Sunday, October 25, 2009


We all have that one certain meal that makes us shuffle our feet and bob our heads in utter happiness. We instantly feel safe and comforted -- no matter what might be going on in our grown-up lives. For me, it's Spinach Pie, or Spanakopita, if you happen to find yourself in Greece. I would eat dozens of "pitas" every summer at my grandparents' home on Long Island. In their tiny kitchen, we would set up a factory line-like production. One of us would man the phyllo dough, both keeping it from drying and ever-so gently handing over one sheet at a time to the next person in the assembly line. That person, would be in charge of painting melted butter across sheet after sheet like an abstract painter,(a kid's job, no doubt!). Then came the job of spooning out the filling, (usually my grandmother), and carefully rolling the dough into tight bite-sized triangles. It's because of this hands-on family tradition that I am not only well-trained at making my own, but it also has a special place in my heart, a rare moment with generations of women in one kitchen at the same time. (Grandma is still with us, at 94 years young!)

This is a fairly labor-intensive project, so when the mood strikes me, I go for it. I'll make about a dozen and a half, so I will freeze what I don't immediately eat for a later time. If you have never worked with phyllo dough before, it's a fantastic vessel for both savory and sweet recipes. It is, however, a pain to work with, so be prepared to loose a few sheets from either drying out, or tearing. The best way to keep phyllo as your friend, is to roll it out and keep it covered with a barely damp tea towel. (If you towel is too wet, it will ruin the very thin sheets of dough and make them gooey and un-usable). Phyllo dough must be layered sheet upon sheet, (about 5 sheets), in order to be strong enough to hold up to whatever you might be filling inside. Between each layer, paint with a pastry brush, either melted butter or olive oil. You don't have to saturate each layer, but do get all the sides and a majority of each sheet should be moist.

Makes about one and a half dozen pitas

2 lbs spinach, washed
1 yellow onion, diced
drizzle of olive oil
about 3/4 lbs feta cheese
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
juice from 1 lemon
1 package of PHYLLO DOUGH, thawed. (usually in frozen dessert section)
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted. (or about 1/2 cup of olive oil)

Preheat oven to 375
In a large pot, saute spinach and the drain very well, pressing out any extra liquid.
In a medium saute pan, heat oil and saute diced onion until transparent.
Once spinach and onions are cool, combine in a large bowl, along with parsley, feta, pine nuts, nutmeg, salt and pepper and lemon juice. Taste this and alter any seasonings.

To Assemble:

Make sure phyllo has completely thawed out if frozen.
Unwrap phyllo and lay out flat. Cover with a barely damp tea towel, keep covered through out this process.
Find a clean working space (I use a large cutting board). Start with one layer at a time. Lay first layer down and working with a pastry brush, paint butter over sheet, not soaking, but relatively coated.
Place second sheet on top of buttered sheet and repeat 5 times, keeping the last layer dry -
If you find that your phyllo is tearing, you can patch it by over-lapping each little torn piece and using the melted butter or oil to seal the places where you have improvised.

Cut 3 even strips down the sheets, about 2.5 inches apart. You will have 4 columns.

At the top of each column, drop about 2 tbls spinach mixture and begin to roll each column into a triangle (see below). Paint a little extra butter over the triangle and seal up any unsealed edges.

Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 25 minutes. Serve hot.

Note: These can be made vegan by replacing butter with olive oil and firm tofu replaces feta.

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