When my great-grandparents emigrated from Greece to America at the turn of the last century, they brought with them four sons and four daughters, including a newborn little girl they named Eleftheria, or "Freedom." They also brought with them, as immigrants do, the recipes that would help make them feel at home in their new country. Not written-down recipes -- but dishes made from their hearts, their hands, and their heads. They came to settle in Washington, DC from the city of Ioannina in the northwest of Greece, a city known for its fine silversmiths, its university, and (I was always told) its good cooks. This is our family recipe for a spinach pie called "batsaria" (baht-sahr-YA), the lesser-known cousin of spanakopita. If you love spanakopita but don't like to fiddle with filo dough, this one's for you! I brought a pan to our recent DC Food52 holiday party and cookie swap, and those who tasted it (and even took some home for supper) encouraged me to submit it to this contest. —cookbookchick
Test Kitchen Notes
Cookbookchic's version of spinach pie is one of the best I've ever had. Loads of spinach and a light crust make for a great meal! The garlic is indeed key -- I had never included it in any version I'd made before, but I'll never omit it again. My only regret is that I didn't have Bulgarian feta, which I think would have cut some of the saltiness in the recipe. The filling is so good that I envision using it again soon in a stuffed pizza or calzone. This one is truly a keeper! —inpatskitchen
For the spinach mixture
sticks butter (6 ounces)
bags fresh (not baby) spinach, approximately 1 pound each
small yellow onion, chopped finely
scallions (or two, if the scallions are skinny), the white parts and some of the green, chopped
cloves garlic (up to 8 cloves, depending on your love of garlic), peeled and chopped finely
fresh parsley, chopped finely
feta cheese (Greek or Bulgarian tastes best)
kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal brand)
Melt butter in a small pot, skimming off foam and discarding it. Set aside.
Take out the largest bowl you have, or a soup kettle if you don't have a big bowl. Roughly chop the spinach, stems and all. Wash and dry the chopped spinach in a salad spinner. Dump the spinach into the big bowl or pot.
Add the onion, scallions, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper to the spinach. Mix well. Crumble in the feta and mix again, gently. Set aside while you make the batter.
Note: I think proper salting is key to the outcome of this dish. If you aren't afraid of raw eggs, take a little taste, but with the saltiness of the feta, I have now found that 1 tablespoon of kosher salt is about right for this amount of spinach. Also, one time I forgot to put in the garlic and the result was flat and unsatisfying; the garlic really is the key flavor combo in this dish.
Measure the 3 cups of flour, salt, and baking powder into another bowl. (This one doesn't have to be so large.). Make a well in the center of the flour. Into the well, put the oil, the unbeaten egg, and the water. Mix together until smooth, but don't overmix. The batter should be the consistency of pancake batter.
Spread some of the melted butter in the bottom of a roasting pan. I use my 11 x 14 All Clad lasagna pan. The size of the pan will determine the thickness of the finished batsaria. I like mine thick-ish, while my mother liked hers very thin, almost cracker-like. Spread some of the batter thinly on top of the butter.
Beat the 4 eggs until they're light and airy, then add them to the spinach mixture, stirring gently. My Aunt Elizabeth (she who was named Freedom in Greek) said that adding the well-beaten eggs at the last minute is one of the secrets to a good outcome for this dish. Spoon the spinach mixture into the baking pan, spreading it as evenly as you can.
Now spoon the rest of the batter onto the top of the spinach. There will not be enough to cover the spinach, but you don't want it to. Glop it here and there, leaving areas of spinach exposed. Sprinkle the rest of the butter over the top of the spinach and the batter. (Don't try doubling the batter to get more complete coverage -- I did it once and the end result was way too bready.)
Bake at 350° F until golden brown, about 50 minutes to an hour.. The aroma as it bakes is heavenly! Let the batsaria cool a bit before you cut it into squares or rectangles to serve. It is delicious warm, but like so many Mediterranean foods, it is also good at room temperature. Leftovers are wonderful reheated or cold.
I am retired from CBS News, having worked in both NYC and Washington DC, my native town. I'm married, mother of three, grandmother of two. I've been a passionate cook since I was a child, and have collected recipes since then. I am shamelessly addicted to cookbooks -- hence my moniker -- but I figure it's not only less harmful than other addictions, but also produces a better outcome for those around me. My family call me "the food lady," so I guess they agree!