Earlier this year we spent a wonderful couple of days in the beautiful Southern Highlands with my dear friend Patricia. We visited her sister’s property that day and the setting of her place couldn’t have been more picture perfect. Cute country house on 20 acres with grazing cows, purple hydrangeas and a veggie garden complete with Purslane. Seeing the abundance of silver beet growing in Kristal’s veggie garden, Patricia decided to make us a Spanakopita – a Greek spinach pie packed with bold refreshing flavours. A perfect summer dish.
Growing up, Patricia was always drawn to the world of cooking and hospitality. She worked in the industry since she was 15 years old. She has always loved being in a service industry and then realised she also loved teaching people and sharing with them what she had learnt in all those years.
Patricia: It’s not just about cooking, its about sharing food, conversations, opinions and growing. When I was about 27, I was working in Balmain and met Kylie Kwong through a mutual friend and one day out of the blue she called me and asked if I’d work with her and that’s when my professional cooking career started and really hasn’t ended. Through Kylie I met Neil Perry and Bill Granger, all whom I have worked for too. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually have worked with these people and I have always been so grateful for the experiences I have had and the people I have worked with.
I met Janni Kyritsis when I worked at the Rockpool group when the pastry chef I knew went to work for him. She gave him some Greek sweets that I made and he loved them. I don’t really know him though, but I loved meeting him and when he did a cooking class at the Sydney Seafood Market, my sister and I went to the class and that’s when I fell in love with his Wild Weed Pie book.
Patricia: This is a dish I learnt from Janni Kyritsis about 11 years ago and I absolutely love making it especially because it is such a Greek dish that would be at every family function. In this version, I added a big handful of chopped dill and some mint leaves to give it that extra refreshing summer taste.
- Who: Patricia Phillips
- Home is: Mittagong
- Family origin: Father is from Cypress and Mother is from Rhodes, Greece
- I can’t live without: My Vizsla dog – Franke
- Occupation: I teach cooking classes in the Southern Highlands for groups of friends and corporates
- Dream Job: Professional traveller (is there such a career) or a professional ceramist
- Currently I am obsessed with: Ceramics
- Childhood taste: Loukoumades, Greek honey doughnut balls. My mother would make it whenever one of us lost our baby tooth
- I will always have in my pantry: Vanilla beans
- I learnt to cook from: My aunty when I was young, Kylie Kwong and other chefs I worked with
- Currently I’m listening to: My niece talking to herself
- One day I must visit: Positano
- Go to meal: If I’m cooking – I love plain spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, greek mountain oregano and dried ricotta. If I’m eating out it’s dumplings all day long, I love dumplings
- I am really good at: Making something out of nothing, I am pretty resourceful
- The unforgettable meal: The best meals are the ones spent with the ones you love, always makes everything taste better
- My piece of Sydney: I can’t tell you it’s a secret
- Guilty pleasure: I love going to the movies
- Who does the dishes: I usually hire someone to do the dishes
Pictured above to the right is Purslane. A type of weed that has the highest content of Omega 3! While also an Australian native, purslane or pigweed (Portulaca oleracea) is widespread globally and is a common summer-growing plant on most continents. Its use is documented from the Middle East by the ancient Persians, and it is still widely used as a cooked or salad vegetable in the Mediterranean.
The young shoots are fleshy, slightly tart and mucilaginous, and provide a salty tang to any salad. Lightly steamed, or wrapped in foil and thrown into the coals or on the barbecue, it is delicious with butter and pepper, making it an excellent “greens”. The leaves are rich in vitamins C and A, with some B vitamins as well. The tartness is due to oxalic acid, which cooking destroys, so people with rheumatism or gout should avoid eating it uncooked.
The seeds, used by indigenous Australians to make a flour, are the highest known vegetable source of omega 3 oils (alpha-linolenic acid). To harvest the tiny seeds, the indigenous Australians developed a method of piling the plants in heaps on a flat hard surface, bark or animal skin to let them dry. The seeds would automatically drop in a concentrated pile, where they could be easily gathered.
This highly nutritious and valuable plant is easy to grow in any garden or pot. You will occasionally find it commercially.
Patricia made Purslane, cherry tomatoes and basil salad to accompany the Spanakopita. After half an hour, it is finally out of the oven. It smelled divine and we all enjoyed it scrumptiously!
Ingredients - Serves 6
- 1kg silver beet, stalks removed
- a big handful of chopped dill
- a small handful of chopped mint
- 150ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 big leek, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Dried Greek oregano, to taste
- 500g fresh ricotta
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup olive oil, for brushing
- extra plain flour, for dusting
- Filo Pastry
- 500g plain flour
- 225ml water
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Make filo pastry: Combine flour, water, egg and salt in a bowl and stir until it comes together into a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until smooth. Wrap in plastic-film and set aside for 1 hour.
- Make filling: Wash silver beet leaves and with the water still clinging to them, place them in a saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat until just wilted. Drain in a colander and squeeze to extract as much liquid as possible. Roughly chop and set aside in a bowl.
- Heat olive oil in the saucepan, add onion and leek and cook over a low heat for 6-8 minutes, until soft.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped silver beet, add dill, mint, egg and oregano. Gently fold in ricotta, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.
- Preheat oven to 200ºC. Cut filo pastry in half and roll out 1 half on a lightly floured surface to make a 60cm square. Using a dinner plate as a guide, cut a round in the centre of the pastry, then cut remaining pastry into 8 equal pieces and brush the 8 pieces liberally with oil. Place the 8 pastry pieces on top of one another, top with the pastry round, dust generously with flour and roll out into a 40cm round. Trim edges to make a neat 40cm round. Place this round on a 26cm pizza tray. Repeat rolling, cutting and layering with the remaining pastry half. Trim edges to make a neat 40cm round and set aside. Spread filling to edges of pizza tray, then fold excess pastry over filling, pleating sides as you go. Gently gather second sheet of rolled pastry with two hands and place on top of pie, allowing it to fold.
- Brush generously with olive oil and bake for 30 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- Janni Kyritsis’ tips if you plan to use nettles: When preparing nettles, wear rubber gloves as any contact with the nettles will cause itchiness for days. Harvested from the wild, only the young shoots and tops of nettles are eaten, but they must be cooked beforehand to remove the stinging element. If nettles are unavailable, just use the other greens. This pie is ideal for a picnic or light lunch. You could use this pie filling with a commercial filo pastry, which is what many modern Greeks would choose to do.