As I began the preparation for last week’s very first cooking classes at our beautiful new school, I couldn’t help but think what a perfect way to begin with mother and daughter Martha and Dimitra. As I purchased spinach, fetta, ricotta, lamb, juicy lemons, Greek oregano, olive oil and almonds, I realized that the classes we were about to have fitted perfectly with the vision I have for the school. That is to put the word ‘Cook’ back into Cooking School…
The class began with preparing a traditional Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie). Martha prepared the Olive Oil Pastry using a little vinegar to help make the pastry crisp. The well loved rolling pin/broom stick of over 50 years worked its magic directed by Martha who uses cornflour for the bench these days instead of flour, and when asked why? She said “I have found it just works better”. With the pan oiled and lined with a base of pastry, Dimitra mixes the filling of shredded spinach, fetta, ricotta, pecorino (traditionally graviera cheese is used) egg, freshly grated nutmeg, olive oil, semolina (to help with moisture reduction in the filling) and pepper. The filling is tumbled in by hand onto the pastry base. It is then flatten out a little before the pastry top is put into place with the extra pastry on the edges trimmed away. Martha begins to tuck and fold the pastry together saying “the favourite pieces are often the corners as they are extra crispy”. With a small sharp knife the pastry top is cut into diamond shapes. Lastly, to add some extra crispness to the pastry, there is a drizzle with olive oil and then a ‘light blessing’ of water flicked over the pastry top. Into the oven at 200°C to bake for about 45 minutes or until pie has risen slightly, shrunk a little from the edges, and the pastry is crisp and golden. It is always set – aside for 15 minutes before cutting.
A Greek tradition is to take the remaining pastry trimmed from the pie and wipe out the remaining spinach cheese mix from the bowl. This is then shaped into a ring, placed onto a baking slide and baked – I say “it’s the cook’s early treat before the spanakopita is cooked”.
This is called a koulouri (generic word for ring shaped biscuit). Martha speaks fondly about how her mother always gave this to her being the only daughter, and that when she left home to marry one day, her mother was crying over the koulouri as Martha wasn’t there, her brother disappeared and returned dressed as a girl and said μητέρα (mother) but I am here….
This was the first time Dimitra had heard this story a truly special moment for us all.
We all cooked spanakopita together and then some Kourambiethes (Greek shortbread). We enjoyed our meal with slow cooked Greek style lamb and a garden salad made with our first harvest of rocket, mint and parsley to which we added some shaved fennel, a little iceberg lettuce, drizzle of lemon juice and of course more olive oil.
A glass of Southern Highlands Riesling complimented our meal beautifully.
Dimitra sent a message saying that before they hit the road back to Sydney they enjoyed a coffee and pastry in one of our fabulous local cafes, and Martha said in Greek – “That was fun…. “
We can’t wait to have you come and cook with us again soon Martha and Dimitra and share your Greek kitchen and stories again with us.