The February Daring Cooks‘ Challenge was hosted by Audax of Audax Artifex. The challenge brought us to Greece with a delicious, flaky spanakopita – a spinach pie in a phyllo pastry shell.
Oh Greek food, how I love thee! I think the fact that Italians and Greeks share a sea and lots of history, has made us very similar. We use the same herbs and our flavours are very much the same. Whenever I eat Greek food, I feel “at home”. And that too, without having ever been to Greece. In fact, this is one of my biggest regrets. Despite being so close to me, when I was living in Italy I never visited Greece and now it’s so far away! But I will fill this gap one day and I hope to eat a delicious slice of Spanakopita while overlooking our beloved Mediterranean sea! So, back to today’s recipe. Yes, you guessed it right. Today I am sharing with you the recipe for Spanakopita. I had never made this incredibly tasty spinach pie before, but our Daring Cooks’ host, Audax, says he got this authentic recipe from his neighbour – Mrs Maria. A few things make this Spanakopita special: the use of four kinds of onions to add sweetness and counter the acidity of the spinach, the use of very little feta (and no other cheese!) and the fact that the filling ingredients are not cooked. Apparently, this is the traditional method of making Spanakopita! The result is a very fresh and satisfying spinach pie. I also like the use of phyllo pastry, as it adds a nice crunch to the pie!
So, tell me… what is your favourite Greek dish and have you ever been to Greece?
- 1 kg – 2 lbs. spinach, fresh (or thawed frozen)
- 375 gms – 13 oz. chilled phyllo pastry sheets, (or thawed frozen phyllo sheets (I had a few sheets left in the end)
- 300 gms – 2 cups Greek feta cheese, crumbled
- 30 gms – 1 oz. dill, finely chopped
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 2-3 shallot onions, chopped
- 1 bunch spring (green/eshallots) onions, white and pale green parts chopped
- 1 large leek, white part chopped
- Optional crushed garlic clove (only use one)
- One half nutmeg, freshly grated (optional but highly recommended)
- 1 to 2 large eggs
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large handful breadcrumbs (or cous cous, cracked wheat) to absorb excess liquid
- 120 ml – ½ cup softened butter or olive oil (or a combination) for the phyllo sheets
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to moderately hot 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5
- Wash the spinach and dry them thoroughly, discard the tough stems, chop the leaves and place them into a large bowl. (If using thawed chopped frozen spinach just place into a large bowl).
- Add the chopped onions, chopped leek, finely chopped dill, four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the crumbled feta cheese and the optional garlic and nutmeg.
- Using your hands vigorously massage the filling ingredients until the mixture loses about half to three-quarters its original volume.
- Over a bowl or a large plate squeeze large handfuls of the mixture till they feel dry. Continue until you have done all of the filling mixture, and you have collected all the excess liquid.
- Cover the excess liquid with enough breadcrumbs, couscous or cracked wheat to
- absorb the liquid. The breadcrumbs should be moist.
- Return the moisture-laden breadcrumbs back into the filling mixture.
- Add an egg (or two depending on how dry the mixture is) and mix well using your hands.
- Taste, season with some salt (careful feta contains lots of salt) and plenty of pepper. Keep aside.
- Butter (or oil spray) the baking dish.
- Cut the phyllo sheets to the correct shape for your baking dish and cover the cut sheets with the damp tea towel until needed.
- Butter (or oil) every second sheet, cover the base and sides of your baking dish making sure that the sheets overhang the edges of the baking dish. Use about ten “thin-style” phyllo sheets or about six “thicker-style” phyllo sheets for the base and sides
- Spoon the filling into the phyllo pastry case and fold the overhanging sheets over the filling.
- Use four to six more “thicker-style” phyllo sheets or about eight “thin-style” phyllo sheets to cover the top, butter each layer and the top. Use a spoon or similar to neaten the edges of the pastry case.
- Cut into slices before baking. (At this stage you can freeze the unbaked spanakopita to be baked for later, add 30 mins extra to baking time.)
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until done (the exact time will depend on the depth of your baking dish). Cover with foil if over-browning. Check for doneness by using a thin knife: insert it into the spanakopita for 30 seconds, the filling should feel set and the knife should feel hot to the touch.
- Let it cool for 30 minutes. It can be eaten hot or cold.
You can freeze the unbaked spanakopita to be baked for later, add 30 minutes extra to the above baking time.