Phyllo pastry is so much fun. I really like its crunchy texture and how it can go both savory and sweet. I also think it makes for a beautiful presentation. I had some phyllo pastry left over from making cabbage strudel for Nora Ephron. I toyed with the idea of making a sweet potato and cream cheese filling, something inspired by a pastry I tried at a Korean bakeshop, to make into sweet phyllo triangles but the pull to make something savory was stronger. I landed on a spanakopita recipe while browsing online.
Spanakopita is a Greek spinach pie. I’ve never had it before, let alone make it, but it sounded yummy and I love Greek food! I quartered the recipe above, changed it a little bit based on the ingredients I had on hand and added a couple that I thought would make it interesting. I ended up using:
About 20 sheets of phyllo pastry
About 1/2 lb. spinach
About 3 T olive oil plus about 1/4 cup for brushing on phyllo pastry
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
About 1/3 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup roasted almonds
1 t cinnamon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Wash the spinach thoroughly and trim so you’re left with just the leaves and the tender parts of the stem. Set aside. Chop the onion and leek, mince the garlic. Heat a pan on medium heat and sautee the onions, leeks and garlic in olive oil until the onions are translucent.
2. Add in the spinach and cook until it wilts and there are no more juices in the pan. I know, it looks like a TON of spinach but it will cook down to like, nothing. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper going easy on the salt – feta cheese will be added to this later and feta cheese is quite salty. Set aside to cool when done.
3. While the spinach mixture was cooling, I lightly greased my baking pan with olive oil and got started on layering the phyllo pastry brushing each layer with more olive oil. I decided to layer them in such a way that I had enough of it hanging on the sides and I could fold them over to cover the top. Like a blanket. Like tucking in a spinach baby.
4. Once the spinach was cool enough, I chopped it up roughly and transferred it to a medium bowl. I mixed in some crumbled feta cheese, an egg and some chopped up roasted almonds thinking the crunch would be a nice textural addition. I tried to speed things up too since phyllo pastry dries out pretty fast.
5. I transferred the spinach filing on to my baking pan and spread it evenly. In the last minute, I had the urge to dash the thing with cinnamon. Coz that’s very Greek, isn’t it?
Do I wish I mixed the cinnamon in to my spinach filling? A resounding yes but I’ll live.
6. I folded over the hanging phyllo pastry and brushed the top with olive oil. FYI, there was quite a bit of tearing while I was handling my phyllo pastry but brushing with olive oil hides a multitude of sins. Score the top into individual serving sizes making sure not to cut through to the pastry on the bottom. Bake in an oven preheated to 190 C/375 F for 40-45 minutes.
And opa! Let the pie cool for about 15 minutes.
Isn’t it purrrtty? Let’s take a look inside.
Hmm. I was really happy until I dug in. The flaky phyllo pastry, well-seasoned spinach, the crunch and nuttiness of roasted almonds and a hit of cinnamon… It wasn’t bad or anything but I felt like it was missing something. Something soft and gooey and rich. Something sexy. Like a generous amount of ricotta maybe? My spanakopita felt like a pretty, perfectly sensible but frigid girl.
The good news is that I still have some phyllo pastry left over in my fridge. Looks like sweet potato and cream cheese is a go.
Fun Food Fact: Sorry, Popeye! Although spinach is rich in vitamins and minerals, its high iron content is a myth. Read the story here.