Ionian Wild Weed and Native Asparagus Macaroni Cheese

Recipe from Nino Zoccali's cookbook The Venetian Republic


Pastitsio is a classic baked pasta dish in Greece, usually comprising pennette

or macaroni, minced meat and béchamel sauce. This is a fantastic vegetarian

version, which also draws on key elements from another Greek favourite –

wild weed pie. I’ve omitted pastitsio’s béchamel and replaced the meat with a

range of bright and wonderful wild greens, including the indigenous horta,

vlita and native asparagus. Feel free to use as many greens as you like, with

chard, spinach and green asparagus making great substitutes.





Ionian Wild Weed and Native Asparagus Macaroni Cheese


SERVES 6

PREP TIME 15 minutes

COOKING TIME 1 hour 30 minutes


125 g (4½ oz) dried pennette pasta

150 ml (generous ½ cup) extra virgin olive oil

200 g (7 oz) wild weeds

– any combination of Greek horta greens, Greek vlita (amaranth), spinach, beetroot

leaves, kale, any chard or silver beet, roughly chopped

200 g (7 oz) native asparagus, roughly chopped (or regular green asparagus)

1 large leek, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

225 g (8 oz) Greek feta cheese, crumbled

225 g (8 oz) Graviera or Kefalograviera cheese,

finely grated

225 g (8 oz) fresh ricotta cheese

Pinch of nutmeg

4 filo pastry sheets

40 g (1½ oz) butter, melted

25 g (scant ¼ cup) sesame seeds

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).


Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pennette pasta until just tender. Drain, toss in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.


Wash the wild weed vegetables and asparagus in cold water.


Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan over low heat, add the leek and garlic and cook for 5–10 minutes until the leek has completely softened. Add the wild weeds and asparagus and cook until the leafy greens have wilted and the asparagus softened. Season with sea salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for another 5 minutes. (Be careful with the seasoning as the cheeses added later will add lots of salt to the dish.)


Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the feta, Graviera or Kefalograviera

cheese, ricotta and nutmeg and stir well. Mix in the cooked pennette. Adjust the seasoning if required and spoon into a medium-sized (24 cm x 32 cm/9½ inch x 12½ inch) baking dish, lightly greased with olive oil.


Brush each sheet of filo on both sides with melted butter. Lay the filo sheets on top of the wild weed and asparagus mixture and sprinkle with sesame seeds.


Bake for 55 minutes, or until golden.




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