These are warm, golden autumn days in Athens. October has decided to dress herself up as summer and is making a pretty good job of it. The days are hot – hot enough to swim, if you can get to the coast. The evenings are quite cool and, for Athenians, there is that novelty of having to wear a jacket or pullover again after dusk. We, however, bask in the glory of this stolen summer weather, perfect for strolling around Athens.
A shortcut from Panepistimíou through to Stadíou brought us face to face with one of the hidden gems of Athenian street food.On the outside of one of the many arcades in this part of town is this tiny shop, ‘Mam’ – which sort of means ‘Yummy‘ in Greek baby-talk. The house speciality is spanakópítta -spinach pie. In English that sounds so very boring and worthy – but spanakópitta here takes Popeye’s health food to a very indulgent level.
I have been coming to ‘Mam‘ for over thirty years and the spanakópitta has been consistently ‘yummy‘ in all that time. The pastry is crisp and flaky, the filling of spinach, herbs, a little feta and lots and lots of black pepper, is absolutely gorgeous. The pies are deftly cut in half with a mezzo-luna by the assistant and served in a piece of greaseproof paper- an absolute bargain at €1.70 !
And I love the totally unaffected look of this place – there has been no effort to ‘re-style’ or re-model the venue; no need to update the marketing because the product is what it’s all about. This type of Athenian street food always strikes me as being truly democratic too. There is no class or age distinction in the customers in the queue; everyone from office workers, to students, to housewives on shopping trips. This is the simple, glorious universality of pleasure in a good piece of pie!
I cannot promise the full ‘Mam’ experience but, until the next visit to Athens, this version is a good enough substitute.
(‘Mam’ is on the corner of Panepistimíou and Ippokrátous in Athens)
1kg spinach washed well and drained -or,if you are feeling lazy, the washed salad variety
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley
1 small bunch dill
1 egg, beaten
150 gm feta
2 – 3 tabs double cream (or evaporated milk)
Plenty of ground black pepper — for this recipe, I use pre-ground coarse black pepper
1-packet of fillo pastry – if you are using the U.K. brand ‘Jus-Roll’ fillo you will need 2 packs.
First chop the spinach quite finely. This can be done with a knife, obviously, but I have found that a good – and quick – result can be achieved by ‘pulsing’ a handful of spinach at a time, in short bursts, in a food processor. Don’t try to do to much in one go, as it will end up as spinach purée !
Put the chopped spinach in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave to one side until you have completed the next stage.
Finely chop the leek, parsley and dill and put in a large mixing bowl, with the beaten egg, cream, feta and salt and pepper. Really put a lot of pepper – about half a teaspoonful.
Now, take the finely chopped spinach and, a handful at a time, squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can -the chopped spinach needs to be quite dry.
Now add the squeezed spinach to the bowl with the chopped leeks, herbs, eggs etc.
Mix this all together very well.
Next, unroll the fillo pastry and cut through it (scissors or a knife will do) so that you have strips of pastry about 8cm x 30cm. You will have to use your judgement as to how you do this – it depends on the brand of fillo pastry you are using !
The easiest shape to fold the pies into is a sort of ‘spring roll’ shape – this style, in Greek, is called ‘boureki’.
So, you brush the fillo liberally with olive oil, put a little of the spinach mixture at of one of the shorter ends of the pastry, in the middle. Fold the sides over and then roll the whole thing up. Try not to make the rolls too tight, as the filling will expand during baking.
(There are pictures for this on the ‘Practicalities’ page of this site.)
Put the rolls on to an oiled baking sheet and bake at 185-190 degrees for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.