How To Make A Delicious Spanakopita Pastry
In many Mediterranean countries, Spanakopita pastry is a delicious and nutritious treat. It has also in recent times become easier to make with the advent of frozen Filo dough available at many fine grocery stores nationwide. There are many variations as to the filling, but taking a hint from my great grandmother Anne, and professional chefs, I like the addition of fresh herbs and scallions or chives as well as a mixture of cheeses. The ancient Romans, and other Middle Eastern empires made use of Feta served with herbs and crusty bread as staples in their diets usually doused with liberal amounts of olive oil. In this variation, I have added a bit of fresh whole Ricotta cheese, and grated aged Parmesan in addition to the Feta. Oil, salt and other spices were prized and still are throughout the Orient, especially in the extremely hot climates where preservation of food was very necessary. The golden flaky Filo pasty, which used to have to be rolled and made by hand seals in the juicy flavorfulness of the Spinach Herb and Cheese filling.
Spanakopita is excellent as an appetizer or main course. It can be cut in triangles, or squares. Much like a Lasagna or other one dish main course, different sized appetites can be satisfied with ease. Spanakopita pairs well with a rice pilaf, or Greek style potatoes and vegetables or a fresh salad. Let your imagination run free!
Eight to ten sheets of frozen thawed Filo dough
Two pounds baby spinach
One bunch of scallions tops only
One large white onion minced
Two cloves garlic minced
Once cup crumbled Feta
1/4 cup whole milk Ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Two jumbo egg yolks beaten
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
1/2 cup melted butter
Herbs: 2 Tablespoons minced dill, 2 Tablespoons minced fresh oregano, 2 Tablespoons Fresh Basil, One cup minced flat leaf parsley
Spices: 1 teaspoon white pepper, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1) Melt the 1/2 a cup of butter and mix with the majority of the oil. Brush a 9x9 baking dish with a bit of the melted butter/oil mixture. Keep thawed filo dough moist and covered by a towel at all times, removing sheets one at a time. Layer the bottom of the pan with two sheets of the filo making sure the dough overlaps the edge of the pan. Brush both with butter and keep covered with a towel or plastic wrap.
2) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Wash and dry your baby spinach. Sautee with a bit of the oil, minced garlic and onion for three to four minutes. Make sure the spinach is still bright green and only slightly wilted. Transfer to a bowl and add the spices: pepper, salt, sweet paprika, and nutmeg. Also mix in the minced scallion, and the chopped herbs including the parsley.
3) In a separate bowl, mix the beaten egg yolks with the three types of cheeses until as smooth and uniform as possible. Fold the mixture throroughly in with the spinach and herb mixture. Spoon in a few tablespoons of the butter/oil.
4) Place half the mixture in to the pan and spread with a spatula smooth. Cover with another two buttered sheets of the filo. Spread the remaining half of the filling over these two sheets and top with four painted sheets. Roll the remaining sheets on the outside of the pan together and tuck into the pan to create a sealed "pie crust". Poke the top a few times with a fork to vent.
5) Bake at 350 F for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve promptly with rice or potato and a vegetable such as green beans in tomato sauce.
World Cuisine Today 1/7/2017 Sarah J Hall