You’ve planned a dinner at home for a new love interest. The date is set, you’re already relishing the menu you’ve devised, and you give a call just to check whether the candidate is violently allergic to anything you’re planning to cook. And then you find out that not only do you have a vegetarian on your hands but a vegan — someone who not only doesn’t eat meat but also eats no dairy, eggs, or fish. What do you do? Cook this! The crazy thing is, it’s really, really delicious. I make it all the time, even when no vegans are coming over. Serve it with a salad, and it’s dinner. You can assemble it ahead and refrigerate, then bake.–Ted Allen
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Remove the filo from the freezer and thaw at room temperature for 1 hour.
Trim off both ends of the squash. Cut it in half crosswise, where the neck joins the rounded body. Working with the neck end, peel off the tough skin with a vegetable peeler (or stand it on end and cut off the skin with a large knife). Cut into 3-inch chunks. Cut the rounded end in half, scoop out and discard the seeds. Peel with a vegetable peeler or a knife and cut into 3-inch chunks.
Put the squash chunks, onions slices, and red pepper halves on a baking sheet so that the vegetables are in a single layer. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 3 tablespoons of the oil. Toss to coat the vegetables with the oil. Roast for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables once with a spatula. Remove the pepper halves and turn everything again. Roast for 10 more minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned. Dump the squash into a large bowl. Quarter the onion slices and cut the pepper into 1-inch cubes; dump them both into the bowl. Sprinkle the vegetables with the ginger, cumin, cinnamon, cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the pepper. Add the raisins and toss gently; set aside.
Turn the oven temperature down to 375°F (190°C). Put the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, shaking the pan twice for even cooking, until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and chop; dump them into the bowl with the vegetables and stir gently.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil with the garlic in a large frying pan over a medium flame. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes to flavor the oil. Add about one third of the spinach and cook, turning it in the oil with tongs until wilted, about 1 minute. Add more spinach and cook, turning as before, and then add the remaining spinach. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until all the spinach is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes total.
To assemble the pie, have ready a 9-X-13-inch baking dish and a pastry brush. Pour 1/3 cup olive oil into a small bowl. Set that on a work area with the filo and the vegetables. Open the package of thawed filo and unroll the pastry sheets so that they lie flat. Brush the baking dish with olive oil. Arrange the dish so that one long side faces you. Starting at the left edge of the dish, lay one sheet of filo in the dish crosswise so that it covers about half of the bottom, and half of the sheet hangs over the side facing you. Brush the part that covers the bottom with olive oil. Now lay a second sheet along the right-hand side of the dish, overlapping the first sheet in the middle of the dish and overhanging the side facing you. Brush with olive oil. Repeat with two more sheets, but this time, arrange them in the dish so that they overhang the other long side of the dish (at the top). Continue in the same way until you’ve used fourteen sheets of filo. As you’re working, you’ll come across some sheets of pastry that stick together and rip. Discard them if you need to — you have more sheets than you need.
Line the bottom of the dish with about half of the spinach, using your hands to open up the leaves and spread them out. Spoon the squash mixture on top and gently flatten with the spoon. Cover with the rest of the spinach. Still working with one long side of the dish facing you, fold one of the filo sheets over the filling and brush with oil. Fold the sheet next to it over and brush with oil. Do the same for the two sheets on the opposing side of the dish. Continue in this way until all of the filo is folded over the filling.
Then cover with two more sheets of filo, brushing each with more oil. (You may run out of oil. That’s fine, just pour more into the dish.)
Put the baking dish in the oven and bake until the pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving, or let cool to room temperature. Warm the tomato sauce over medium heat. Cut the pie into squares and serve with the tomato sauce.
The first time I made this, I thought the recipe used an excess of oil. I made it again as a dish for Thanksgiving and used about half of the oil called for in the recipe and the result was excellent. I love the filling in this recipe. The most delectable feature of is the sweet and seductive way the roasted vegetables came together with the spinach, hint of ginger, earthy spices, chewy raisins, and crunchy walnuts. The baked phyllo lends a flaky, crisp encasing that contrasts with the tender filling for a dish that leaves you wanting more. A nice side dish or a filling entrée.
Fear of phyllo? Don’t let that stop you from trying this recipe, which is a winner. The pie is packed with super-healthy vegetables whose deep, natural flavors come out in roasting. The final taste of the dish is enhanced with a balanced combination of sweet and spicy seasonings: ginger and cumin add a delicious heat to the sweeter touch of cinnamon and raisins. Walnuts provide a pleasing crunch as well. The tomato sauce, in my opinion, is optional. One thing was certain: no need to worry about leftovers.
A couple of tips to help the phyllo-shy cook: Working with phyllo can be tricky; don’t be a perfectionist. One thing that helps is to lay a piece of parchment paper on top of the flat sheets of dough, then put a lightly dampened kitchen towel on top of that. Keep the sheets covered this way as you work on assembling the pie; this prevents the paper-thin phyllo from drying. If you get a “bad” package of dough, with sheets already stuck together—or if you tear the sheets, which is easy to do—just proceed the best you can. I have on many occasions had to just make a patchwork of dough under and on top of the filling. It may not look as pretty, but it tastes just as good.