Green Pie

I had the pleasant surprise a little while ago of seeing that the Good King Henry plants on my allotment, which had been bearing flower stalks with small leaves for a couple of months, had thrown up fresh new growth from the base.

Fresh growth on the Good King Henry

I shouldn't have been surprised I suppose because I've seen this happen often enough on herbaceous perennials growing in ornamental borders, but for some reason I hadn't been expecting fresh growth until next spring. I tasted one of the new leaves and finding it quite mild decided to use the leaves to try a recipe I'd had in mind earlier in the year but hadn't got around to: the Greek dish hortopita.

Hortopita - wild greens pie

Hortopita comprises various greens and herbs tucked between layers of filo pastry often with feta cheese and eggs in the filling too. I believe horta in Greek means weeds, or wild greens, and pita is pie. The Italian torta verde (green tart) is similar and Turkish borek made with yufkas (like filo pastry but thicker) often has a filling of wild greens too. In my internet searches I rather wanted to find mention of traditional British equivalents but the nearest I could find were more pudding than pie: nettle pudding and bistort pudding where the greens are layered with soaked barley and onions and boiled in stock in a pudding cloth.

Anyway, although I planted it on my allotment, Good King Henry is a 'wild green', and often foraged, plant in this country, and I set about collecting enough for my hortapita. I needed 200g but, having been cautious not to over-harvest the plants this far on in the growing season, I arrived home about 50g short of my target. I supplemented the leaves with what I could find in the backyard which was sorrel, ribwort plantain, pink purslane, Caucasian spinach, musk mallow and a few young sea kale leaves. And I added plenty of parsley. (All sorts of greens could be used for this pie: nettles, ground elder, chicory, sea beet, dandelions being a few amongst them.)

Ingredients for hortopita

The filo pastry was shop bought which made the pie very simple to make. I just layered 6 sheets of the pastry on a greased baking tray brushing the top of each sheet with oil as I went along. Then I chopped an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and cooked them gently in oil until softened. The greens and herbs were washed and sliced and added to the onions and garlic and cooked until they were just wilted.

Chopped greens and herbs

I mixed in 200g of feta cheese cut into small cubes and spread the mixture onto the pastry. A margin of about 3cm of pastry needs to be left clear around the edge and this is then folded in over the mixture before the pie is topped with another 6 sheets of filo pastry (again applying oil between the sheets). I tucked the edges of these sheets under the pie as if I was making a bed, brushed the top with beaten egg and baked the pie for 25-30 minutes at 200 degrees Centigrade.

All tucked in

If you've read a few of these blog posts, you have probably gathered by now that I don't consider myself a great cook. I'm working on my cooking skills but recipes appear here merely as an account of what I'm trying out with these perennial vegetables once I get them back to the kitchen. (I'm happy to admit that, at least for now, I like recipes to be quick and easy and don't do too much of that 'tasting as you go' business because I'm never too sure what to think when I do it!)

Baked and sliced

Well, I would say, Hortapita was a partial success. The pastry was acceptable but not exactly the melting experience one is after. That might be because shop bought filo isn't wonderful, or maybe because rapeseed oil for brushing onto the pastry is a poor choice - but is more likely because we have a seriously dodgy thermostat on our oven. I lied, I didn't really bake the pie at 200 degrees for 25 minutes, that was more an instruction for the sake of anyone wanting to follow the recipe. I actually set the dial to the '160 degrees' mark, and when the pie was well browned after a worryingly short time, turned down the temperature and finished the cooking with the door opened a tiny crack! This is how we adapt to our 'magic oven'. 

The filling was a little on the bitter side. I'm beginning to understand that the bitter flavour of many perennial and/or wild plants is partly indicative of them containing high levels of certain compounds beneficial to health. And also that the more I experience moderately bitter flavours the more I enjoy them. But the right balance needs to be struck! I'd tasted the Good King Henry raw when I'd picked it and found it reasonably mild so in this case I attributed the bitterness to the ribwort plantain leaves I had added.

So I'd certainly use the Good King Henry for any sort of 'green pie' again along with a few sorrel leaves to add a touch of sharpness (and now I also have an idea to try a Good King Henry and Babington leek pudding oneday!).

N.B. I sell a range of perennial vegetable plants on my website.