The people of Ikaria have got it figured out. On this one tiny island you’ll find the highest life expectancy in the world. Many have wondered how they do it, but if you ask the locals, they’ll just give you this non chalant shrug and say it’s the food. The diet on Ikaria is largely plant based. Now you won’t find many vegans or vegetarians here but they’re more than happy to eat plant based meal. If it can’t be grown, or raised on the island, it simply isn’t eaten. Personally, I think this is exactly the right way to live and I’m going to trust the people who clearly have it figured out!
One of the foods Ikarians swear by are the abundant greens grown around the island. From what I could make out from my painstaking sampling of them, it seems to be a mix of spinach, fennel greens and swiss chard and are at their peak in the early spring. You’ll find these greens in everything from fritters to pies. One of my favourite ways to eat these greens is in a pasta pie. It’s basically like a traditional spinach pie, except you replace the phyllo with fresh sheets of pasta. I mean who has time to make phyllo? And remember what I said…if they don’t make it, they don’t eat it! Now this pasta pie I had for the first time on the beach of all places. There was a cookout organized by some local restaurants. I don’t know if it was the open flame, or just eating by the water with a glass of local wine, but I can’t remember having a better meal in my life.
Here’s my recreation of that dish. I’ve used fresh pasta, but feel free to replace it with whole wheat or gluten free lasagne sheets. I have not yet mastered how to make my own whole wheat or gluten free pasta. I will try and figure it out one day
Longevity Greens Pasta Pie
(makes 1×9″pie in a springform or freeform pan)
For the dough
- 250g (2 cups) plain flour (or whole wheat flour)
- 2½ tablespoons olive oil
- pinch of salt
- 100ml warm water
- Mix the flour, oil, and salt in a large bowl or electric mixer. Slowly add the water and mix gently until it starts to form a paste. Keep mixing until it comes together into a dough then turn it out onto a floured work surface. Knead until smooth. You do not need to rest the dough, but wrap it in cling film until you’re ready to roll it our into a long wide sheet of pasta. When you are ready, cut the pasta into sheets, take a piece of dough the size of a tennis ball and roll out into roughly a 10cm wide and about 1/8″ thick. In order for this recipe to work, you need to get the pasta this thin to cook properly. You can do this by hand or if you’re lucky enough, a pasta roller. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Sprinkle each sheet with some semolina to keep them separate while you prepare the filling.
- 2 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and coarsely grated
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1¼ cups extra virgin olive oil
- 1 leek, tough greens trimmed and discarded, whites and pale green parts rinsed well and chopped
- 2 large red onions, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
- 500g (1 pound) spinach, coarsely chopped, washed, and well drained
- 500g (1 pound) Swiss chard, coarsely chopped, washed, and well drained
- 1 bunch sorrel, coarsely chopped
- 1 small bunch chervil, chopped (about 1½ cups)
- 1½ cups snipped fresh dill
- 3 small bunches wild fennel, or green fennel leaves only, chopped
- 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 small bunch fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 small bunch mint, leaves only, chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Place the grated squash in a colander. Salt and toss lightly. Place on a large plate or baking sheet and top with another plate weighted with cans. Leave to drain for 2 hours.
- Squeeze the squash with your hands to get rid of as much liquid as possible.
- In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add the squash and cook until it most of it’s liquid has evaporated (about 20-30 minutes). Transfer to a bowl and set aside
- Using the same pan, heat another 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat and add the leeks and onions. Cook until translucent. Transfer to the bowl with the pumpkin
- In the same skillet, add another two tbsp olive oil and wilt the spinach and chard together. Add to the bowl.
- Add the sorrel and the other chopped fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper
In the same pan, heat another tablespoon or two of olive oil and wilt the spinach and chard. Add to the bowl.
- Preheat oven to 200˚C/400˚F. Lightly grease a springform pan or rectangular baking tray with a little oil. Line the base and sides of the pan with strips of pasta. Lay long strips side by side and allow them to overlap by 2cm to prevent juices from leaking out. Aim to leave at least 7 cm of pasta hanging over the edges of the pan. This will be used to cover the top
- Spoon the filling into the pan. Fold the excess pasta over the top of the filling to create a border. Patch up any holes with leftover pasta. Do not make it too thick though. Brush the top with olive oil and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the pasta is golden and crunchy
- Leave to cool for 15 minutes (this will help the pie keep its shape). Alternatively, leave to cool completely and keep in the fridge to eat the next day. Or freeze and keep for 1-2 monthsSlice and Enjoy. This pie is great because it can be eaten hot or at room temperature, making it the perfect picnic food.
IF YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE BE SURE TO TAG YOUR PHOTO #FIGSANDMAPLE