of bangers you want to make. Then it’s off to the butcher to buy a tonne of pork belly and pork shoulder meat, then you have to sort out your seasonings – for example, fresh herbs and spices and salt. After this, you come home and chop the meat into dice, before chilling it for two hours. Then you grind the meat into mince, prepare your seasonings, then mix everything together. Now you’re ready to push the hog casings onto the mincer’s sausage attachment, then squeeze the meat mixture into it (it’s hard not to think of condoms when you do this!) and then watch your sausages come out. It’s really fun to do, but quite a palaver – you totally need an entire day!


 IMG_8553 IMG_8554 IMG_8558





We made pork sausages with fennel, lemon and garlic, and another batch of pork sausages with lemon thyme, sage, nutmeg and coriander. They were impressively chunky, didn’t shrink disappointingly in the oven and tasted absolutely delicious. N thought the texture might be better next time using proper sausage rusk instead of fresh breadcrumbs to bind everything together, but I cared not, I was too busy devouring them. Not sure how cost-effective making your own sausages actually is, but it’s satisfying to do. And makes one feel rather smug. This was our Sunday lunch:


For what are bangers without mash?



If you want to make the sausages above, this is what you need:

Makes approx 10 big bangers

290g pork belly
630g pork shoulder
18g salt
110g fresh breadcrumbs or sausage rusk

- Flavouring for the fennel sausages:

Juice of 1 lemon, made up to 165ml with water
Zest of 3 lemons
10g crushed fennel seeds
6 cloves crushed garlic

- or, flavouring for the herby sausages:

165ml liquid – half water, half white wine
15 small fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsps finely chopped lemon thyme
2 tsps ground coriander
1/4 nutmeg, grated
2 tsps ground white pepper

Pre-soak your sausage casings for 2 hours. Chop the meat into small chunks, then put in the freezer for 45 minutes, which makes mincing easier. Then feed it through the mincer. Mix in the liquid and flavourings by hand until you have a sausagemeat consistency. Then feed the mixture through your mincer and sausage stuffing attachment into your hog casings, making sure that once the mixture nearly reaches the end of the tube that you have tied a knot in the casing. Pinch the sausagemeat at each place where you want your sausages to begin and end, then twist four times to create the divisions. Voila, you have created sausages! Chill them in the fridge for 24 hours to develop the flavour and texture, before cooking in the oven at 180C for about 40 minutes, or until nicely browned.

We took inspiration from here and here.

The Dogfather

You might be amused to know that this same day revolved around sausages in its entirety – even before we’d gone to the butcher for the sausage ingredients, we lunched at a great street food stall in East Dulwich called ‘The Dogfather’ which served posh hotdogs, or ‘Haute Dogs’. I’d never eaten a gourmet hotdog before, and was seriously impressed by these bad boys – no nasty mechanically-recovered meat, but instead tasty kosher beef sausages that have a pleasing bouncy texture to them when you bite in:

The ‘Boss Hogg’: beef dog, chorizo, onions, red pepper sauce – mmm savoury goodness!



‘The Mexican’ – beef dog, guacamole, cheese, hot sauce, beans, peppers, onions – arriba!


Spot the dawg:



I’ll be back soon to try the ‘Snoop Dog’, ya dig…

The Dogfather
North Cross Road Market
East Dulwich
SE22 9EV

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Brixton market: revitalised!

I have a real fondness for Brixton and its outdoor and covered markets. When I was a penniless freelancer for a number of years, I used to traipse there on the bus and spend an hour or two rootling among the fruit and veg stalls for my weekly shop, grabbing great bargains and soaking up the sounds of booming reggae and dancehall from various shops, wandering the covered arcades and soaking up the diversity of the produce – tiny colourful booths selling anything from giant piles of soap and Brillo pads, to a shop selling nothing but wigs, and others selling yams and African land snails. There was – and still is – a shop that terrifies and fascinates me in equal measure – it sells religious items and accessories for what I can only guess to be black magic rituals – black wax heads, spells, pungent smelling unguents in bottles. I once bought a friend a Virgin Mary candle there as a present, and we fell out irreparably about a year later – but that’s another story…

As much as I loved my trips to Brixton in those days (we’re talking about five-ish years ago) there was something a little mournful about it. The arcades were often empty of people during the week, and many shops spaces were unoccupied. I would trudge around the corridors sometimes feeling a bit forlorn, feeling sad at the sight of so many unused shop spaces and closed down businesses.

But all that has changed…a few years ago, the legendary pizzaria Franco Manca set up in the Market Row arcade, and before long people were queuing round the block to get their teeth into their amazing pizzas. Rosie’s Deli Cafe was turning brisk trade in fantastic home cooked seasonal lunches, great deli produce and coffees. A few new shops and cafes opened nearby, continuing the trend, and soon there was a sense of regeneration in the markets. Then an organisation called ‘Space Makers’ saw the potential in the arcades’ empty shop spaces and decided to pave the way for small businesses setting up shop here for low rents, and the transformation has been really positive, especially for those that like eating! There has literally been a food revolution, with what seems like about 15 new restaurants and cafes opening here…and I have been to taste a little crumb of it. Now that the arcades are open on Thursday and Friday evenings until 10pm, it’s a great place to come and hang out – why not have a main course at one place, dessert at another, and coffee somewhere else?

Cornucopia restaurant – tasty British produce cooked seasonally and with skill. Daily changing menu, and you sit on hessian cushions at rustic trestle tables and eat off enamelware – rustically trendy, but not annoyingly so, and the staff are really friendly:


White onion soup with truffle oil:


Chicken liver pate with fruit jelly and toast:


John Dory with mussels and clams:


Pork belly:


Sticky date pudding with cream:


Saffron pear with pistachio cake:



Pizzas at Franco Manca – total perfection and very addictive:



Get your caffeine fix at Federation Coffee:



Ice creams from Italy and Argentina opposite Franco Manca pizzeria – the mango and passion fruit sorbets are to die for:


The arcades come to life in the evenings:




I’m hoping to go back soon to try Mexican, Thai and Columbian food – and I also spied this great looking burger place too:


There are also cake stalls, an old-fashioned sweet shop, a sourdough bread bakery, cool little boutiques selling vintage wares and jewellery, and more. No excuses not to get your booty down here!

- Space Makers and the Brixton Village project – read all about it.

- More info on Brixton Village