This fantastically healthy vegetable pie is stuffed with cavolo nero, mushrooms, olives and ricotta and wrapped in whole grain spelt pastry.
The pastry for this pie is made with a revolutionary new pastry recipe – 100% whole grain spelt flour blended with ripe avocado and a little water. Used instead of oil or butter, the avocado lends the dough a wonderful softness. It is moist and easy to work with – yet strong enough to be rolled paper thin into gossamer sheets of filo that bake into flaky layers of iron-rich, whole grain goodness.
As you may have seen in other posts on this blog, a pasta machine is one of my favourite kitchen tools. Sure, it has its place for rolling out fresh pasta, but it is also amazing for rendering all manner of doughs wafer thin with the greatest of ease. Gyoza wrappers… Crackers… And my favourite – filo pastry. Rolling out filo dough in the traditional fashion, with a narrow wooden rolling pin, is a challenge that most people will pass on.
But with a pasta machine it is easy peasy. All you have to do is make sure you keep the dough adequately floured – if it sticks when going through those rollers, it is incredibly frustrating. Just sprinkle over a pinch or two whenever you feel a little stickiness.
There’s no need to be scared of this pastry – it is very forgiving and a tear here or there will make no difference in the finished product. Just try and roll it out as thinly as you can.
I was able to make it up to setting 8 on my pasta machine. It will depend on your machine, your dough and your nerves!
As you roll out a piece, arrange it in your pan – I have achieved best browning in a cast iron skillet. The sheets produced by your pasta machine will be long and thin, so arrange them in a single covering layer and trim to fit, leaving a little overhang.
Brush with a touch of oil or melted butter and cover with another layer of pastry. When the pie bakes, these layers will hold together as one, but will flake where the oil is streaked. So the tears and gaps (if there are any) will not be noticeable at all and you will have stunning wafers of pastry surrounding your delicious, nutritious pie.
Onto the fillings!
Pastry this special deserves wonderful flavours to go with it, so one of the central ingredients inside this gorgeous pie is handmade ricotta – super easy to make, much better than shop-bought and has the wow factor of, “yeah, I made my own cheese too”. A simple matter of using lemon juice to separate hot milk into curds and whey, homemade ricotta comes together in about half an hour – with twenty of those minutes completely hands off.
If you are lactose intolerant, but can handle goat milk, you can substitute that in this recipe. I wanted to make this with goat milk, but unfortunately I could find neither hide nor hair of it when I was shopping.
This pie recipe contains one whole litre of milk, with all the calcium that entails. Though while you’re at it, I strongly suggest you make some extra to use in other recipes during the week. The amount listed in the recipe is enough for one pie, but I frequently quadruple this ricotta recipe, as there are so many great uses for fresh, homemade cheese.
This nutritious, moist, delicate cheese is blended with one of my favourite greens – cavolo nero or Tuscan kale as it is also known (check it my recipe for Cavolo Nero Pesto to see it in all its beauty). One of the most antioxidant-rich foods on earth, cavolo nero contains all the remarkable benefits of regular kale and other brassicas, in addition to its own unique healing and anti-cancer properties.
Add a touch of strong, salty pecorino Romano cheese and some softened onions and you’ve got a lovely, green, grassy, lightly cheesy layer of filling – satisfyingly creamy without being at all heavy.
The perfect contrast to the briny, deliciously bitter Kalamata olives that I liberally sprinkled over.
Beautifully flavoured garlic mushrooms also play a key role in this spelt pastry pie, as they do in so many of my favourite recipes. I use my tried and tested technique of dry searing them to remove moisture and concentrate flavour before deglazing with white wine and seasoning with salt, black pepper and fresh garlic. This method creates superb browning on the vegetables, which is essential in coaxing maximum mushroomy taste out of this vegetable.
This method also helps make the vegetable ingredients as dry as possible before they go in the pie. I’ll never forget the time I ordered a mushroom pot pie in a restaurant, only to crack open the pastry lid and be greeted with a puddle of hot, brown water. Sad times.
Of course, there are a few other classic Mediterranean seasonings thrown in for good measure. A combination of fresh medicinal oregano and its wild, flowery dried counterpart… A glossy red onion to amp up the vegetable content that bit further…
The very best pan you can bake this pie in is a cast iron skillet. The heavy, even metal bakes the spelt pastry pie crust absolutely beautifully. I have tried baking pies such as these in various containers – glass, stainless steel, etc. But cast iron really is where it’s at. Check out my cast iron skillet review if you’re in the market for one!
This pie contains more than 1.5kg of fresh, healthy, anti-oxidant laden vegetables, meaning that each whole grain slice contains nearly two and a half whole portions of vegetables.
Now I have never been able to stop at just one piece of this spelt pastry pie – two pieces are an absolute certainty – so you’re already up to five portions of vegetables per person before you’ve even counted the garlicky guacamole I encourage you to serve it with, or the crunchy rocket salad that it matches so well.
This pie is wonderful for dinner, but as it can happily be eaten hot or cold, it works extremely well as a packed lunch, as part of an envy-inducing picnic or as a healthy snack.
