In a rash moment a few months ago, I said we would host two popup supper clubs for the charity Sistema in Norwich. These little Bastilla (pies) were a hit and are very easy to make. They were part of the North African six course taster menu. Although a savoury dish, traditionally they would be served dusted with icing sugar seared with a red-hot skewer searing a criss-cross pattern on top.
To make six bastilla (or one big one, as I did tonight) peel and chop two or three sweet potatoes (about medium sized) – chunks about 1.5cm – and finely chop an onion, some garlic and half a red chilli de-seeded. Take four or five fresh tomatoes, cut in quarters and then each quarter in half again. Beat two medium sized eggs in a small bowl.
In a shallow and wide pan, gently sweat the onion, garlic and chilli in about 30ml Norfolk rapeseed oil or olive oil until soft, turn up the heat and add the potatoes. Swirl around a bit (the contents of the pan I mean, I am not expecting you to dance!) then add two teaspoons of ground cinnamon and two teaspoons of ground turmeric, a heavy pinch of salt and ground black pepper, four ground juniper berries and four ground cloves and a scant 50ml water. Add the tomatoes and swirl again, clamp on the lid till the steam comes out then turn down the heat. The aim here is to cook the potatoes mostly by steam, keeping the mixture relatively ‘dry’. After about 10 minutes, test the potato which should be slightly firm, but done, and add 250g leaf spinach. Clamp on the lid again and cook for a further 5 minutes until the spinach has wilted, but not released its water.
When you lift the lid you will be hit with a wonderful warm, aromatic waft of spice and the vegetables will be glistening in an oily/tomato emulsion with just a small amount of juice. This is exactly right. Check the seasoning then add the beaten egg and stir it through the mixture, on the heat. Yes, it’s a bit like Foo-Yung! At this stage I would normally transfer the mixture onto a cold plate to help it cool down. Once cold you could put in the fridge and finish the pie the next day if you wish. However if you are moving onto the next stage (making the pie right now), you must ensure that the mixture is cold before it hits the Filo pastry.
Now comes the fun bit. You can either make little individual pies (as illustrated), or one big pie (illustrated below – or it will be when the internet downloads it). If you are making individual pies, grease little pie tins with a bit of oil and rub around with kitchen towel, then add coarse semolina or polenta (as you would with butter and flour if you were making a cake or a flan) and shake off the excess. To be failsafe, cut discs of baking parchment and put in the bottom of the tins. Now take Filo pastry out of its packaging and lay it out horizontally on a clean damp teacloth. Open it out and cut the pile of Filo vertically, through the centre of the rectangle so you now have two square piles of Filo. Then cut each square pile into four, horizontally and vertically, so you have eight squares. Cover with a clean damp teacloth.
Now all you do is layer the filo, fanning it round the tin and over the edges, and brushing each layer with a little melted butter. When your tin is covered, add a generous heap of the potato and spinach filling, press it into the sides so there are no gaps, then fold the Filo over the top, then take another couple of squares and lay them over the top and tuck the edges in and brush with butter. It doesn’t matter if it looks creased. It all sounds a bit of a faff but it is easy-peasy, honestly!
Whilst you are doing this, you should have your oven on at about 200C fan and a baking tray in the hot oven. Once you have made your pies, put the little tins on the hot baking tray and cook in the centre of the oven for about 20-25 minutes. They are done when the top is golden brown and you hear sizzling. When you take them out of the oven, wait five minutes then run a sharp knife round the inside of the tin to release the sides, lift the tin and invert onto your other hand (protected by a clean tea-towel), remove the disk or parchment paper, then flip back onto the plate. Voila!
If you want to make one big pie, put your baking tray in the oven as before, whilst the oven is heating. Leave the Filo sheets as they are and layer some oiled Filo on a piece of baking parchment a bit bigger than your baking tray, making sure there is plenty of overhang because you are going to fold it back over the top of the filling, then add all of the cold filling and fold the pastry back over the top of the pie. It doesn’t need to be neat. Moisten between the pastry layers (on top) with some olive or rapeseed oil or melted butter. Cover with another couple of sheets of filo – the top will look like a crumpled napkin. Brush with oil or butter, then slide the baking parchment off the edge of the work surface and onto the hot baking tray. Cook at 200C fan for between 25 and 30 minutes.
Leave for 10 minutes, just so it settles, then use the baking parchment to help slide it off the baking sheet onto a serving plate. It’s a humdinger, that’s for sure. A real crowd pleaser.