Happy Easter everyone! This week I intended to share with you another Easter recipe. But I’m still adjusting the recipe to get it “just right” (just how I want it to be), so it will have to wait a test or two more. Instead I’m bringing you today a recipe that I hope will make up for it!
I learnt this from a greek mama, so no doubt it’s authentic…Not only authentic, but delicious! She taught me how to make both filling and dough, a puff-pastry-like dough, though achieved through a completely different technique than usual. Her technique for layering her phyllo required stretching the basic dough with a long and thin, perfectly straight wooden rolling pin (until I bought one in Turkey, named “oklava” there, I managed perfectly well with a wooden broom’s handle!) into a very thin and large rectangle. Then, before being given a book fold, half was brushed with a mixture of softened butter and corn oil. This buttering and folding was repeated (the more foldings, the better) until left with a small rectangle that was left to rest in the fridge overnight. Then, it was stretched as required by the recipe.
As you can probably tell, it’s quite labour-intensive and it may just put you off trying this delicious dish. So, I’ve adapted it using commercial phyllo pastry, fairly easy to find, that also gives excellent results. The resulting spanakopita is super crunchy (though it has a has a less crumbly and buttery feel than the original) with a moist interior. Nevertheless, if you like that phyllo crunch, you won’t be disappointed with this tasty spinach and greek feta pie with a touch of dill! Plus, you can choose to make small “spanakopitakia” instead (or as well!) Kali orexi!
For a 25x25cm baking tray *
1 package of phyllo sheets (~500g but most importantly: at least 20 sheets)*I’ve used here a metal tray, but I personally like the results better in a pyrex glass one. I think the bottom get’s crunchier.
~45g unsalted butter
~30g mild flavour olive oil/corn oil/canola oil or any other neutral oil
600g of fresh spinach
1 spring onion (white only) or onion
40g extra virgin olive oil + extra for oiling the tray and the pie before baking
250g feta cheese (you could a bit more according to your taste)
~1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh dill (you could omit it if you dislike dill, but to me it makes a big difference! Linguini doesn’t like dill, but in this dish he doesn’t notice it’s distinct flavour, it just blends in perfectly!
Begin by preparing your filling, as it will have to cool before using it in the pie.
Sauté, in about 4 batches, the spinach in a wok or large pan over medium heat, each time with a drop of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place each batch of spinach to fill up your wok or saucepan, cover it and give it a minute or so until the spinach is reduced to a ridiculous amount and the stems feel very soft to the touch (or bite!).
As each is ready, place in a strainer (big enough to fit all the cooked spinach) over a bowl or in the sink.
When all your spinach is ready and in your strainer, press very well to get rid of all the excess water (so it doesn’t make our phyllo soggy!). There will be a lot! so make sure you get rid of as much as possible.
While the spinach is cooking, chop up the onion or spring onions in a fine brunoise and fry over very low heat in the 40g of olive oil until very soft and lightly coloured.
Chop up the fresh dill finely (if you haven’t got fresh which I prefer, you could use a teaspoon of dried instead) and add to your onion.
When the spinach has been squeezed out, chop it up roughly and also add it to the fried onion and dill, season lightly with salt (as feta will impart some salty notes) and freshly milled black pepper and cook it for just 1 minute or so so it takes in the flavours.
Take off the heat, add in the feta, crumbled with your fingers into small pieces and remove onto a bowl and set aside to cool down.
When coolish, beat in the egg into the mix.
Time to prepare the phyllo sheets. Get ready a clean kitchen towel and dampen it with water. You will use it to cover the phyllo as you work, as they are soo thin, they dry out very quickly! Also, I like to cut a piece of wax paper, about 10 cm bigger than the size of your tray on each side, to use it as a work surface to brush each sheet and then transfer them onto the tray easily.
Get you butter ready. If you’ve planned ahead and left it at room temperature (which I often don’t bother…ehem) so it’s soft, perfect. If not, just place it in a bowl in the microwave on about half it’s full power, I use 400 watts, and warm with 30 second intervals until you see it’s soft, but not melted. It’s actually not a problem that it melts, in fact phyllo for other recipes as baklava is often brushed with melted butter. But I like it this way I was taught, as you use up less butter and the result feels lighter. Keeping it soft allows you to add oil to the right consistency. So, when soft, add the neutral oil you’ve got to make a “brushable” mix.
Take your phyllo sheets out of the package and unfold them and count the number of sheets. Half you will use for the bottom layer and half for the top. Like I said, I would advice to use for best results 10 for each layer. If however, you have less than 20, it is more important that you have closer to 10 in the bottom than the top, as in the bottom the first layers will soak up still some of filling. So, will less than 10 it’s likely you won’t get a crunchy bottom. Immediately, cover with the damp towel.
