When I was a kid, my mother would make pizza and calzones each Christmas Eve along with a dish she called Spinach Pie. I always loved this dish. I would look forward to it each year as one of the many holiday treats my mother would prepare for our family and mourn a little when it was gone. When I got older, and moved out of the house, it never occurred to me that I could make this great dish in my own home until it was my turn to prepare Christmas Eve dinner a few years ago. So there I was, in my kitchen with my mom and other family members, making my pie. As we chatted, drank wine, and cooked, I soon realized that this is really one of the easiest things a home cook can make. I asked my mom why she didn’t make it more often when I was a kid. She shrugged and said simply that she thought of it as a holiday dish. Well, after I served it to my daughters, who devoured their first slice and then asked for more, I was determined to make it an “all-year” dish.
Spinach Pie uses pizza dough (so the “pie” in the title has more to do with pizza pie than coconut cream pie or quiche). Although I sometimes make my own pizza dough, I often just buy pre-made dough at Arizmendi (a bakery in Oakland down the street from my house, with sister branches in Emeryville and SF’s Richmond District), or Trader Joe’s. Homemade dough is great if you have the time, but as a working mom who doesn’t often plan out meals ahead of time, it makes more sense to buy the dough the day I make the dish.
The rest of the ingredients are things I usually have on hand anyway (such a frozen spinach, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan, and some sort of soft cheese), so I usually need to only make a quick run down the street for dough and I’m in business.
I really hope you give this dish a try. The spinach and cheese merge together to form a savory inside that is also creamy, while the yeast dough, drizzled with olive oil, gets a wonderful crispy crust. Also, it’s a new way to get your kids (or adult family and friends) eating spinach, which is full of vitamins and minerals and is a great source for iron.
1 lb pizza dough (homemade or bought)
1 bag of frozen spinach
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves chopped
1/2 cup ricotta or plain chevre (or a mixture of both). If you don’t have either, you can substitute cottage cheese.
Salt and pepper to taste
Let dough sit out at room temperature for at least a half hour, but preferably an hour, as chilled dough doesn’t stretch well. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add garlic and brown for a few seconds, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add frozen spinach and stir well. Lower heat to medium-low cook until the spinach is warmed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more olive oil if the spinach seems dry or if you’d like more of an olive-oil taste.
Cool spinach on a plate for a few minutes. Meanwhile, drizzle a pie plate with olive oil so it’s evenly coated. Get your dough ready (i.e., put the bowl of homemade dough or the package of store-bought dough near the pie plate) and then cover your hands with a little bit of flour so it doesn’t stick to you during handling. Cut the dough in half. Take one half and, with your hands shaped like fists, stretch the dough into a circle about the size of the pie plate. This is sometimes difficult, and, if the dough doesn’t stretch well, you may need to let it rest at room temperature a bit longer. I shape my hands like fists so my fingers don’t rip through the dough, making holes. But, if you do make some holes, it’s not a big deal. Just try to pinch them together and move on.
After you line the pie dish with the dough, fill it with the spinach and then top with whatever soft cheese you’re using (I prefer a mixture of ricotta and chevre, although my mother uses only ricotta. In a pinch, I’ve used cottage cheese, which works as long as it’s 4% milkfat). I then sprinkle on a little salt to season the cheese, and then enough Parmesan to evenly coat the top.
Now take the other half of the dough and stretch it out so it fits nicely over the spinach and cheese. Drizzle some olive oil on top and then evenly smooth the oil with your finger tips.
Place the pie in the oven for about 30 minutes. Each oven cooks differently, so just be sure that the top is golden brown and you’ll be fine.