This, for me, is the essence of healthy eating. Food that is beautifully textured, with layer upon layer of fantastic flavour. Food that feels decadent and incredibly satisfying, while still packed with life-affirming nutrition. Food that everyone looking in your lunch box wants a nibble of.
Vegetable pie with spelt pastry
- 1 litre whole milk or goat milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 30-45 g lemon or lime juice about 1 juicy fruit
Avocado-Spelt Filo Pastry
- 250 g whole grain spelt flour
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 90 g avocado flesh about 1 medium, mashed
- 90 g very hot water
- 600 g brown mushrooms sliced
- glug of white wine or stock/water
- 600 g cavolo nero destemmed and roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- handful fresh oregano or other similar herb
- 1 medium red onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 100 g Kalamata olives destoned
- 50 g pecorino Romano finely grated (substitute for vegan)
- sea salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 100 g extra virgin olive oil
- 2 heaped tablespoons Greek yoghurt substitute for vegan
- 1 egg substitute for vegan
- sesame seeds to garnish
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and salt to 85c, stirring frequently to stop the bottom scorching. When it is at temperature, remove from the heat, add 30g lemon/lime juice and stir to combine. Leave for 5 minutes. The milk should separate into curds and whey - the whey will be translucent. If it has not separated, add another tablespoon of citrus juice and leave for another 5 minutes. Repeat as necessary. When the mixture has properly separated, rest the mixture for a further 20 minutes.
Line a sieve with a clean cotton handkerchief or similar, pour in the curds and whey and leave to drain. Stir and press on the curds with a spatula to remove more liquid. The more you press the curds, the firmer the cheese will be - I like a firm curd! You can also twist the ends of the handkerchief to remove liquid if you are in a hurry.
Add the flour and salt to a food processor, stand mixer or bowl and mix to combine. Add the avocado and blend in. If not using a machine, just try to rub it in as best you can, as you would with pastry. Add the hot water a little at a time and blend or combine with your hands. I used 90g of water when I made this pastry, but you may need a little more or a little less, depending on your flour. Knead for about 5 minutes in a machine, or 10 minutes by hand. When ready, the dough should be moist and pliable, but not too sticky. Thoroughly scrape out the food processor, but do not clean. Wrap the dough in plastic and rest on the work surface while you prepare the vegetables.
Heat a large frying pan (I used a cast iron skillet) over medium heat and dry sauté the mushrooms until most of their moisture has evaporated and they are well browned - you may need to do this in batches. Turn the heat right down, stir in a sprinkle of salt, some black pepper and a clove of crushed garlic and deglaze with a glug of white wine or a splash of water/stock - scrape and stir to release all the tasty caramelised mushroom juice. Transfer to a container and set aside.
Turn the heat back up. In the same frying pan, add the cavolo nero and a sprinkle of salt. Stir occasionally until wilted - it won't release as much moisture as something like spinach, but should reduce in size. Transfer to the food processor, if using. Add the ricotta, half the pecorino Romano, 1 clove crushed garlic, lots of black pepper and the herbs and blend to combine. If working by hand, just mix thoroughly.
In the frying pan, over medium-low heat, sauté the red onion with a little drizzle of olive oil until softened and translucent, 10-15 minutes - you need only stir occasionally. Season and turn off the heat. Add to the cavolo nero-ricotta mixture.
Cut the dough into eight even pieces. Using a pasta machine, one at a time, run a piece of dough through the machine, starting on setting 1 and working your way up, until the dough is as thin as you can make it. I got up to setting 8 on my machine. You will need to add a little sprinkle of flour to the dough sheets occasionally to stop them sticking. Sticking is very, very frustrating, so definitely avoid that!
Preheat the oven to 200c. Lightly grease a cast iron skillet (or similar) with olive oil. When one sheet is complete, lay it in the pan, trimming as necessary. You want to create one even layer with a little overhang round the edges, as pictured. Drizzle in a touch of olive oil - no need to go nuts - and brush or rub over the pastry so it is mostly covered. Repeat with three more layers - one piece of dough makes roughly one layer.
Add the fillings. I started with the cavolo nero-ricotta mixture, then added the olives, then the onion and finally the mushrooms, but you do as you see fit. Sprinkle over the rest of the pecorino.
Trim the overhang so it is an even length and fold it over the fillings. Start rolling out pastry again. Add three more layers, but try to mostly cover the exposed filling, as the edges already have a lot of pastry from the overhang. For the fourth and final layer, cover the entire top, overhang and all, and trim or tuck at the sides so you have a nicely uniform pie top.
Beat together the yoghurt and egg and brush a thick layer over the pastry. Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, brush with a further layer of yoghurt-egg wash and sprinkle sesame seeds over the top. Turn the pie so it cooks evenly and return to the oven to bake for a further 15 minutes or so. The pie is done when it is puffed and evenly browned all over.
Serve hot, warm or cold - it's delicious any which way!
To make this dish vegan, substitute the homemade ricotta for either medium-firm tofu (crumbled) or more of the vegetable fillings. Replace the egg-yoghurt glaze with soy milk or soy yoghurt.