Spanakopita from a Greek Cooking Vacation
As one of the iconic dishes of Greek cuisine, most people have seen, and even tried, spanakopita at some point in their lives. This tasty savory pie is served at weddings, parties, and banquets throughout the world, and it’s easy to see why: they are delicious, easy to prepare as a hand-hand pie, and able to prepared ahead of time, as they tasty eaten either hot or at room temperature.
Spanakopita literally means “spinach pie,” coming from the words for spinach (spanáki) and pie (pita). This type of pie is common throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and has been served in Greece for thousands of years! In other parts of the region this type of pastry is referred to as a börek or burek, meaning a pie, usually savory, made with the thin, unleavened sheets of dough we (and the Greeks) call filo or phyllo, and what the Turks call yufka. And yes, it is also the dough used for making baklava!
Spanakopita, besides spinach of course, usually includes feta or another type of cheese in the filling, and often onions and fresh herbs as well. The phyllo sheets are layered with oil or butter, then filled, and finally baked til they are golden and crunchy.
I know it’s easy to head to the local supermarket to find these ready made in the freezer section, but why not make them for yourself? If you buy the phyllo pre-made (which I strongly recommend), it’s actually a quick and very satisfying dish to prepare.
I use frozen spinach as well. It’s not only easier, I find I can extract more of the water from the spinach before adding it to the filling.
There are a lot of shapes you can use. Here we include instructions for a classic triangle shape, as well as instructions for a large casserole-type pie at the end. I’ve also seen recipes that simply roll up the filling like a big cigar – but I’ve not tried that one myself (yet!).
Spanakopita (Greek Spinach and Cheese Pies)
Serves 20 (2 each)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cook method: Bake
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped
- 2 pounds frozen chopped spinach, thawed
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill dill
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1 pound frozen phtllo pastry, thawed according to package instructions
- Salt and pepper
1. First, prepare the filing. We use frozen spinach. Make sure it is thawed and VERY well drained, with the excess water squeezed out. Sauté the green onions in a bit of olive oil for 3-4 minutes, then add the spinach. Set aside to cool a bit. Add the herbs, feta, and eggs, and salt and pepper to taste.
2. Take the phyllo sheets and place them in a stack on a cutting board, then cut the stack into strips about 2 inches wide. Set the phyllo aside between two slightly damp towels to keep it from drying out.
3. Take the first strip Place about 1 Tbsp of filling on the end, then fold it over to make a triangle shape. Keep folding the pie over on itself, as you would when folding a flag. Add a touch of oil to the end to “glue” it together. Keep repeating this process until the strips are used up.
4. Brush the pies lightly with oil and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Don’t have the time to make individual pies? You can also make one large spanakopita. To do this, do not cut the phyllo into strips. Instead, brush a 9 x 13 baking dish with oil, then line with 2 layers of whole phyllo. Brush the top layer with oil, then add 2 more layers. Repeat this a few times, until you have about 8-10 layers of phyllo on the bottom. Spread the filling evenly in the middle, then top with additional layers of phyllo, brushing with oil between every 2 layers (the top layer should be about 6-8 layers, and I usually cut them in half). Brush the top layer with oil, then “score” the pie to make serving easier. To do this, simply use a sharp knife to cut square or rectangle servings through the top layer only. (You can also use the same knife to trim off any excess around the edges if you want a cleaner presentation, or fold the edges over the top piece of phyllo). Bake for about 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees.
Enjoy hot or at room temperature.
By Peg Kern
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