Home made phyllo dough filled with spinach, herbs and feta
Summer is almost over! How can that be?! As always, the months when school is out, the days are at their longest, and the sun smiles down warmly, pass all too quickly. We try to hold on to the season by enjoying every moment left and by looking back at our June picnics, July getaways and August pool parties and barbecues, recognizing that although quick, our summer was blessedly full.
Current summer reminiscence leads us to think back to the summers of our childhood; how wonderfully different they were. If a trip to Greece wasn’t planned, then July meant our extended family’s exodus to the Cape. Cape Cod was an important travel destination for Greeks in Montreal; close enough, affordable enough, and warm enough to satisfy the need to just get away from it all…except your family. These trips were not meant to escape your family, because they all came with you.
Long before GPS, we headed out in a convoy of station wagons and vans, with the person who knew the route best, or who could, at the very least, decipher a map and the quick-spoken English of American gas station attendants should we get lost, driving in the lead. Our caravan of parents, aunts and uncles meant that us kids had options and we would use every pit-stop as an opportunity to switch up the cars were were travelling in. We tended to argue over who would ride in our uncle’s van; with only a bench up front there was enough space in the curtained off back for a double mattress. You haven’t lived until you’ve played Twister on a mattress in a moving car.
Entertainment didn’t come in the form of screens and electronic gadgets. We had playing cards and small games and books and our imaginations. That’s really all there was room for because trunk space was limited and used for suitcases, fishing rods, inflatable rowboats and accompanying oars, and coolers. The coolers were by far the most important cargo and each vehicle had at least two. One was empty and held nothing more than the hope that it would be filled with freshly caught fish on our return trip. The other was packed to the very top with food, in case anyone got hungry, or we needed to feed a small nation. Dolmades, keftedakia, mortadella sandwiches, feta wrapped in wax paper and then tin foil, tyropites and spanakopites, were pretty standard fare. There would also be a non-refrigerated carrier of koulourakia, bread, olives and more koulourakia.
Heading to the border our parents (or whichever aunt or uncle we happened to be driving with at the time) would tell us to close our eyes and pretend that we were sleeping, thinking that the nice border patrol agents would hesitate before waking children from their slumber. Whether or not this was true, or our car load of passengers simply didn’t look too threatening, customs was usually passed without incident. This was lucky because if they had decided to check our stuff, they would have found the empty garbage bags and sharp knives; necessary in case we passed a field of green that looked like a prime horta picking area but possibly a little hard to explain.
Spanakopita, like the one made with this recipe, was a staple road trip snack, ensuring that we maintained our stamina and health during the long and arduous 6 hour
drive trek to Cape Cod. It is, in fact, similar to another spanakopita recipe we have posted (which you can find here), but different enough that we figured it warrants its own post. Plus, it allowed us to use our Cape Cod memories as a segue to this recipe.
On rolling phyllo:
Rolling the phyllo dough is a bit of an art, and takes a bit of practice. We were lucky to have our parents guiding us, helping us and teaching us as we learned. Here are a few key tips that they taught us. First, it is important to have a large surface to work on, and that it should be lightly dusted in flour. Also important is to dust your rolling pin with a bit of flour as well. Then, starting with a ball of dough, which you flatten into a disc shape, begin to roll it out using your rolling pin. Soon after it is rolled out a little bit, begin to roll the dough out only in one direction, meaning do not use a back and forth rolling motion; instead, place your rolling pin at one end of the dough, roll the pin away from you, lift your rolling pin and return it to the starting place, and repeat. Do this type of motion in various directions until your phyllo begins to get thinner and to expand. See video here. Another trick that our parents have taught us is to roll the phyllo so that it wraps around the rolling pin. See video here. Using your hands, spread it so that you pull it gently towards either end of the rolling pin, and then carefully unroll the phyllo. When it comes time to place your phyllo onto your baking pan, do the same thing; wrap the phyllo around the rolling pin and transfer it that way to the baking pan. You can also watch the IGTV video here, of the master at work. Unroll it when you are over the pan, and carefully lay it into place.
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Spanakopita no. 2 (Σπανακόπιτα no. 2)
For the phyllo
- 6 1/2 to 6 3/4 cups sifted all purpose flour approximately
- 2 cups warm water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
For the filling
- 1 cup fresh mint, chopped
- 2 cups fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 cup white part of fresh onions, chopped (from 5 large fresh onions)
- 2 cups green part of fresh onions, chopped (from 5 large fresh onions)
- 1450 grams fresh spinach approx. 51 ounces
- 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup bread crumbs
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 300 grams Greek feta, crumbled
- 2 tbsp olive oil for the pan and brushing top of spanakopita
To prepare the phyllo
- Place your flour in a large mixing bowl.
- In a smaller mixing bowl combine the warm water, 1/4 cup vegetable oil and salt. Mix well until the salt is dissolved. Pour into the bowl containing the flour.
- To the flour mixture add the eggs and milk.
- Using your hands, mix the ingredients well, and when the dough comes together, begin to knead it. Your dough should be soft, almost pillow-y, and not sticky. Add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time if you find that the dough is too sticky.
- Knead your dough for approximately 5 minutes and then add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Knead again until oil is incorporated into the dough. Cover and let it rest at room temperature for approximately 30 – 40 minutes.
To prepare the filling
- Wash your spinach and chop it up into small pieces; the stems should be chopped finer than the leaves.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and when the water is boiling add the spinach, mint, parsley and onions. Stir quickly and remove from heat. Immediately drain the greens in a colander and rinse them with cold water. Then, transfer the greens to a bowl, fill the bowl with very cold water and let the greens soak for at least 5 – 10 minutes.
- Using your hands grab handfuls of greens and squeeze out the water. Transfer the squeezed greens to a colander. Once you have squeezed out the water the first time, repeat. You may have to do this step several times; the goal is to remove as much water as possible. You can also use cheesecloth, a clean kitchen towel or a piece of tuile to help you squeeze out the water.
- Once your greens are as dry as possible, transfer them to a bowl and add the salt, pepper, eggs, olive oil and breadcrumbs. Mix well with a fork and add approximately 2/3 of the crumbled cheese. Mix again.
To assemble the pita
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Divide your dough in half and begin to roll it out with a rolling pin. (See detailed hints in the post.) Your phyllo should end up being thin enough that you can almost see through it, but not so thin that it tears.
- Grease the bottom of your pan with some olive oil and place your dough into your pan, being sure that it overlaps the sides. Pour the filling into your pan, on top of your phyllo. Crumble the remaining 1/3 cup of feta over the spinach filling.
- Take the remaining phyllo dough and roll it out so that it is large enough to cover the top of your pan. Press down gently so that the phyllo dough sits directly on the spinach, and crimp the edges so that the top and bottom layers of phyllo are pressed together.
- Cut off any excess phyllo around the edge of the pan.
- Using a sharp paring knife, score the top layer of phyllo in a diagonal pattern in order to mark the serving size pieces you will cut when your spanakopita is done. Brush the top of the phyllo dough with the remaining olive oil.
- Place in the middle rack of your oven and bake for 60 minutes, or until your phyllo is a nice golden brown colour.
- Cool, and then cut into pieces using the scoring as a guide.Enjoy.