The February Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Audax of Audax Artifex. The challenge brought us to Greece with a delicious, flaky spanakopita – a spinach pie in a phyllo pastry shell.
This recipe initially sounded daunting but it’s actually pretty straight forwards. I made a few adaptations – I used a soft French goat cheese instead of feta, used pumpkin seed oil instead of olive oil, and precooked my onion & fresh spinach mix before baking. I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to phyllo, but had lots of fun tearing and manipulating the paper thin dough. The end result looked effortlessly professional, I was really proud of myself! Thank you Audax for a delicious February challenge.
Preparing spinach 15 mins
Preparing onions 15 mins
Preparing phyllo pastry shell 15 mins
Baking spanakopita 30mins-1 hour depending on depth of baking dish
One pair of clean hands, ready to work!
Large mixing bowl
Two or three median mixing bowls
Knives for chopping spinach, onions and herbs
Scissors to cut phyllo sheets (if baking dish is an odd shape)
pastry brush to butter/oil the phyllo sheets
Baking dish (about 8 cups (2 quarts) in volume)
6- 8 Servings
2-3 very large bunches (1 kg) (about 2 pounds) fresh (or thawed frozen) spinach
1 packet (375 gm) (13 oz) chilled phyllo (phillo) pastry sheets, (or thawed frozen phyllo sheets), I used half the packet for this recipe, about 12 “thicker-style” sheets or about 20 “thin-style” sheets
2 cups (300 gm) (about 10 oz) good quality feta cheese, crumbled
1 bunch (30 gm) (1 oz) dill, soft stems and fronds finely chopped
1 red (Spanish) onion, chopped
2-3 shallot onions, chopped
1 bunch spring (green) (eshallots) onions, white and pale green parts chopped
1 large leek, well washed, white part chopped
Optional crushed garlic clove (only use one)
One half nutmeg, freshly grated (optional but highly recommended)
1 to 2 large eggs
4 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil
large handful breadcrumbs (or cous cous, cracked wheat) to absorb excess liquid
½ cup (120 ml) softened butter or olive oil (or a combination) for the phyllo sheets
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5
2. Wash the spinach and dry thoroughly, discard the tough stems, chop or tear the leaves into pieces, place into a large bowl. (If using thawed chopped frozen spinach just place into a large bowl).
3. Add the chopped onions, chopped leek, finely chopped dill, four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the crumbled feta cheese and the optional garlic and nutmeg.
4. Using your hands vigorously massage the filling ingredients until the mixture loses about half to three-quarters its original volume.
5. Over a bowl or a large plate squeeze large handfuls of the mixture till they feel dry, continue until you have done all of the filling mixture, and you have collected all the excess liquid.
6. Cover the excess liquid with enough breadcrumbs, cous cous or cracked wheat (or similar) to absorb the liquid. The breadcrumbs should be moist. I used ¾ cup of cous cous and it took about 5 mins to absorb nearly all of the liquid.
7. Return the moisture-laden breadcrumbs back into the filling mixture.
8. Add an egg (or two depending on how dry the mixture is) and mix well using your hands. Taste, season with some salt (careful feta contains lots of salt) and plenty of pepper. Set aside. The filling can be stored in the fridge for a day or two if well covered.
9. Butter (or oil spray) the baking dish.
10. Cover the phyllo sheets with a damp tea towel.
11. Cut (with a knife or with scissors) the phyllo sheets to the correct shape for your baking dish. Cover the cut sheets with the damp tea towel until needed.
12. Butter (or oil) every second sheet, cover the base and sides of your baking dish making sure that the sheets overhang the edges of the baking dish. Use about ten “thin-style phyllo sheets or about six “thicker-stye” phyllo sheets for the base and sides
13. Spoon the filling into the phyllo pastry case.
14. Fold the overhanging sheets over the filling.
15. Use four to six more “thicker-style” phyllo sheets or about eight “thin-style” phyllo sheets to cover the top, butter each layer. Use a spoon or similar to neaten the edges of the pastry case.
16. Cut into slices before baking. (At this stage you can freeze the unbaked spanakopita to be baked for later, add 30 mins extra to baking time.)
17. Bake in a preheated moderately hot oven for 30 mins up to one hour (depending on the depth of your baking dish). Cover with foil if over-browning. Mine took one hour and my dish was almost 6-inch (15 cm) high. Check for doneness by using a thin knife, insert it into the spanakopita for 30 secs, the filling should feel set and the knife should feel hot to the touch
18. Cool for 30 minutes. Can be eaten hot or cold.