Jamie Schler’s Chard Fennel & Feta Pie
Reminiscent of a spinach and feta Spanikopita, this Chard, Fennel & Feta pie is heartier thanks to a wonderful yeast-bread crust, delicate on the inside, crispy on the top, feather light. Spinach is replaced with chard or kale and lots of onions, garlic and fennel, cooked down and caramelized to a wonderful, smoky, oniony flavor, balancing out beautifully with the tangy, salty feta cheese. I made a few changes to the original recipe found in Anna Thomas’ The New Vegetarian Epicure. Although I made the pie in a rectangular baking dish, I will definitely recommend it being made in a round gratin dish. This way each slice or wedge has the same amount of crust to filling, just the perfect amount; a rectangular dish means some pieces have too much crust and others not enough.
Preparation time 1 hour
Cooking time 45 minutes
Total time 1 hour 45 minutes
Serves: Serves 6 – 8
For the Dough
1 ½ tsp dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup warm water
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 large egg
⅔ cup low-fat milk
1 Tbs olive oil
For the Filling
3 lbs Swiss chard/kale
2 medium yellow onions, approximately but not more than 2 cups chopped
1 to 1 ¼ cup sliced green onions
2 – 3 cloves garlic, depending upon the size
1 medium fennel bulb
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs cider vinegar
2 Tbs chopped fresh fennel greens
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander (I used coriander)
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
½ cup milk
10 oz feta cheese
3 Tbs uncooked white rice (I used basmati rice)
Prepare the Dough
Dissolve the yeast and the sugar in the warm water in a small bowl; allow 15 to 20 minutes until it foams and has a thick frothy head. Meanwhile, put 2 ¾ cups of the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Whisk together the egg, milk and olive oil. Once the yeast is activated, stir it into the egg mixture and then mix the liquid into the flour/salt until all of the dry is moistened and begins to pull together into a dough.
Spread the remaining flour onto the work surface and scrape the dough onto it. Knead it gently, turning often at first to keep it coated in flour, until it is smooth and elastic, 4 to 6 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough until it is lightly coated in the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a towel and set it aside in a warm place to double in size, about 45 minutes to an hour. (I left mine for much longer and it really puffed up but it made no difference; the finished crust was perfect, light with just the right crispy top.)
Prepare the Filling
Rinse the chard until thoroughly clean; shake off excess water and pat the leaves dry with a clean towel. Cut off and discard the thick parts of the stems and then coarsely chop the leaves and tender white. Peel and chop the onions. Trim and chop the garlic and the fennel and place them together in a bowl; these will be added to the onion together after the onion has already cooked a bit. Pull off the feathery fennel greens and chop. Chop the coriander or parsley.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven; she recommends a very large skillet but I suspect that would be too shallow – you need the deepness of a pot. Add the chopped onion and green onions, stir to coat everything with the oil and sauté over medium heat, stirring almost constantly to keep from burning. When the onions are tender and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes, add the garlic and fennel. Continue cooking and stirring until all the vegetables are tender and golden, beginning to caramelise. The kitchen should stop smelling like onion and start smelling most definitely of caramel!
Add the chard to the pot, handful by handful, stirring in each addition until the chard is coated in the onions and starting to wilt. Once it is all in the pan and starting too wilt, add the cider vinegar, the fennel greens and the coriander or parsley, a grinding of pepper and a dash of salt (don’t forget that the feta is salty; you can adjust the seasoning later). Continue cooking until the chard is much reduced and the excess liquid is gone.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool somewhat. Once the chard is cooled, separate one of the eggs, reserving the yolk in a small bowl for the glaze, then add the 3 remaining eggs to the white and whisk with the milk. Put the feta in a large mixing bowl and break and crumble it up with a fork. Add the cooled vegetables, the uncooked rice and the egg mixture, blending everything together well. Adjust the salt and pepper if needed.
Assemble and Bake
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Oil the gratin dish.
Scrape the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface and punch it down. Divide the dough into two parts, one slightly larger than the other (the larger piece will fit the bottom and sides of the gratin dish, the smaller piece only the top.) Roll the larger piece of dough out to the size of the gratin dish + the sides with a slight overhang and carefully fit into the oiled dish being careful not to rip the dough.
Spread the filling inside the dough.