Simple Spanakopita

Forgive me for what I have done to your recipe, Noni.

SpanikopitaNoni is a woman who used to be our neighbor – she and her family moved down to North Carolina when I was still a kid, but fortunately for me – she and my mom have kept in touch over the years, exchanging many recipes along the way.

Both Noni and her husband are Greek and – thanks to their rich heritage – I have some really great memories of eating at all kinds of amazingly exotic, yet somewhat familiar food at their house. Greek cuisine has some similarities to Lebanese – and both have a special place in my heart stomach.

Here’s a good example of a parallel that exists: Greeks have bakalava, which is a perfectly delicious pastry featuring phyllo dough, chopped walnuts and honey. My people have baklawi (bet-LAY-wee), which is essentially the same as baklava – except – we swap in orange blossom water for the honey. I could tell you that the orange blossom water makes for a slightly more delicious dessert, but I wouldn’t want to start an online war when I would be completely content eating either one of these desserts everyday…forever and always. Amen.

To me, spanakopita is like the savory version of baklava/baklawi because it uses wafer thin phyllo dough and a delicious filling to create something as addicting as dessert. Go ahead…you try and eat just one diamond…then tell me I’m wrong.

Noni’s recipe is super traditional and I’m not sure if this is fact or fiction, but I heard somewhere along the way that Noni makes her own phyllo dough. I am not Noni…I am lazy. Let’s class it up though and call this recipe “simple” instead 🙂SpinachTake the spinach, for example. If we were to follow Noni’s recipe word for word, we’d be wilting fresh spinach, which requires salt sprinkling and massaging the leaves by hand until they soften.

Who’s got time for that!?

Be like me and use thawed frozen spinach. Sure, you’ll have to do some squeezing to get all the excess liquid out, but this only takes a minute and the tiniest bit of elbow grease.

Greens

Then, wash and prep a boatload of fresh herbs. I’m not using dried herbs – and I am not allowing you to use them either. We’re cutting corners in pretty much every other area of this recipe except this one.

I bet Noni’s pretty proud of me right about now.

You’ll end up having extra parsley and dill, but you can dehydrate both by spreading the leaves out on a cookie sheet or two and placing everything in the oven for an hour or so on the lowest temperature. Then, you can store your dried herbs with the rest of your spices for future use.

Feta

Place your squeezed-out spinach and all your herbs in a big bowl. Crumble a pound of feta cheese and add it to your big bowl of green.

I have a confession to make: I used domestic feta because it’s less expensive than imported.

All that pride Noni had? Out the window. I am shaming her left and right.

Eggs

Crack five eggs into the bowl and breathe easy when you realize there’s nothing blasphemous about this ingredient. Phew!

Bowl1

Bowl2Here’s where having a big bowl comes in handy – mixing everything together will be a heck of a lot easier. Otherwise, you’ll end up with some of this stuff on your work surface. If that does happen – it’s no big deal – just don’t snack on the shrapnel and be sure to wipe up afterward. Remember…there are raw eggs up in there.

Layers

While Noni would still be wilting her fresh spinach or making her fresh phyllo right about now, we’re actually ready to assemble our spanakopita! Start by layering single sheets of phyllo dough in a large baking dish, spraying or misting with olive oil in between each and every delicate sheet.

EVOO

Oh, that’s right – I almost forgot, which is funny since it’s like the cardinal sin I commit when making Noni’s spanakopita. Instead of painstakingly brushing each sheet of phyllo with olive oil, I use cooking spray to get the job done in half the time with none of the mess. I know this trick also cuts a ton of fat and calories, but I honestly am more concerned with not having my kitchen feel like a slip and slide long after this tray of spanakopita is a distant memory.

Layers2

Slap down and spread out half of your spinach mixture evenly across your phyllo. You’ll repeat this phyllo/spinach layering process a couple times, but I only photographed it once because I think you can use your imagination…or if you can’t, simply scroll up and down to toggle between the two pics so we can all be on the same page.

Before

After you’ve topped your spanakopita with a final layer of phyllo, you going to score it with a sharp knife. If you have almost-OCD like me, take your time and try to keep the lines as straight and parallel as you can. Or, if you don’t – just score the spanakopita as sloppy as you like and realize it’s still going to taste really, really good regardless of how your lines look.

Simple Spanakopita

adapted from a family friend, Noni
Serves: 12
Prep Time: 30-40 minutes
Bake Time:
60-70 minutes

Ingredients:
2 lbs. frozen spinach, thawed
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
5 eggs
1 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb. phyllo dough, thawed in the fridge overnight
Olive oil cooking spray

Directions:
About an hour before you’re ready to work, take the phyllo out of the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature.

Squeeze all the excess liquid out of your spinach by wrapping it in a dish towel or a couple layers of paper towels. It may be easiest to do this one pound at a time. There will be a lot of liquid, so when you think you’re done squeezing – squeeze some more!

In a large bowl, mix the spinach with the scallions, parsley, dill, eggs, feta and olive oil until everything is combined. Lay a sheet of phyllo dough down in a 9×13-inch pan and spray well with olive oil. Repeat layering and spraying until you have 8 sheets of phyllo. Spread 1/2 of your spinach mixture evenly across your phyllo. Lay down 4 more oiled sheets of phyllo on top and then spread the remaining spinach mixture on top. Finish with the rest of your phyllo dough, always spraying with olive oil in between.

Score the spanakopita by cutting criss-cross diagonal lines from one side of your pan to the other. Sprinkle with a little water and bake in a preheated oven at 375° for 60 minutes or until the top is a lovely golden brown.

After

Ahhh, yes…that’s exactly what you want…this spanakopita is almost too pretty to eat.

Bite

What?! I said almost.

ChowDown

Busted…big time…but least I’m a lady about it. Look at that little pinky!

Thanks to my cousin, Shannon, for snapping this shot of me eating the spanakopita I was supposed to be photographing 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Simple Spanakopita

  1. Erica Wilkinson January 9, 2013 at 11:35 am Reply

    So happy I found you! My happiest food memories revolve around my Lebanese family feasts.

    • Brie January 9, 2013 at 11:40 am Reply

      Well, I’m happy to have you here! Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

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