Unfolding Success

I have cooked many things in my 60 plus years and rarely shy away from a challenge except one: phyllo dough.  I’m not sure why, after all what’s the worst that can happen; you throw the whole thing out! No harm, no foul, just a lesson learned.  I confess that I absolutely love the look of a freshly made Spanakopita (spinach and feta pie), so this time rather than stepping away from the challenge, I embraced it.  I researched recipes and combined the elements of a few into something that suited my desire for a savory, salty rendition.

I realized straight away that I had a choice of two fundamental approaches. The first one was to decide on whether or not to use fresh or frozen spinach.  Being a vegetable farmer, I opted for fresh.  Next was whether to use butter or olive oil to coat the phyllo sheets.  I stayed with the Greek tradition of olive oil.  There were a few minor considerations such as herb choices: I used dill and mint) how many eggs and how much cheese.  These were decided using my usual sensibilities: gut instinct.  The result was beautiful and I have a new and unleashed appreciation for phyllo dough.

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INGREDIENTS:

FILLING

  • 20 ounces fresh curly leaf spinach, stemmed
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 5 scallions, sliced thin using both white and green areas)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh mint
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Zest from one lemon, plus 1 tablespoon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of both salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash of cayenne pepper

PHYLLO LAYERS

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • One box of 14 x 9 phyllo dough, thawed
  • 3/4 cup Pecorino cheese, finely grated
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds

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FOR THE FILLING:

  1. Fill your kitchen sink with water and submerge the spinach to wash it.  Pick it up by handfuls or tongs and place it in a large skillet having sides and a lid, with as much water clinging to it as possible.  It will be a mound, but it cooks down quickly.  Place your lid on the pan to way down the spinach and set burner to med-high heat.  The lid with cover the pan as the water on the leaves steams the spinach.  This takes about 4 minutes.
  2. Place a colander over a large bowl.  Remove the steamed spinach with tongs to the colander and with a silicone spatula press as much liquid out of the spinach as possible.  Then place the spinach in a kitchen towel and wring out any additional liquid.
  3. Transfer spinach to a cutting board and chop coarse.  Stir spinach with remaining filling ingredients, until thoroughly combined.  Set aside.

FOR THE PHYLLO LAYERS:

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the area where you will place the phyllo sheets with oil.  Layer one phyllo sheet on parchment paper (while keeping the rest of the phyllo covered with a damp kitchen towel).  Repeat with 9 more layers, brushing each layer with oil.  You will have a total of 10 layers of phyllo.
  2. Spread spinach mixture evenly on phyllo, leaving 1/4 inch border on all sides.  Place a phyllo sheet on spinach mixture and oil it.  Next sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the Pecorino.  Repeat this 5 times until you have six sheets.  Lay two more sheets, brushing each one with oil.  (these sheets will not have Pecorino sprinkled on them).
  3. Gently press on the pie to remove any air pockets.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Using a sharp knife, score spanakopita through the top 4 layers of phyllo into 8, 9 or 12 pieces.
  4. Bake until phyllo is golden and crisp, about 25-30 minutes.  Let spanakopita cool for 15 minutes or up to 2 hours.  Slide spanakopita with parchment onto cutting board or platter, then carefully slide spanakopita off parchment.  Cut pieces along scored squares and serve.

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“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”  –Julia Child

 

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