You can cheat if you have less sheets using up leftover cuts after sizing the sheets for each layer. Let me explain the layers first…
Put all your sheets together into two piles, as tidily as possible. Measure your tray (if different from mine (you could use a square one with the same area). The bottom layer should be about 5 cm larger than the size of the pan from each side, so cut half of the sheets that large. The bottom with be exactly the size of the pan, so cut accordingly the other half. Now put the bottom pile over the top, as you’ll start with those…and cover with your damp towel! (this is important until the sheets are buttered, then no risk or drying and crumbling!).
Like I said, you can cheat and use left-over pieces of the cut-out layers to make up one sheet. Just put 2 or 3 portions of cut-offs together to make up another sheet, which you will use half-way through whichever layer you want to add it to. You won’t even notice it!
Also, I’ll show you later to use up left-over cut-offs to make spanakopitakia (small triangular mini pies).Let’s get on…
Place your first sheet of phyllo for the bottom layer on your wax-paper…and cover the rest! With a pastry brush ( I actually bought a pure hair wider one, which works much faster, in a hardware store. Much cheaper, much better!) brush lightly your sheet with the butter+oil mix. Start with all the sides, as they dry faster!
Then, carefully lift up your next sheet and place it over that one. It’s not so easy if you want them to fit exactly one over the other, try to grab it from halfway it’s width and place the bottom sides together first (they will stick immediately, from the butter). Then just start letting go as you slide your hands toward the top (do I make sense?)…It’s purely a matter of practice!
Do all your sheets of the bottom layer the same way. When you’ve finished adding the last, pour a generous spoonful or a bit more of olive oil on the tray and coat all the bottom and sides with it. Then lift up you layer, it will hold nicely together and place in the tray as well centered as possible and press in lightly to fit the shape.
It’s a good time to preheat your oven to 200ºC (fan-assisted)…
Now, do the top layer the same way. when ready, fill up the pie with the spinach and feta mix, distributing it well amongst the bottom.
Place your top layer and fold in the overhanging phyllo from the bottom layer. Fold it in half along it’s length, and again in half and press against the flat top. Again, pour a generous tablespoon of olive oil and distributer over the surface.
Now it’s important to pre-cut the top layer into the serving portions you would like, as when it is baked, it will be so crispy that if it’s not previously cut, it will just break apart and won’t look as neat!
Now into the oven (200ºC, fan-assisted) for about 30 minutes! You will notice how shiny and golden brown it is!
Lift it up slightly just to check that the bottom is also golden. Doneeeee. Sooo yummy!
To keep, just leave out of the fridge. It stays ok for well over 4 days! When you want to eat a portion, if it’s gone softer, don’t worry! Preheat your oven to 180ºC, place in your pie and in about 5 minutes, it will be like just made!!!Really!!
see how wonderful the folded up sides are?
If you prefer to make spanakopitakia instead of your big pie, or you’d rather make a smaller one and use some filling and phyllo cut-offs to make these…Here’s how.
Depending on the size you want, decide the width of the sheet, which is what determines it. The length is like the number of sheets in a layer for a big pie. The longer, the more times sheets surrounding the filling. I think 8 or 10 cm x 30 cm is a good size. But, don’t be afraid to try which is your favourite portion size!
On the wax-paper we were using before put one sheet (8x30cm) brush it with butter and place another one over it. On the bottom corner place a spoonful of filling (the amount depends on the size, obviously. But, for best results try to be generous to fill up well the triangle that encases it!
The first two turns are crucial to get it right (to get the corners tight and well closed and the right shape). Fold the bottom left triangular corner over the filling and press lightly to distribute the filling holding it in by tightening the right side with another finger.
Now brush the rest of the sheet surface with the soft butter mix, so it will hold together as you turn it onto itself.
Turn it again sealing well top side and folding tightly to keep the left corner well closed.
Then, just keep folding tightening around the corners…
Finally , cut extra off to finish off the triangle.
I don’t want to bore you, but for those interested, you can also cheat if you haven’t got long enough sheets…take a look:
Once you’ve folded in the “cheat” no problem!
Rub with some olive oil and like the spanakopita, bake in a 200ºC preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes…
And you get beautiful spanakopitakia!
You could decorate them with poppy or sesame seeds (black or white), just sprinkling over the top. But, why bother? the taste is what matters…and it needs no more, believe me!
So, there you go, choose which you prefer to try…Spanakopita or spanakopitakia. Both fantastic!
Crispy outside with a super moist and tasty filling!