Spanakopita was one spinach dish my kids would actually eat, even when they were young. OK, my son only ate the dough… . Still, it fed everyone at the table and that isn’t always easy to do. Speaking of easy, this really isn’t a hard dish to make. You just need to get the hang of the dough.
This recipe uses half the dough of the traditional recipes, and a lot of greens. Therefore, the finished product looks flatter than a typical spanikopita. No worries; it tastes amazing!
Before you start the recipe, these preparation tips will make your life easier:
1. Freeze the cheese. I buy a big block of domestic feta at the warehouse store, then slice it into 1/2 lb. (approximate) blocks, rewrap it, and freeze it. When I thaw it for cooking, the liquid has evaporated, leaving it a nice, crumbly texture that is perfect for this recipe. It keeps the dough from getting soggy.
If this is your first foray into spanakopita, you may not want to invest in all that cheese. Just buy 8 oz. It will work fine, even without freezing. If it is in a lot of liquid, let it drain.
2. You will need a pastry brush.
3. Take 1/2 lb. of the frozen phyllo dough out of the box and thaw it in the fridge the night before. Keep it cool until ready to use.
4. Baby greens do not need to be chopped before use. Full-size greens do.
5. When melting the butter, try to keep a bit of it soft and semi-solid. An experienced yiayia once told me that the soft butter makes a crisper dough.
6. Work quickly with the phyllo because it dries out and cracks. If you are just trying it for the first time, use a plastic wrap under a damp dish towel to cover the dough you have unrolled. This will help keep the dough pliable.
7. A glass, 9 x 13 in. baking dish works best. Glass helps the pie brown evenly.
1 lb. box frozen phyllo dough (you will use 1/2, thawed)
1 stick butter
10 oz. baby spinach or mixed power greens (see note above)
1 Tbs. dried dill, or 1 bunch fresh, chopped dill
1 bunch scallions (optional)
Salt and pepper
8 oz. feta cheese
Grated parmesan or romano cheese to sprinkle on top
In a large bowl, mix together the greens, dill and scallions. Add some salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil lightly over mixture. Set aside.
In a second, smaller bowl, crumble the feta cheese. Beat in the 5 eggs until well mixed. Set aside.
Melt the butter until about half of it is completely liquid. Use your pastry brush to butter a rectangular 9 x 13 in. pan.
Unroll the phyllo dough so that it is flat on the counter. Cover with plastic wrap, and then a damp dish towel (don’t get the dough wet) to keep the dough moist. When you develop some skill with the dough, you won’t need this covering step.
Taking 3 dough sheets at a time, lay the dough in the pan and then use the pastry brush to brush and/or drizzle the butter over the layers. Continue doing this, 2-3 sheets at a time, until you have used about 1/2 of the thawed dough.
Now, mix the egg/cheese mixture into the spinach mixture until the greens are well-coated. Then, pour the contents of the bowl over the dough in the pan.
Continue to layer and butter 2-3 sheets of the remaining half of the phyllo dough over the filling, until you have used all of the dough.
Pour any remaining melted butter over the top of the pie. Then, lightly sprinkle the top with grated cheese.
Bake at 350°F for 40-50 minutes, until top is golden.
Remove and let cool a bit before cutting and serving.
Over the years, I have discovered that you can freeze spanakopita before baking it; when you are ready to eat it, just put the frozen, prepared pie into a cold oven and then set the oven to 350°F. It may take an hour for the pie to warm through.
It is also easier to cut through the delicate baked phyllo dough with a serrated knife.
Don’t be discouraged by all of the tips and directions I’ve written in this post. Making spanakopita really isn’t difficult once you get used to working with phyllo. Practice makes perfect. Plus, you will need to hone your skills for the future, when we make baklava!
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