Saturday, April 14, 2012

Greek Feast Part 2: Spanakopitas

Spanakopitas (or Spanokopitas--I've seen it spelled both ways) are delicious, crispy phyllo turnovers filled with a savory mixture of spinach, feta cheese, onions and just enough egg to bind the filling together. They are really quite easy to make, if a bit tedious, since they are individually filled and folded. I have also seen, but never made, spanakopita pie, using the same filling but in a single large pan, with numerous layers of buttered phyllo sheets both below and covering the entire filling. It is then cut into portions to serve. For me, though, I love the "cute" factor of having individual servings, so I take the time to make the tiny triangles.

The first time I used phyllo dough, I unwrapped it and thought, "Isn't it nice that they put paper between the sheets of dough," then I realized the "paper" WAS the dough! The only possible pitfalls in this recipe are that the spinach must be absolutely dry or it will make the phyllo soggy. Pick up small handfuls of the defrosted spinach and squeeze until no more water exudes. The other thing to be aware of is that phyllo dough dries out quickly and actually shatters when dry, so cover any portions you won't be using in the next few minutes. I find the easiest way to apportion the dough is to cut the still wrapped roll of phyllo into thirds with a sharp serrated knife. Wrap two thirds of the roll in a plastic bag and seal well, pressing out all the air. Unroll the remaining third and start filling and folding. I usually use 2 sheets of phyllo for each triangle to make them a little more substantial. As soon as each triangle is filled, brush all surfaces with butter. That will keep them from drying out and ensure beautiful browning.

Serves: 6 to 8
Oven Temperature: 425°

1 small onion, diced
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 (10 oz.) pkg. chopped spinach, squeezed dry
1 egg, beaten
1/4 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/3 lb. phyllo leaves
1/2 cup butter, melted

Sauté onion in oil until tender. Stir in spinach, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in egg, cheese and pepper.

Cut phyllo leaves lengthwise into 2" wide strips (see hint above regarding apportioning the dough). Working with 1 or 2 strips at time, place one rounded teaspoon of filling at the short end of the strip closest to you. Fold the strip away from you to cover the filling so the bottom edge meets the left edge, forming a triangle. Then fold over the triangle you've just created. Continue folding the phyllo just like a flag is folded. It should end up looking like a triangularly folded flag. Place seam side down on buttered cookie sheet. Brush with butter. Repeat until all filling is used. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes or until golden.

Notes & Pointers:
These can be prepared ahead of time, and refrigerated or frozen until ready to bake. If frozen, reduce oven temperature to 375° and bake for 20 minutes or until golden. This makes a wonderful side dish to accompany Pastitsio (see my previous post) or a great appetizer on its own. Feta is one ingredient where I don't use a low fat alternative...low fat feta has absolutely no taste! In any case, feta is naturally lower in fat than most other cheeses.

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