The quintessential Greek pie: Spanakopita with homemade phyllo
Spanakopita; the King (or Queen) of Greek cuisine. We doubt that there is a food more loved than this. Regardless of culinary and cultural background, and whether or not you grew up in a Greek household, you have probably heard of spanakopita. The lucky amongst us will have also tasted it, and the most fortunate know how to make it on their own, so that it can be enjoyed whenever the craving hits. Spanakopita is the reason Greek parents can’t relate to other parents when they say “You know how kids are! We have to puree and sneak vegetables into everything…Jack and Jill won’t touch anything green! Kids, right?!” Wrong. We think Jack and Jill just need to be offered a piece of spanakopita.
There are probably as many versions of spanakopita as there are Greek men named George, and we bet each one is amazing (the spanakopitas and the Georges). There are probably an equally large number of recipes for phyllo (filo). If you have never made spanakopita or phyllo before, we suggest you give this recipe a try, and stick to it as closely as possible. Then, as you become more confident in your spanakopita skills, you can experiment. A little swiss chard here, a little less dill there, and before you know it…you will have your own twist on this class Greek dish.
This recipe makes a VERY large pita; the pan that our parents use for this particular recipe is 18 inches round. We contemplated cutting the recipe in half, realizing that many of you may not make a pita this large, but we decided against doing so, for a few reasons. First, the pictures that we took showcase this enormous pan. Second, making phyllo and the spinach filling is not necessarily difficult…but it does take time. If you’re going to invest in making spanakopita, we say…go big, or go home (actually, we never say that…we don’t even know what that means. Can’t home be big?) Third, this recipe gives you options. You can choose to follow the recipe below and make 2 or three smaller pitas. You can then decide to freeze what you don’t bake for a future time. Finally, you can divide or quarter the recipe yourselves. As this is not baking, the worry about making sure that your reduced amounts are exact is less important than if you were making a cake, for example.
The amount of fresh spinach that we list in the recipe is an approximation; essentially you want to end up with close to 8 cups of tightly packed spinach, cooked. If you have a little bit more, or a little bit less, don’t worry about it too much. This represents a LOT of uncooked spinach, probably more spinach than you have ever purchased at any given time. Just think of how impressed the cashier at the market will be.
The spinach and herbs used in this recipe are quickly blanched prior to being mixed with the rest of the filling ingredients. It is important to allow the blanched greens to drain and to squeeze out as much water as possible. If your filling is too watery, your phyllo will get soggy.
Using the freshest ingredients is always the right thing to do. Whenever our parents make pita in the summer, they use vegetables from their garden; in this case lots and lots of spinach, along with the fresh onions and herbs. The wonderful thing about having such fresh vegetables is that you can freeze them so you can enjoy a taste of summer, even in the middle of winter. In order to freeze the greens, simply blanch and drain them as described in the recipe and then freeze them in tightly packed freezer bags.
Of course, if you want spanakopita but don’t want to make your own phyllo, you can follow our recipe for spanakopitakia which are made with store bought phyllo. These are delicious too!
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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NOTE: You can easily halve the recipe below for the filling and dough; using a 3 quart pyrex pan
- 64 ounces fresh spinach, chopped
- 8 green onions, chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped dill
- 1/4 cup chopped mint
- 4 large eggs
- 1 ½ cups grated feta, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
For the phyllo dough:
- 6 ½ cups all-purpose flour (plus another 1/4 cup if needed)
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup milk
- olive oil for brushing on top of pita, and for greasing the bottom of your pan
- Prepare the filling for the pita. Wash your greens well (spinach, green onions and herbs) and plunge them into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain and set aside to cool. When the greens are cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible. It is often helpful to use a piece of cheesecloth or fine tulle to do this. Otherwise, you can simply use your hands. Removing as much water as possible is very important.
- Place your greens in a large bowl and add 1 cup of grated feta, 4 beaten eggs, the olive oil, bread crumbs, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Set aside while you prepare your filo.
- In a large bowl sift the flour and add in the water, olive oil, red wine vinegar, beaten eggs, and milk. Knead well until your dough comes together; this will take several minutes. You may need to add a bit more flour so that your dough is malleable but not too stiff.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Divide your dough in half and begin to roll out one of the halves 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 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 1/2 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 some 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.