This week we are exploring the cuisine of Greece, and that means I get to try my hand at one of my favorite foods: Spanakopita! Spanakopita is a savory pastry with a phyllo dough crust and a spinach-cheese (typically feta, or feta and a mix of white salted cheeses) filling. It can be cooked as one large pie or as several small triangular pouches (boureki) and is often served as an appetizer.
Phyllo is often intimidating to your average home cook, and fear of complicated recipes often means that some delicious dishes are limited to those times when we can get out to a restaurant that serves them. Fear of working with Phyllo, along with the fact that Greek foods are not something I grew up eating at home (and therefore am utterly unfamiliar with any of the processes involved in cooking them), kept me from trying my hand at recipes like this. If you would love to have spanakopita at home but have been putting it off, take it from me: you CAN do it! It wasn't even that painful. Everything they say about phyllo being a pain in the ass to work with is true; I won't lie. But it wasn't a HARD process, and it was fairly forgiving. Give it a try, and you just might end up with something delicious. Come with me as I walk you through it; I'll even hold your hand if you want.
I started by trying to pick a recipe from my good friend The Internet. There are a lot of recipes out there, and a lot of cooking blogs (so if you're reading our little blog here, thanks!), as I'm sure you know. With some recipes I find something that sounds delicious and I go with it; with others, I pick and choose until I have something that sounds good to me. That's what I did with this one. Some of the recipes I found had things I liked that others didn't, and some had things I thought would be better left out. The basics were all the same; spinach, feta, egg, salt, pepper. It was little things, like different cheeses and spices, that I tweaked. The recipe I used is at the end. Here is the basic process I followed:
The night before, if your phyllo dough is frozen, MAKE SURE YOU THAW IT IN THE FRIDGE. You won't be able to work with frozen phyllo dough, you'll just frustrate the hell out of yourself.
I would suggest thawing your spinach the night before too. I put mine in the fridge the morning of baking, thinking spinach would thaw out pretty quickly... and it didn't. It was pretty much still frozen solid, to the point that even running it under cold water didn't work very well, and I ended up having to defrost it in the microwave and drain it and use paper towels to soak up as much of the liquid as possible. Save yourself the trouble! Make sure you give it plenty of time to thaw!
Heat a medium saute pan (or skillet, which is what I used) over medium heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Chop your onion (I did a medium dice) and add the chopped onion. Cook it for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally (mine was decently browned when I was done). While the onion is cooking, slice up your green onions. After the five minutes have passed, add the green onions and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool.
Mix the spinach, feta, dill, parsley, green onions, eggs, parmesan, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl. The order doesn't really matter, but I like to start with the eggs because I have this paranoia about getting a rotten one and having all my ingredients be lost if I add them first and then accidentally add a rotten egg to the mix. This has never HAPPENED to me so I'm not sure why I worry about it, but I do! At any rate, this made a goodly amount of filling; we had a very thick spanakopita. Next time I will probably cut back the amount of spinach I use a little, and use more feta. I like a cheesier filling! I also would add a little more dill and a tad bit more salt. I went very light on the salt because the cheese is salty, but it could have used more. Overall it was tasty, don't get me wrong! But I feel it could be improved nonetheless. Still very happy with it though; ate it again today, lol.
the filling mixture
Brush the bottom of an 8x8 inch baking pan with olive oil. As you can see, I used a much larger dish. (My dish was also not very accommodating to the rectangular pieces of phyllo dough, but I managed!)
Place a sheet of phyllo dough in the pan and brush the top with olive oil. You may have to cut (or rip, as is the case with my laziness) the phyllo dough to fit the pan, and it's OK to run it up the sides so you have a nice crust! I also alternated the direction for each layer. The phyllo was so surprisingly soft and pliant, but VERY thin so it did not stretch. It did, however, do a marvelous job of not sticking to itself and of going exactly where I wanted it. I had a little trouble getting the olive oil up the sides of my pan, which meant I had trouble getting the phyllo to stick to the sides. But that is more a function of the pan I used as well as the crappy pastry brush I have, and is not the phyllo dough's fault. I wouldn't have minded this layer being a little thicker - we had a LOT of filling and not much crust. It was tasty though. So the recipe calls for repeating this step until you have 6 layers. I don't think a few more would hurt.
the assembled bottom layer
Place the spinach mixture on top of the phyllo dough.
filled with all things that are good
Place a sheet of phyllo dough on the spinach and brush the top with olive oil. Repeat until you have 6 layers. As with the bottom layer, I would probably use a couple more sheets. But I like a bit more crust, and like I said, the filling was very thick (and delicious!). I tucked all the corners in around the top of the pie so they wouldn't burn, and I made sure there was a decent coat of olive oil on the top of the spanakopita before popping it into the oven. Please note that while this was not HARD (sometimes a bit of a pain but not difficult), it IS time consuming, so give yourself plenty of time to get the phyllo right and not feel rushed for time.
topped and ready to go in the oven!
I had the oven preheating at 350 while I was working on assembling the spanakopita. Ours took easily over an hour to cook, though I started checking it at short intervals after half an hour. It was easily twice as large as the recipe called for so I knew it would take longer but I didn't want it to burn. Even leaving it in for an hour, it was still only slightly golden brown on top, and another ten minutes didn't hurt at all.
baked and out of the oven! Note a few of the other dishes I'll be talking about this week surrounding it. Yum!
The end result was incredibly delicious. As I mentioned at various points above, I might tweak it a little bit in the future but if this was the only spanakopita I ever got to eat, I'd be pretty darn happy with it. Our guests all seemed to enjoy it too, and they even ate it cold for lunch the next day and proclaimed it equally delicious. My husband and I had it warmed for dinner the next day (reheated in the oven to maintain crispness) and it was still good. I even added a little tzatziki sauce (recipe coming in a future post) with the leftovers and it was pretty tasty.
the finished plated product, there on the right, surrounded by other delicious Greek foods!
I am really looking forward to trying this again, one day when it's ALL I'm making, and trying to make it in the little boureki pockets. I would love this to be surrounded by more flaky pastry crusty goodness, because who wouldn't love that? mmmm!
Our recipe is as follows (note that for the pan I used, I doubled this. I was feeding two families AND I wanted leftovers. Which I have in abundance!):
Delicious Dorson Spanakopita Pie
2 pounds frozen chopped spinach (thawed and well-drained (press out additional moisture))
1.5 cup feta (crumbled)
1/4 cup FRESH dill (chopped)
1 bunch green onions (sliced)
3 eggs (lightly beaten)
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil (I didn't measure, and I used it pretty liberally)
(roughly 15 sheets)
1. Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the scallions and cook for another 2 minutes until the scallions are wilted but still green.
2. Mix the spinach, feta, dill, parsley, green onions, eggs, parmesan, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
3. Brush the bottom of an 8x8 inch baking pan with olive oil.
4. Place a sheet of phyllo dough in the pan and brush the top with olive oil. (You may have to cut the phyllo dough to fit the pan, and it's OK to run it up the sides so you have a nice crust!) Repeat until you have 6 layers.
5. Place the spinach mixture on top of the phyllo dough.
6. Place a sheet of phyllo dough on the spinach and brush the top with olive oil. Repeat until you have 6 layers.
7. Bake in a preheated 350F oven until golden brown on top, about 30-50 minutes.
I am participating in the Global Cook Along project, where we try recipes from around the world. We focus on one region's cuisine each week. We try to do ours as one big potluck-style meal each week, but other people are doing one meal a night, a week, whatever works for them! To learn more, see additional recipes, or to participate yourself, check out our livejournal community and / or our facebook group!
with love from K-Pidge :)