Friday, June 10, 2016

Greek phyllo pie with kale and feta

On Saturday, we went to Scheveningen and had the best day walking along the beach, dipping our feet in the North Sea and watching the surfers do their thing. We ate lekkerbek (fresh, battered fried fish with spices) and friet met saus (Dutch fried potatoes with different sauces), strolled along the boardwalk and stopped by the ornate carousel with the spinning horses. I was tempted to buy the most kitch flip-flops known to man simply because of their outrageous colors and patterns (but didn’t) and ate tons of ice cream, mainly stracciatella and coconut that had desiccated coconut inside and was the most amazing ice cream I’ve ever had.

We returned home hours later feeling tired yet energized by the atmosphere of Scheveningen, with sun-kissed cheeks and hair smelling like the sea, and were craving something sweet still. I made loukoumades, the best airy and fluffy Greek doughnuts, drizzled with pine-tree honey (the last of my stash from home) and a good sprinkling of aromatic ground cinnamon.

We ended the day lying on the couch, watching a movie, with the windows open, feeling the summer breeze on our flushed faces.

Sunday was a quiet day, and even though I wasn’t in the mood to go in the kitchen, I couldn’t not use the phyllo dough I had thawing in the fridge from the night before. I was going to make a Greek pie with kale and feta.

It’s a typical Greek pita (pita is a Greek word that means pie) but with a non-Greek main ingredient, kale. In Greece we eat a lot of wild greens (mainly boiled and dressed with olive oil and lemon or added in pies) and many of them are of the bitter kind, but kale is not one of those greens. Greece has only been recently introduced to this leafy green. Kale reminds me a lot of those wild bitter greens I crave so much and can’t find in the Netherlands, so making this pita was inevitable. I have made it multiple times and it is one of my favorites.

It is much like a spanakopita but with kale. The wonderful thing though is that kale is a dry leafy green, it’s not like spinach that exudes too much water when cooked, so your pie won’t run the risk of being soggy. Quite the contrary, it is crispy all around, even at the bottom.

The flavors are beautifully fresh, with the slight bitterness of the kale, the grassiness of the dill and the zing of the spring onions, and the feta providing its salty and tangy kick that brings all the flavors together. The sesame and nigella seeds on top give some extra crunch, adding their unique and piquant flavor to the pie.

Greek phyllo pie with kale and feta

I used cavolo nero (lacinato or tuscan kale) but you can use the curly kind as well.

It can be eaten on its own or you can serve it with some thick Greek yoghurt.

Greek pies make the perfect side dish; they are also great for a bouffet, especially when you want to feed a lot of people.

Yield: 12 pieces

450-500 g phyllo pastry with 12 sheets (1 packet), thawed
200-250 g fresh kale (I used cavolo nero)
400 g feta, coarsely grated
4 large spring onions, white and pale green parts only, finely sliced
A bunch (about 30 g) fresh dill (leaves and stalks), finely chopped
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pan and phyllo sheets
Freshly ground white pepper
Sesame seeds
Nigella seeds

Special equipment: box grater, large baking pan (about 35 x 25 cm), pastry brush

Start by making the filling.

Rinse the kale well under cold, running water and drain it in a colander. Chop it into small pieces and add it to a large bowl. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and massage the kale gently for 30-40 seconds to soften it.
To the same bowl, add the sliced spring onions, the chopped dill and the grated feta. Then add salt, but not too much because the feta is salty, and a good sprinkling of freshly ground white pepper. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil on top and mix everything well together with your hands. You need to go in with your hands to do a proper job, don’t bother using a spatula or spoon for this. They won’t work as well.

Preheat your oven to 190°C.

Using a pastry brush, oil the bottom and sides of your baking pan. Line the bottom of the pan with the first phyllo sheet, making sure to leave an overhang on all sides of the pan. Oil the sheet lightly with a pastry brush, then add a second sheet and oil it, and then do the same with another 4 sheets (6 sheets in total on the bottom).

Empty the filling in the baking pan, making sure to spread it around evenly. Add a sheet of phyllo over the top and oil it, like you did with the bottom sheets. Continue adding the rest of the sheets, oiling them as you go, until you have no more sheets left.

