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Recipe: Spinach-potato pie feels like a hug

  • NEW YORK TIMES
                                A filling of onions and spinach, flavored with a paste of pureed herbs, goes into a puff-pastry shell.

    NEW YORK TIMES

    A filling of onions and spinach, flavored with a paste of pureed herbs, goes into a puff-pastry shell.

When I first posted a picture of a homely, frozen-spinach-filled pie on my Instagram feed, it got a lot of love. Usually, it’s red tomatoes that get the red hearts. It was interesting, then, to think about why this simple pie struck such a “Yes, please!” chord.

There are many words I could reach for to explain this pie’s appeal, and they’d all be true. It ticks many boxes. “Versatile,” for instance, with a filling that can be easily adjusted to what may already be in your fridge. Swiss chard works well instead of (or as well as) the spinach; mint and parsley along with (or instead of) the dill; cheddar instead of the feta, if you prefer; or even cubes of firm tofu for a vegan filling.

“Rustic,” a word often used euphemistically to mean “it may not look all that pretty or neat, but it will still taste great,” could also be reached for.

“Frugal” also works, and nods to its appeal: no fancy equipment or skills needed, no ingredients to go out of your way for.

You can dress it up with chermoula, which is simply a paste made of pureed herbs; or dress it down with just a squeeze of lemon, to keep things simple.

A puff-pastry pie shell filled with spinach and feta is approachable and crowd-pleasing; healthy and hearty; unpretentious, with a bit of a built-in wow.

What is missing from this list of words, though, is the very thing that makes this pie so utterly lovable and desirable — “I need this in my life right now-able” — in the first place.

Like all good dishes (and good relationships), it feels like a great, cozy nurturing hug. And that’s exactly what we all need right now.

After months of not being able to hug those we love, people are, I think, looking more and more to food to provide the comfort being denied to them in their day-to-day lives. It was this — the hug, the comfort — that people were connecting to with the picture of my pie.

Hugs from the kitchen come in many forms, I know, but so often they come in the form of a potato. Yes, the rustic, versatile, approachable, unpretentious, healthy, hearty potato is what, to my mind, saw this pie get so many likes.

The thinly sliced potato layer that sits on top of the filling says “comfort.” It says “love”; it says “hug.” Now, more than ever — when we have, for months, been denied so much of the hugging we were used to — this is what we need and want.

During another kind of dinner, each person might reach for a whole potato, baked in a hot oven and smothered with melted cheese. With this dish, though, one potato shared by all is enough to give the dish its “right here, right now, hold me” feel.

Until better times, stick to hugging those in your bubble, but make this for those you’re able to share food with or deliver food to. “Deliverable” and “shareable” — another couple of words to add to the list.

Spinach and Chermoula Pie

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion (about 12 ounces), halved and thinly sliced
  • 12 ounces frozen spinach, thawed, then squeezed to remove excess water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup (15 grams) roughly chopped fresh dill
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • 1 sheet frozen all-butter puff pastry, at least 9 inches wide, thawed
  • 1 cup (130 grams) roughly crumbled Greek feta
  • 1 baking potato (about 9 ounces), skin-on, scrubbed clean

>> Chermoula paste:

  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup (30 grams), roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 fresh mild red chile (about 10 grams), roughly chopped, seeds and all
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and roughly crushed with mortar and pestle
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Prepare chermoula paste: Add garlic, cilantro, chile, cumin, paprika, salt, a good grind of pepper and oil to a food processor. Pulse into a coarse paste; set aside.

Prepare pie: Add 3 tablespoons oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and well browned, about 12 minutes.

Add half the chermoula paste (reserve the rest), spinach, salt and a good grind of pepper; cook 2 minutes more, stirring to combine. Remove from heat, then add dill and lemon zest. Set aside to cool, about 20 minutes.

Line a 9-inch pie or a tart pan with a removable base with a piece of parchment large enough to cover the base and some of the sides. (The excess will help you lift the tart when it’s baked.)

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out pastry with a floured rolling pin to a 12-inch square. Lay puff pastry on parchment, pressing pastry to fit the base and sides of the pan and cutting away any excess so it overhangs by about 3/4 inch (see photo).

Poke base all over with a fork (about 10 times), then spread cooled spinach mixture evenly over base. Sprinkle with feta, then fold and scrunch the sides over the filling to create a rim. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.) Refrigerate pie at least 20 minutes, or up to overnight, covered.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Trim and discard the ends of the potato and use a mandolin or very sharp knife to cut potato into paper- thin slices. Toss together in a bowl with 1 tablespoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper. Fan out slices on top of spinach and feta in a circular pattern, overlapping slightly, to cover the filling but not the pastry rim.

Place chilled pie on a baking sheet and bake until cooked through and nicely colored, about 50 minutes. Set aside to cool, about 15 minutes, before gently transferring to a wooden board or serving plate.

When ready to serve, stir lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon oil into reserved chermoula. Spoon half all over the pie and serve the remaining in a bowl alongside. Serve warm, or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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