Spanakopita: The triangulation of feta, phyllo and spinach.January 15, 2007
Ah, the magic of finger foods.
Spanakopita is one of my favorites. Why? First, because it harnesses the luscious combination of spinach and feta. Those two kids were just made for each other. Second, because it deploys that tastiest of all store-bought pastries: phyllo dough. Who doesn’t succumb to the siren song of layers of buttery, crispy, paper-thin dough?
Better still, spanakopita is a crowd pleaser — ready to pulled out for any occasion where utensils are optional. Not only is it tasty, but those little Greek triangles look fairly impressive stacked up on your hors d’oerves table. Guests from carnivore to vegeterian will love the tang of feta meets spinach, and appreciate the subtle buttery crunch of the phyllo dough… the papery remnants of which they’ll lick, satisfied, off their lips.
I personally devour spanakopita, so it’s a good thing that it’s also so easy to make. Once you get your production line going, those little phyllo triangles will stack up like cars in DC traffic. Long a staple of my family’s party gatherings, my husband has turned his mad culinary skills to these little phyllo devils… with typical outstanding results. So, if you have a gathering where finger foods are the order of the day, try adding spanikopita to your lineup. Your tummy, and your guests’ tummies, will thank you.
Ah, nothing like spinach pie. Yes, spinach pie is what I said. Apparently, and I have to rely on others because I don’t speak Greek, spanakopita literally translates as ‘spinach pie.’ So spinach pie, or spanakopita for the hip kids, will be our first in the series of hors d’oeuvres we will be doing over the next week and a half.
This is a perfect dish to start this series. To me, it’s the quintessential showy, but easy, hors d’oeuvre. First, it carries out the most important task, tasting good. Second, it has a delicacy that and style that most people are impressed by when you serve them, yet there isn’t much to the dish. Once you have spinach, feta, and phyllo (or filo) and you are 99% of the way there. And when you do get there, the results are terrific.
The only warning I can give is be patient with the phyllo. Phyllo is a paper thin pastry dough that you can find in the freezer section of your supermarket. The sheets are so thin that they come apart fairly easily, dry out quickly and don’t respond well to being manhandled. If you work delicately around the dough, you’ll be fine. Also, if you have a tear in the sheet, don’t worry. This is why its important to layer the sheets. People won’t notice if you add an extra layer. Just be patient and you’ll be quick to master it.
Finally, I want to give credit where credit is due. This recipe is mine, but I first had this dish and learned to make it from my wife and her family. As excellent and frequent party hosts, I likely had my first experience with spanakopita while helping my wife cook for a Christmas party. I’m confident that it’s because of them I don’t fear the phyllo and love me some spinach pie.
Yield: 24 servings
16-20 sheets phyllo dough
¼ cup butter (melted)
1 1/2 cup fresh spinach
1/4 lbs feta
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. pepper
silicon mat or parchment paper
1. Remove phyllo dough from freezer or follow package instruction. This may take as long as 2 hours on the counter so be sure to check the instructions on the box.
2. Preheat the oven to 400F.
3. In a food processor, add the spinach and process for 10 seconds or until the leaves are well chopped. Add the onion (chopped into chunks to make it easier to process) and whole garlic cloves. Process again for about 5 seconds or until the onion and garlic are small pieces. Now add the remaining ingredients for the filling and pulse three times for 1 second or until all of the ingredients are integrated. Set aside the mixture.
NOTE: At this point you can stop if you are doing prep work for a party. The remaining steps need to be done in order to prevent the dough from getting too wet. But this is a perfectly good time to stop. It should take about 15-20 min prep time before these go into the oven after this. If you do stop, be sure to drain off all the extra moisture the salt has brought out of the spinach before you continue.
4. Carefully unroll the phyllo dough. It’s delicate. You want to unravel it, so the sheets are laid out and easy to get to. Take one sheet and lay it out on a wide open surface. Next, you want to take your pastry brush and melted butter and light brush the sheet. Once this is done, lay down another sheet over top of it. Repeat until you have 3-4 sheets down. This basting with butter creates the crispness and layers that make this dish such a treat.
NOTE: You may want to get a lightly damp towel to cover the other sheets of phyllo dough while you are working. The dough dries out very easily. Do not use a wet towel though as it will stick to the towel.
5. Now its time to cut the sheet. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, slice so you have 2-3 inch wide strips. These trips should follow the shorter width of the phyllo dough to make something that is approximately 2’’ x 12’’.
6. Rolling up the filling. Dab about a tablespoon of filling on one of the far sides of the dough strips. Fold over one of the corners and cover the filling to make a triangle. Push the triangle over. If you are from the US, this is sort of like folding up and American flag. You can become fairly quick once you get the rhythm. When you get to the end, you can cut off the excess from the strip or butter the edge and fold over.
7. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. You will likely need two cookie sheets to use this whole recipe. They can be relatively close together, they don’t need a great deal of room to bake.
8. Brush the tops again with a bit of melted butter. Place in the oven for 20 min or until golden brown. Let cool for about 5 min. Serve warm. Enjoy!