Spanakopita is a classic Greek pastry made of feta, ricotta, spinach and herbs. Bundled in crisp phyllo pastry, they make excellent vegetarian appetizers. Spanakopita can be made into a large pie but I prefer these neat little triangles for appetizer portions. Excellent on their own or with aside of tzatziki, a refreshing cucumber and yogurt dip (recipe below).
Spanakopita is not difficult but requires some planning.The ricotta cheese needs to be strained overnight (in a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth) and the frozen phyllo pastry requires thawing.
■ 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
■ 1 large onion, finely minced
■ large cloves garlic, minced
■ 4 cups finely chopped fresh spinach
■ 1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
■ 1/2 tsp cumin, toasted and finely ground
■ 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (if using dried, reduce to 1/2 tsp)
■ 1 tsp freshly chopped oregano (if using dried, reduce to 1/2 tsp)
■ 3 heaping teaspoons fresh dill
■ 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
■ ¾ cups ricotta, drained overnight
■ ¾ cups crumbled feta cheese, about 3.75 oz
■ 1 egg, lightly beaten
■ kosher salt
■ 1 package of frozen phyllo pastry, thawed
■ 1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir continuously until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the chopped spinach and cook briefly, just until wilted—and no liquid remains in the skillet.
Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary with a pinch of salt and/or additional lemon juice. The mixture must be completely cool before it is used.
Working with one sheet of phyllo at a time, carefully place a sheet of phyllo on a sheet of parchment paper. Lightly brush it with the melted butter, then place another sheet on parchment directly on top. Cover the unused phyllo with a towel.
Using a sharp knife, cut the doubled phyllo sheets in strips 3-inches wide x 12-inches long. Lightly brush each strip with melted butter and place about 1 Tbsp of the cooled filling at the base of the strip. Enclose the filling with a corner of phyllo pastry and continue folding, as if rolling up a flag, until the strip of phyllo is used. Place seam side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil.
Continue with the balance of filling, rewarmed the melted butter as necessary.
Heat oven to 400 F°.
Just before baking, lightly brush both sides of the pastry with melted butter.
Bake on a lined baking tray in a preheated oven turning the pastry over once, about for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the pastries are golden.
Cool on a wire rack and serve with plenty of napkins.
Makes About 2 1/2 Cups
Like Spanakopita, tzatziki, takes a bit of planning. You need to strain the yogurt overnight, as with the ricotta cheese above, to remove its excess liquid.
■ 1 tub (2 1/4 cups [650 g]) plain or natural full fat Greek yogurt
■ 2 English cucumbers, peeled
■ 1 clove garlic, minced (ideally with a microplane grater)
■ 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
■ 1/2 tsp kosher salt
■ 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
Place a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth. (The bowl will need to be deep enough for the liquid to accumulate, without touching the strainer.) Pour the yogurt into the lined strainer, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Discard the liquid.
Once the yogurt is drained, peel the cucumbers and cut in half lengthwise. Using a small spoon, scrape out and discard the seeds. Grate (or finely chop) the cucumbers.
Place a clean tea towel, or a double layer of cheesecloth, on your work surface and place the grated cucumber in the center. Gather the cloth around the cucumber to form a tight, compact ball and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Place the drained yogurt, garlic, vinegar and salt into a medium bowl and stir to combine. Add the squeezed, grated cucumber and fresh dill. Taste and add additional salt or vinegar if desired.