Greek spinach or spinach and feta pie is one of the rare vegetarian dishes I am truly fond of. I have recently discovered it tastes even better if made with baby spinach. Since its season corresponds to wild garlic’s, I simply changed the leaves and made a mock garlicky spanakopita (or rather mock spanakotiropita, as I learnt from Katerina). I don’t know if wild garlic is popular in Greece and whether my Greek visitors would approve of such a modification, but for a garlic fan like me these strong-flavoured snacks were a sensational discovery. Wild garlic and feta proved to be perfect companions and the flavours were so complex, no one would ever believe the filling includes only four ingredients with ground pepper as the sole seasoning.
If you have never heard about wild garlic (Allium ursinum), also called ramsons, ramps or bear’s garlic, it’s a plant growing in the forest or nearby with long wide leaves (see above, but Wikipedia should have better photographs), which are unfortunately similar to toxic lily of the valley leaves. An olfactory test is however a very easy method avoiding confusion: wild garlic smells of… garlic and the aroma is really strong. In Europe wild garlic’s season lasts at least from April to May (sometimes it stretches, depending on the temperature and the region), so it’s quite short. I don’t know if it can be grown, but I have never heard about cultivated plants, so consumers are limited to this very short period.
Wild garlic grows in many European countries, but strangely it’s not popular everywhere (unfortunately there are countries where it’s a protected plant and picking is forbidden, so check your country’s regulations before foraging). It is usually used in warm dishes (cooked, fried, baked, etc.) or mixed (such as in the below pesto I posted). I have never tried freezing it, but it dries very well and keeps its wonderful aroma. The dried form can be used as seasoning in many dishes; for example in Switzerland, where wild garlic is very popular, a supermarket chain has recently started to sell sausages seasoned with dried wild garlic and I find it an excellent idea.
I have adapted here the fresh and unique spanakopita recipe from Katerina’s Culinary Flavours, a beautifully written blog, full of inspiring dishes and featuring not only Greek cuisine. The process of squashing spinach instead of cooking it is an extremely ingenious idea I discovered at Katerina’s blog. As well ass adding cracked wheat to absorb humidity. I have been using both with real spanakopita and I have also practiced it here with wild garlic (obviously with equally satisfactory results).
If you get hold of fresh wild garlic and wonder what to do with it, here are some suggestions:
TIP: Most of you have eaten feta many times, but have you ever had feta made with both sheep and goat milk? (Most of feta is made with sheep’s milk). According to Wikipedia such a cheese can still bear “feta” name and the Greek sheep & goat milk feta I buy is the best I have ever had. I strongly encourage you to taste such a variety of feta if you find it.
Preparation: about 1 hour
Ingredients (makes 6 rolls):
6 sheets of filo pastry
200 g feta cheese, crumbled
2 big handfuls of chopped wild garlic leaves (with or without stalks)
1 flat tablespoon cracked wheat (you can use semolina instead, but I prefer cracked wheat)
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Put the chopped wild garlic leaves into a bowl and squash them with your hands until the volume is reduced. Crumble the drained feta into a bowl. Add the chopped wild garlic, cracked wheat and some ground black pepper, stir well and with a spoon divide into 6 equal portions (this will make the filo sheets filling process much easier).
Spread one filo sheet on a big chopping board.
Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge which is closest to you, a portion of feta and wild garlic mixture.
Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll, so that the filling doesn’t leak during the baking process (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 inch on each side).
Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.
Brush the top of the rolls with some oil or melted butter, place on a baking tray or baking paper and bake in the oven until slightly golden (about 30 minutes in mine). Watch them often as they tend to burn quite quickly.