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Wednesday 10 April 2013

Baking for Beginners: Sweet Spinach Pie

Many of my culinary adventures begin because something is slowly dying inside the fridge. Take the spinach that you see in this pie, for example. Picture the scene: I am wandering around Tesco, happy as a clam at high tide because I notice a shop assistant trundling along with a trolley piled high with discounted items (I always shop when there is a) a major sporting event taking place, or b) a really good TV show on, because then lots of great stuff gets reduced). On said trolley, and now in my trolley, is a ginormous bag of spinach. I like spinach, I think to myself. I'll make spinach smoothies every morning! Maybe I'll put some matcha green tea in them to make everything EVEN MORE green and healthy.

So that's the spinach all sorted out. Smoothies every day. Triumph.

Except - NO. Did I make a single smoothie with the bloody spinach? Did I bollocks. Instead, I found it a few days later looking rather unhappy. And so it commenced: the search for an interesting spinach recipe that I'd never made before.

The internet and Italy, as always, came to my rescue with the magnificently-named torta co' bischeri agli spinaci, which means, I think, spinach pie with tuning pegs. (There are peg shapes around the edge of the pie. There are no tuning pegs inside the pie.) HILARIOUSLY, bischero can also translate as a fool, or a penis. But this pie would look a helluva different if we went with those translations, so let's stick with pegs.

This is a sweet spinach pie from Tuscany, and it's popular around Easter and throughout springtime. Not only does it taste wonderful, but we can more or less call it health food, since every slice contains around six of your five-a-day. I used La Cucina Italiana's recipe as a jumping-off point, but made some changes and additions along the way.

Sweet Spinach Pie (serves 8-10)
You will need:
For the pastry
  • 300g plain flour
  • 160g granulated sugar
  • A generous pinch of salt
  • 1¼ tsp baking powder
  • Zest of 1 large, unwaxed lemon
  • 170g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks 
For the filling
  • 450g fresh spinach
  • A pinch of salt
  • 60ml liqueur or spirits (the traditional recipe calls for Maraschino; I used honeyed rum - HA. Use anything sweet or aromatic, I say)
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs, separated (you'll need both parts, so DON'T chuck the whites in with the ones left over from the pastry eggs, or your measurements will be out)
  • 160g granulated sugar
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 40g Italian mixed peel, finely chopped
To decorate
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • Icing sugar 
Make it!
The pastry
  1. Mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, lemon zest, and butter in a mixer until you've got a grainy-looking mixture. Add the eggs and one of the yolks (keep the the other yolk for later) and combine.
  2. On a clean, flour-dusted surface, knead the dough gently until it's smooth. Split 2:1, roll each section into a ball, then flatten into discs, wrap in clingfilm, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour, and anything up to a day.
The filling
  1. Put the spinach into a large, lidded pot. Throw in the salt and a couple of tablespoons of water. Clamp the lid on tightly and heat over a medium flame until the spinach has wilted. Drain and wrap in a clean tea towel or some kitchen roll. SQUEEZE all the moisture out (wait until it has cooled down a bit before you do this).
  2. Using a blender on a stick or a food processor, purée the spinach, booze, ginger, and nutmeg.
  3. Beat the 4 egg yolks and 80g of sugar until fluffy. Add the almonds, spinach purée and mixed peel. Combine well.
The assembly
  1. Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Locate a 25cm pie dish. 
  2. On a floured surface and with a floured pin, roll the larger disc of dough out to about 30cm diameter. Transfer quickly and carefully to your pie dish. Press gently into the contours of the dish (yeah, I just said that) and trim the overhang to about 2cm. Add the excess to your second batch of dough. 
  3. Roll the smaller disc out to about 27-28cm in diameter (it doesn't have to be wildly precise). Cut 11 2cm-wide strips from this circle - use a pastry or pizza wheel, or a sharp knife.
  4. Re-roll the scraps of dough, and cut small triangles or 'pegs' to decorate the edge of the pie.
  5. Now beat the 4 egg whites with the remaining sugar (80g) until they form stiffish peaks. Gently fold into the spinach mix. 
  6. Pour the mixture into your pie crust. Make a lattice top (see tips below) with the strips of dough, trim the excess from the strips, and pinch the overhang of the base over the top to cover the join. 
  7. Beat the remaining egg yolk with a teaspoon of warm water, and glaze the visible pastry. Then press your pegs (or penises, or fools, depending on your translation) around the edge and glaze these too. Sprinkle the pine nuts all over the top.
  8. Bake in the centre of the oven for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling has puffed up.
  9. Cool on a wire rack, then dust with icing sugar. 
  • This recipe doesn't call for blind-baking, and it works well without this step. If you prefer a firmer base to your pies, or are using this recipe on The Great British Bake Off (I want a credit), blind-bake the crust using parchment and baking beans for about 20 minutes before adding the filling. 
  • Making a lattice topping is easier than it might first seem. Use every second strip from your pre-cut circle of dough, and lay across the top of the pie leaving a strip-width gap between each one. Now fold back every second strip, and lay a strip perpendicularly across the non-folded pieces. Unfold the strips, and fold back the ones you didn't fold the first time. Lay another strip across. Repeat until you have a lattice effect. Sounds mental but makes sense once you get going!


  1. This sounds and looks amazing, but what would you serve it with?

  2. My housemate is OBSESSED with spinach (and indeed, bargain hunting in Tesco), this is the perfect recipe for him.


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