LONDON — Recently, when I posted a picture of a homely, frozen-spinach-filled pie on my Instagram, it got a lot of love. Usually, it’s red tomatoes that get the red hearts. It was interesting, then, to think about why this simple pie struck such a “Yes, please!” chord.
There are many words I could reach for to explain this pie’s appeal, and they’d all be true. It ticks many boxes. “Versatile,” for instance, with a filling that can be easily adjusted to what may already be in your fridge. Swiss chard works well instead of (or as well as) the spinach; mint and parsley along with (or instead of) the dill; Cheddar instead of the feta, if you prefer; or even cubes of firm tofu for a vegan filling.
“Rustic,” a word often used euphemistically to mean “it may not look all that pretty or neat, but it will still taste great,” could also be reached for. “Frugal” also works, and nods to its appeal: no fancy kit or skills needed, no ingredients to go out of your way for.
You can “dress it up” with chermoula, for example, or “dress it down” with just a squeeze of lemon, to keep things simple. A puff-pastry pie shell filled with spinach and feta is “approachable” and “crowd-pleasing”; “healthy” and “hearty”; “unpretentious,” with a bit of a built-in “wow.”
But what is missing from this list of words, though, is the very thing that makes it so utterly lovable and desirable and “I need this in my life right now-able” in the first place. It, like all good dishes (and good relationships), feels like a great, cozy nurturing hug. And that’s exactly what we all need right now.
After months of not being able to hug those we love, people are, I think, looking more and more to food to provide the comfort being denied to them in their day-to-day. It was this — the hug, the comfort — that people were connecting to with the picture of my pie.
Hugs-from-the-kitchen come in many forms, I know, but so often they come in the form of a potato. Yes, the rustic, versatile, approachable, unpretentious, healthy, hearty potato is what, to my mind, saw this pie get so many likes.
The thinly sliced layer that sits top of the filling says “comfort.” It says “love”; it says “hug.” Now, more than ever — when we have, for months, been denied so much of the hugging we were used to — this is what we need and want.
When autumn has set in and the odd supper-on-the-sofa is indulged, it’s a whole potato each everyone will be reaching for: baked in a hot oven and smothered with melted cheese. For now, though, while we’re still seeing out the summer and just beginning to wonder where our slippers are, one potato is enough to give the dish its “right here, right now, hold me” feel.
Until better times, stick to hugging those in your bubble, but make this for those you’re able to share food with or deliver food to. “Deliverable” and “shareable” — another couple of words to add to the list.
Recipe: Spinach and Chermoula Pie