This is a recipe for a Cretan delicacy, the famous spinach and fennel pancakes (Marathopita). A light vegetarian treat full of aromas from the glorious mountains of Crete.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to be offered a teaching position at the University of Crete. I always wanted to visit Crete as a tourist but never managed to do so until then.
The beauty of Crete relies on the landscape itself and its people, the Cretans. Imagine a place where you can be on a mountain, at 6000 feet, playing with snow and in 40 minutes you can be on a beautiful beach swimming in a crystal-clear blue sea. Pretty amazing, right?
Crete is famous for its cuisine. I am sure you have heard of the “Cretan Diet” and its benefits for a healthy and balanced body. Based on extra-virgin olive oil, fresh fish, legumes and thousands of herbs from the mountains, you cannot go wrong. Can you?
Cretan dishes are usually simple and their awesomeness relies on the quality of the products and the intense aromas of herbs and vegetables that grow at this blessed piece of land. Meat dishes are very simple, but at the same time you know that the lamb, for example, lived up in the mountains and ate only grass. You can really taste the difference.
One of the dishes that caught my attention immediately was the local fennel pancakes, served usually as a mezze with your raki. I had heard of fennel before but never had the chance to try it and appreciate it the way it deserved.
That was it! I immediately loved it. It blends so well with spinach or other wild greens and makes any person be in closer contact with its greater mum, Mother Earth.
The dough is very simple: flour, water, olive oil and salt. Cover the mixture with dough and fry it with just a tiny bit of olive oil. You’re in heaven!
- 200 gr fresh spinach.
- 1 cup of fennel leaves.
- A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley.
- 5-6 spring onions.
- ½ of onion.
- 300 gr (10 oz) all-purpose flour.
- ½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil (+ a bit more for frying).
- 100 gr (3.5 oz) crumbled Feta (optional).
- Salt and ground pepper.
- Chop the spinach, fennel, spring onions, onion and parsley. Put them in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and mix well. You may add the Feta if you choose to. Put the mix in a colander and let it release its juices for about an hour.
- Add the flour, oil and 1 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl and start kneading. Add some water and keep kneading until you make an elastic dough that does not stick to your hands. Cover with cling film and let the dough “rest” for an hour.
- Take a piece of the dough (about the size of a large egg) and open it on a large surface using a rolling pin. The pastry should be thin but not to thin.
- Add some of the mixture in the centre and cover it with the surrounding dough. Make a ball with your hands and make sure that your ingredients are sealed. Roll it again so all of the ingredients are compacted and ready to fry.
- Add one tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat. When it’s hot, start frying the pancakes, about 1 minute on each side. Repeat with the rest of the pancakes, adding some oil when needed.
- Serve them warm and enjoy them with a glass of Raki.
- Bon appetit!