Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Spanakopita (Spinach & Feta in Phyllo Pastry)



Not only have I been to Greece but I have been living in Toronto's festive Greektown for over six years now. So believe me when I say I am no stranger to Greek cuisine. There are many gems in the realm of Greek food but my favourite (arguably) is spanakopita. One of the greatest flavour pairings in the world is spinach and feta. They can be used in pasta, eggs, stuffed in meat, on pizza, casseroles and so many other things. Spanakopita is a kind of pie with shatteringly flaky phyllo pastry filled with wilted spinach and salty feta. Sometimes they are served in square slices or wrapped up in individual triangles. Either way, it is just so good.

I suppose you could technically make phyllo dough at home but it's one of those ingredients that some artisans train for years to perfect and it's very readily available from reputable purveyors. Not to mention you would need an incredible amount of counter space to make it from scratch. Don't feel like buying ready made phyllo is cheating, most chefs do it. A couple of things to keep in mind about phyllo, you must work very fast with it because it dries out quickly. You will most likely find it frozen. When you want to use it, let it thaw in the fridge the night before. When ready to use it, any thawed sheets of phyllo you are not using should be covered with a damp towel. Remember to move rapidly. You don't have to give yourself a heart attack or anything, just don't waste any time. Each layer of phyllo needs to be lightly brushed with oil before adding the next layer. This will ensure that they not only won't dry out, but will get incredibly flaky and crispy. 

Many people like to add a little fresh dill to spanakopita. I'm a little funny about dill in the sense that I'm picky about when to use it. I think it works very well in some applications but most of the time I don't particularly care for it. That's your call. I can't take it anymore, let's get started!



Ingredients

1 lb fresh spinach, chopped
5 oz (150 g) feta cheese
5 scallions, finely chopped
1 egg
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
4 sheets of phyllo pastry (possibly 2 extra, more on that in a bit)
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper


Preheat your oven to 375 F/190C. 

Start by wilting your spinach. You can do that by boiling, steaming or sautéeing it. It's up to you. Spinach only takes a couple of minutes to wilt. After which you want to drain any excess moisture from the spinach. Squeeze them between sheets of paper towel to ring out any excess water. Sautée the scallions in a pan for 2 -3 minutes then add the cooked spinach and stir for about a minute. 


   

Add the spinach to a bowl with the egg, feta, parsley and seasoning. I do recommend a little added salt but remember the feta is quite salty. Stir until thoroughly mixed.




Lightly oil a baking dish. Lay a sheet of phyllo dough over the dish and allow some to hang over one side. Then lightly brush the dough with olive oil. Lay three more sheets in alternating positions so that there is excess dough hanging from all four sides. Remember to lightly brush every sheet of pastry with oil before adding the next sheet. That's right,there should be a little oil between every layer of phyllo.





Try your best not to rip the phyllo dough. Although a few small tears here and there are not a big problem since you are making several layers anyway.





Spoon the spinach and feta mixture into the layers of pastry and spread it so that it is level. Once your filling is in place, fold the excess pastry from the sides to envelope the filling. Again, each layer of phyllo dough gets a light brushing of olive oil. 





In an ideal scenario, you will have enough excess dough to completely cover the top of the pie. This will depend on the dimensions of your phyllo sheets and the dimensions of your baking tray. As you can see from the photo above, I still had an exposed section in the middle of the spanakopita. If this happens, just take an extra couple of sheets of phyllo and lay them over the entire pie, tucking them in at the sides. Lightly brush each layer with olive oil. 



  
When complete, brush a final light layer of olive oil all over the top of the pie. Then place in the middle of your preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until the pastry takes on a beautiful, golden colour all over.




Remove the spanakopita from the oven and let it rest for at least ten minutes before cutting in to it.




Cut into desired pieces and enjoy as a snack, side dish, with a light salad, as an appetizer, hell - I've even eaten it for breakfast. 




By the way, if you have one of those circular pizza cutter blades those work best at slicing pieces of spanakopita. There you have it guys. A very simple yet very delicious Greek treat. You can have fun with this recipe. As I mentioned before you can add a tbsp of fresh dill to your filling. A little bit of fresh minced garlic sautéed with the scallions would be very nice. You could trade the scallions for the same amount of finely chopped leek. Even 2 or 3 tbsps of ricotta mixed in the filling would add a little creamy richness and act as an added binder.

Give these a try. So easy, right? When baking the spanakopita gauge its doneness more by colour than time in the oven. Half an hour is pretty standard but I made this at my friend's place and her oven is crazy hot. This only took about 12 minutes! So keep an eye on your spanakopita. Yours might take the full 30 minutes (maybe even 35), who knows!

I have another technique coming up that you won't want to miss so stay tuned.


B

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