Crimp up the edges of the phyllo, don’t worry too much about how it looks, Greek pies are rustic. With a large knife, gently score the pie, being careful not to go through all the top layers of the phyllo. You need to score the 3-4 top sheets only.
Sprinkle the top of the pie with some sesame and nigella seeds (more sesame than nigella).

Place the pan on the low rack of the oven and bake the pie for about 50 minutes, until the top has taken on a golden brown color.

Note: My oven is on the small side and short. If you have a large, high oven, bake the pie on the middle rack.

Take the pan out of the oven and let the pie stand for half an hour so it cools a bit.

Cut the pie into pieces and serve.

As with all phyllo pies, they are at their best the day that you bake them. The phyllo becomes less crispy the next day but that never bothers us. We eat it greedily on the second day as well. If you have leftovers, in order for the phyllo to remain somewhat crispy on top, don’t cover the pan completely but cover it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil. Keep the pie at room temperature.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Pan-fried mackerel with rosemary and capers, and roasted rhubarb

My rhubarb adventures continue. This time, with a savory dish; pan-fried, crispy-skinned mackerel with fresh rosemary and capers, and roasted rhubarb.

Rhubarb pairs harmoniously with oily fish like mackerel that can stand well against the tartness of the plant. In this case, rhubarb is of course sweetened by sugar and becomes beautifully glazed when roasted in the oven.

Mackerel is not a subtle fish. Its flavor is strong and its fattiness offsets the sweet and sharp rhubarb while the salty capers balance said fattiness and counterbalance the sweetness of the crimson-colored vegetable. Rosemary, a strong herb, lends its fresh and woody flavor, while the red-wine vinegar brings another level of acidity and pungency to the dish, making this marriage quite delicious.

The overall flavors of the dish are bold and in your face, but let me assure you that they’re balanced nonetheless.
Hope you enjoy it.

Pan-fried mackerel with rosemary and capers, and roasted rhubarb
Slightly adapted from Tender II by Nigel Slater

I bought whole mackerel and filleted them myself. It’s cheaper than buying fillets plus you get to work on your filleting (and pin-boning) skills.

Don’t use regular granulated sugar for the rhubarb because it will not have enough time to melt in the oven. If you can’t get a hold of caster sugar (which is normal white sugar but with smaller granules), just blitz it in a food processor for a few seconds.

Yield: 2 servings


for the rhubarb
200 g rhubarb (without leaves)
1½ Tbsp caster sugar

for the mackerel
2 large mackerel (800-850 g in total), you’ll need 4 fillets (pin-boned)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small sprig of fresh rosemary, needles picked and chopped
1 Tbsp red-wine vinegar
1½ Tbsp capers, rinsed

Special equipment: small baking tray, baking paper, large and wide frying/sauté pan (preferably non-stick)


for the rhubarb
Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Rinse the rhubarb under cold, running water. Trim each stalk on both ends and then chop it into approximately 15 cm pieces.

Add it in one layer into a small baking tray lined with baking paper and sprinkle with the sugar on top. Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the rhubarb is cooked and soft. Check it after 20 minutes by inserting the tip of a knife in a rhubarb piece and if it goes in easily then it’s ready. Remove from the oven and set it aside while you cook the mackerel.

for the mackerel
Season with salt and pepper the mackerel fillets on both sides.

Heat the olive oil in a large, wide frying/sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the fillets, skin-side down, and you’ll notice that they will start to curl up. Gently push them down with a fish spatula or palette knife to ensure that the whole surface of the skin comes in contact with the pan. Add the chopped rosemary on top and cook the fish for 3 minutes, depending of course on the thickness of the fillet, and when the skin has crisped up and has turned golden, carefully turn the fillets over and cook on the flesh side for 2 minutes.
Remove the fillets from the pan and place on two warm serving plates.

Note: To keep the skin crispy, place the fillets on the plates skin-side up.

In the same frying pan, while it’s still over medium-high heat, add the vinegar, the capers and then the cooked rhubarb together with the rhubarb juices. Allow the rhubarb to warm through, carefully turning it over once so it doesn’t break apart, and then divide the rhubarb, the capers and the pan juices between the two serving plates, over or next to the mackerel.

Serve immediately and enjoy!