spanakopita

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, we’d frequently go to this Greek restaurant on South Street (back before it was basically just a mall of condom shops and fast food). As I began to lean vegetarian, I realized that spanakopita is one of my favorite foods. How much better of a combination can you get than spinach, feta, dill, and phyllo dough? It’s great for entertaining, not only because I have yet to meet someone that doesn’t like it, but also because it sits in the fridge and then bakes, giving you time to hang out with guests and not worry about the food.

I continue to make the recipe in the Joy of Cooking, though I adapt it a bit. It serves about 10 people as the main dish with a side, or about 30 people if you are serving it more traditionally as a snack food or side dish.

Also, when I made this for a potluck this week, I tried to save money by buying the fresh, unwashed spinach at the coop rather than the pre-washed spinach salad mix. Although this saved me $10, I have to say that next time, I will likely pay the extra $10 for the savings in time. I know this time of year produce tends to be dirtier, but this was a ridiculous amount of water and time.

Ingredients:
-2-3 lbs spinach, stemmed, washed, and chopped coarsely
-2 tb olive oil
-1 very large onion, diced
-5 scallions, sliced thinly into rounds
-some combination of, or only one of: 1/3 cp fresh dill, mint, and/or parsley
-5 large eggs (I would think egg replacer is your best bet if you are making a vegan version)
-8 oz feta, crumbled (or mock feta for a vegan version)
-2 tb freshly grated parmesan (or nutritional yeast for the vegan version)
-1/2 tsp salt
-several grinds of black pepper
-pinch of ground or grated nutmeg
-1 stick + 2 tb butter (or buttery stick for vegan version)
-1 lb box of phyllo dough, thawed if frozen

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat, and cook the onions and scallions until they become soft and  bit translucent. Add the spinach a handful at a time, and cook until the spinach wilts and the liquid is released into the pot, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat up to high and cook off the water while stirring the spinach. I cheated a bit a ladled out the liquid (if you want a nutritious broth, drink this!).

2. Turn off the heat and add the fresh herbs. Pour into a colander until cool, and press the spinach against the sides of the colander to get the mixture as dry as possible.

3. While the spinach cooks and cools, beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Add the (cool) spinach, feta, parmesan, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir.

4. Oil a 13 x 9 baking pan with vegetable oil.

5. Melt the butter.

6. On a clean, dry work surface, unroll the phyllo dough. Working quickly so as not to dry it out, use a sharp knife to rim off an inch from every side of the phyllo. Cover with a clean, dry dish-towel, and cover that towel with a clean, damp dishtowel. Have your butter ready with a brush, and the bowl of spinach mixture ready as well. I like to have a helper with me, lifting the towels while I try to pull off each sheet of phyllo dough without tearing it.

7. Lay one sheet of phyllo dough carefully in the baking pan, letting it come up on the sides (the extra will later be rolled over as a rim of crispy phyllo). Brush lightly with butter all over. Lay 7 more sheets down over it, one at a time, brushing with butter (and keeping the stack of unused dough covered as much as possible. Spread the spinach mixture evenly over the 8th layer of dough, and then layer 8 more sheets on top of it – again, one at a time, brushing each with butter. Remember to butter the top sheet as well! Fold over the extra phyllo dough around the border to create a little rim.

8. With a thin, sharp knife, cut the spanakopita into the desired number of pieces – but do NOT cut all the way to the bottom! You want your knife to just hit the spinach layer, or else the filling will leak all over the pan. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven the 375 degrees F.

9. Bake the spanakopita for about 45 minutes, until it is crisp and golden. Let stand out of the oven for a few minutes, and then use a knife to cut the pieces down to the bottom of the pan and serve.

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