You can make any meal, no matter how humble, seem spectacular and special if you encase it in pastry.
I'm not sure why this is, but somehow a crunchy flaky pie crust elevates and transforms the meal into something memorable.
Perhaps it's because when a pie arrives to the table, ready to be cut and served, there is something of the gift about it, with the promise of unwrapping the outer to discover delicious morsels inside.
I'm a bit cack handed when it comes to pastry however, so up until recently had not really discovered this wonderful party pleasing trick, thinking it would be far to difficult for me to get right. But that was before I discovered the delights of filo pastry. Thin, almost translucent pastry sheets that you brush with olive oil and layer up before adding in a filling. I suppose you could make it yourself, but it does seem like an awful phaff, when it's sold in packs in the supermarket, all nice and pre-rolled, ready for wrapping up those tasty fillings.
This recipe requires a little bit of prep, roasting the butternut squash & chickpeas in warm moroccanish spices with garlic, then sweating down spinach with garlic, but it's not really hard work, and not much more than I would make for an ordinary mid-week supper, sans pastry.
I wanted to make something more special than just roasted veggies with a bit of greens on the side.
The thing is, we had people coming for lunch, and I wanted to create a proper centrepiece to the meal, so it looked partyish and special. I had read a spinach & feta pie recipe somewhere (I read a lot of recipes, which sort of fizz around in my head until they pop out into something cohesive. ) which utilised a springform cake pan lined with filo pastry, then filled, and pastry sort of crumpled over the top to create a pretty, crunchy top to the pie. The pie then was easily popped out of its casing revealing pretty ruffled sides and looked amazing. I wanted to make a similar thing, but vegan, and without it seeming wholesome and dreary.
I had also bought a little tin of harissa that was burning a hole in my cupboard.. I have in the past made harissa with our own chillies, but sadly, all the chillies from last year had all been eaten up, so I had sought out a pretty jar of the spicy Moroccan chilli paste. I used this alongside some other spices to coat the Butternut Squash and chickpeas in whilst they were roasting to give a subtle yet richly spiced flavour.
The trick is when making this kind of pie like this is to use lots of olive oil to slick between the filo layers. Line the springform pan with overlapping layers so they come up over the rim of the pan- don't worry if they don't quite fit, once you have a few overlapping layers to cover the pan they will sort of come together in flaky layers once baked. Then, you put in your fillings, in this case, the Butternut Squash & Chickpea mix, with another level of garlicky spinach to lighten the pie up.
Finally you fold the edges over the filled tin, then rip up some more sheets of filo, and scrunch them up all over the top to form a pretty, ruffled crust. Drizzle extra olive oil over the top to ensure a crispy glossy look.
To serve, unclip the springform pan, then carefully transfer to a platter. Take to the table with pride, it should most definitely be the star of the meal.
Chickpea, Butternut and Spinach Pie
For the Butternut Squash & Chickpea Filling
- 1 Butternut Squash , peeled and cubed (around 3cm)
- 480 g (approx) cooked chickpeas (2 x tins or 3 cups)
- 2 tsp harissa (to taste)
- 8 garlic cloves , still in their papery skins
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp mild chilli powder
- 2 Tbs thyme
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1-2 tbsp Olive Oil
For the Spinach
- 1 250g pack baby spinach leaves (9 cups) you can use more or less if you like!
- 3 cloves garlic , finely minced
- 1 tsp marigold stock powder or other vegetable stock powder
- Salt & pepper to taste.
- 1 tsp olive oil
To make the pie
- 1 pack filo pastry Pack is usually 7-10 sheets. Approx 270g
- olive oil to brush between the sheets
- Tip all the ingredients for the Butternut Squash and Chickpea mix into a large roasting pan.
- Give it all a good mix around to thoroughly coat everything in the spices, adding just enough oil to keep everything moist and prevent it from sticking.
- Roast on 220C/ Gas Mark 7 for 30 mins or so, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from the oven once the squash is soft and squishy and slightly caramelised on the edges.
- Make the spinach mix in the meantime, by softening the garlic in a big frying pan or saucepan. Dump the entire bag of spinach into the pot, add the marigold stock powder and give it all a stir.
- Clamp a lid over the pan so the spinach wilts and cooks down.
- Remove from the heat, then once the spinach is cooled a bit, drain (you don't want any extra liquid to make the pie soggy!) and roughly chop the spinach so it's sort of a rough puree.
To assemble the pie
- First, slick your springform pan with olive oil.
- Then, brush olive oil onto 6-8 layers of pastry, before arranging them in a slightly overlapping way so that they cover the bottom & sides of the pan, with loads left hanging over the top (see image 1)
- Then,layer in the butternut squash & chickpeas, before adding the spinach.
- Fold the edges that were left hanging over the top over the filling, then, slick some more sheets of filo with oil, and tear & crumple them up, to sort of squish over the top in a pretty way to form the crust.
- Bake for around 20mins until the filo is slightly browned and crispy.
- Serve with salad or greens, and maybe some tahini sauce to drizzle.