Wednesday, 10 February 2010

SPANAKOPITA


Spanakopita is a savoury pie, well known to Greeks and non-Greeks alike. It's made with spinach, scallions, aromatic parsley and dill, and a generous amount of the ubiquitous feta cheese. These ingredients are mixed together and are spread between layers of phyllo dough. The spanakopita is then baked, and it can be eaten hot or cold. Store it in the refrigerator for one or two days, three if you must, but keep in mind that phyllo tends to get soggy, so its storage life should be short. In most homes, this happens by default, since no one can resist sneaking to the fridge for one more piece of spanakopita.
Before we go ahead with the recipe, some words about phyllo dough. Phyllo (фύλλο), means leaf in Greek. That describes this dough perfectly: it's made up of several fragile sheets packaged together and resembling thin, transparent leaves.
  • There are two types of phyllo: store-bought and homemade.
  • The homemade type is not difficult to make. If one can bake bread, one can become accomplished at making phyllo. It takes a bit of practice and a bit of patience, but the result is worth it. Homemade has a better flavour than store bought, and it has a denser, thicker texture, which is more desirable for savoury pies.
  • The commercial variety is also very good, and very, very convenient, thus widely used. It is sold in one pound packages and is available in different thicknesses.
  • Phyllo sheets measure 18" x 14" but can be cut with kitchen shears as required to fit the recipe or pan. Phyllo can be bought fresh or frozen. Either variety is good, but make sure that you check its expiration date.
  • The thin variety of phyllo, usually labelled #4, is meant to be used for pastries such as baklava. Each 1 pound box contains approximately 24 sheets.
  • The thicker variety sometimes referred to as "country phyllo" contains about eight sheets per 1 pound box, and is more suited for savoury cheese and vegetable-filled pies.
  • If you're going to make baklava, use the #4 phyllo. If you're making spanakopita, do yourself a favour and look for the thicker variety. If your supermarket does not carry thick phyllo, visit a Greek or Middle Eastern market. There will be plenty of it there. (If in a pinch, the thinner variety can be used. Layer 8 sheets on the bottom, 4 in the middle, six on top, and don't forget to brush each sheet with oil).
  • As you are working with phyllo, keep it covered with a clean kitchen towel to keep it moist. It dries out very quickly and then becomes brittle and difficult to use. Remove one sheet at a time keeping the remainder covered.
  • Do not worry if you tear a piece of phyllo by mistake. You can patch pieces by joining them together. Use them on the bottom or middle layer of your pastry or pie so that it will not show in the final product.
  • No matter what thickness or shape you are using, each piece of phyllo must be brushed with oil or butter as it is layered. This keeps the sheets separated, giving you a fluffy and airy end product. 
Ingredients:

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well. Make sure there is very little liquid remaining in the spinach.
1/4 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1 cup of finely chopped fresh parsley
1 red onion, chopped
5 scallions, chopped
1 leek, well rinsed and chopped (use the white and light green parts)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 pound of feta cheese
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, divided
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 teaspoon pepper
1 pound package of thick phyllo pastry sheets (# 10), defrosted as per package directions if purchased frozen.
1/2 cup oil, a combination of olive and another good vegetable oil to brush the pan and phyllo 
A pastry brush

Directions:
  • In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, sauté the leeks, onions, scallions, and garlic until they soften, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. 
  • Add the spinach, stir and cook about five minutes,  stirring occasionally.
  • Transfer to a colander and set aside to drain for at least one hour.
  • Meanwhile, bring the packaged phyllo dough to room temperature.
  • Remove the spinach mixture from the colander and place in a bowl.
  • Beat the egg with a fork and add to the spinach mixture. Toss well to combine.
  • Add the dill, parsley, and pepper. Stir to combine.
  • Using a fork break the feta into chunky pieces. 
  • Add to the spinach mixture. 
  • Add the ricotta cheese and two tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese. Toss to combine. 
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. 
  • Brush the bottom and sides of a deep baking pan with oil (the pan can be round, square, or rectangular).
  • Layer 3 of the phyllo sheets on the bottom, brushing each sheet with the olive oil.
  • Spoon half the spinach mixture on top of the sheets and spread evenly. Sprinkle some of the breadcrumbs over the spinach. These will absorb any excess water.
  • Layer one phyllo leaf on top of the breadcrumbs. Brush it with oil and then sprinkle a bit of Parmesan cheese over it. Layer another phyllo leaf on top of that, and again brush with oil.
  • Spoon the rest of the spinach mixture on top, and spread evenly. Once again, sprinkle some bread crumbs over the spinach.
  • Layer the remaining phyllo sheets on top, brushing each sheet with oil. Overlapping phyllo can be trimmed with kitchen shears or folded in.
  • Brush the top of the spanakopita lightly and evenly with oil and sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan cheese.
  •  Score into serving-size squares, cutting through to the bottom. Sprinkling the top with cheese is optional, but you must brush with oil!
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool 20 minutes before serving.