Friday, June 26, 2009

Food Friday: Spanakopitas

For today's Food Friday, I'm whipping out the big guns. Exhibit A:

Oh baby. That makes my mouth water just looking at it. And I was prepared. I can't imagine what it's doing to you right now.

The Spanakopita. (Pronounced with the emphasis on "KO". Like this. Me and my southern self have been pronouncing it "spanakoPEEta for years. I have recently corrected this.) Yummy greens, cheese, and spices all wrapped up inside warm, flaky, goodness.

Mmm... spinach.

When I say "big guns" I mean it. I know you thought I was going soft on you, what with my "faux" Food Fridays full of summery drinks and what-not. But seriously, no messing around this Friday. Because this is a serious recipe. It takes commitment. It takes ambition. It takes time. But I promise you, it is so worth it.

Fresh dill. I just love fresh dill.

Justyn's mom showed me how to make these long, long ago. Since then, I've learned anytime your mother-in-law teaches you a recipe, you should take notes and pay close attention. You see, this is Justyn's favorite food. In the world. Bar none. I didn't know that when she taught me how to make them. (See? I told you, you should listen to your MIL.)

Parsley. I use flat-leaf, but you can go curly if you want. They're your spanakopitas.

It took me a long time to build up the cooking confidence and gumption to make these all by myself. But you can do it, I promise. Turn on your favorite music, and spend awhile in the kitchen. Know you will be rewarded in the end.

Green onions. The dark horse.

I mean, look at this lineup, folks! Spinach? Cheese? Dill? Flaky, buttery filo dough? Fuhgeddaboudit. Plus you sort of get to play with your food while you're making them, and nothing's more fun than that.

Feta cheese. This recipe is nothing without the cheese.

These are really great to take to a party, or if you're having people come stay at your house and you want to have some snacks for people. Or, if you're like Justyn, you'll eat them anytime, anywhere, for any meal. Spanakopitas are a perfectly acceptable meal for him, in lieu of breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

So, a couple of things I should explain to you before I let you loose with this beloved recipe. First, make sure you squeeze the water out of the spinach really well. I know it's a pain in the rear, but do it. Wrap it in a towel and ring it out, or push it through a strainer, whatever floats your boat. Just make sure you really try to get all the water out.

Also, don't be afraid of filo dough. Just be careful with it, treat it kind of like tissue paper, and you'll be fine. Respect the dough, and it will respect you. And, work sort of quickly on the assembly. It can dry out and get really brittle if it sits in the open air too long. Don't feel like you have to be Speedy Gonzales, just don't lolligag either.

A word on the assembly. Remember making paper footballs when you were a kid? Remember how you always got in trouble for flicking them across the room in class, and your teacher said what a waste of time it was and that you should be paying attention? Well, I need you to dig deep into the recesses of your memory, because you're going to fold these puppies just like you would fold a paper football. And if you ever see that teacher again you can tell her to stuff it! And be careful not to use too much filling. I almost always use too much so they all bust open in the oven. So just watch yourself. I mean, they still taste awesome either way, but you want them to be pretty, don't you?

You'll lay your filo dough out, and use a pizza cutter or a really sharp knife to slice it in half lengthwise. Then you'll place a spoonful of the spinach and cheese mixture into one corner, and start folding it like this:

And just keep folding it all the way down until you have a whole cookie sheet of paper football spanakopitas:

This recipe made 24 spanakopitas for me, and I used too much filling, so it probably should have made more. That's quite a few spanakopitas, so if they're just for 2 or 3 people, I would suggest halving the recipe.

2 pounds fresh spinach (I use baby spinach because it's easier to deal with)
1 medium onion, minced
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup scallions, chopped
3 cups feta cheese
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped, or 2 tsp dried dill
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
pinch black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 pound pkg filo dough
olive oil for brushing filo (quite a bit of it, actually... don't skimp on the oil)

1. Preheat oven to 375
2. Wash spinach well, remove any tough stems and steam in the water that clings to its leaves. Drain and squeeze out excess moisture. Chop finely and set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl combine onions, scallions, feta, and spices then mix in chopped spinach.
To assemble:
1. Carefully unroll the filo. Lay the stack of pastry sheets flat on a work counter, and cover completely with wax paper. Place a large cutting board or clean surface next to the filo and place a single layer of filo on the board. Lightly brush with olive oil. Place two more sheets on top of the first, brushing each lightly with oil and covering the stack of filo with a damp towel each time a sheet is removed.
2. Cut through the three layers lengthwise with a sharp knife or pizza cutter to produce two long strips.
3. Spoon about 1/2 cup spinach filling onto lower left-hand corner of one of the strips. Fold corner upward toward right-hand edge to form a triangle, encasing the filling. Continue to roll flag-style (or paper-football style, if you're me) to the end of the strip until you have a triangle-shaped spanakopita. Brush the outside lightly with olive oil and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Continue to roll pastries until filling is used.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
NOTE: If you have left-overs and want to store them, keep them in open air, not stacked on top of one another. They only keep for about 2 days after baking.

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