Sunday, June 3, 2018

Baker's Corner: Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

Calling all herb and cheese lovers! I have something really scrumptious for you today 😋

Spanakopita is a traditional spinach pie containing cheese and herbs, enveloped by crispy, flaky filo pastry. It can be made either in large pan and cut into individual portions (pan-sized spanakopita) or rolled into individual triangular servings (spanakopitakia).

Although it is commonly considered a side-dish, Spanakopita could very well take center stage in a Mediterranean-inspired dinner. If you are going the vegetarian route, you could put together an assortment of dishes like pita bread, hummus, melitzanosalata, tzatziki, kalamata olives, feta cheese, vegetable sticks, salads (fattoush, tabbouleh or Greek couscous salad) and grape leaves stuffed with rice to represent a smorgasbord of the Mediterranean. Sounds fab right? On one occasion in the past, I've done something similar (minus the spanakopita) and now I am inspired to do it again with this savoury pie that is completely up my alley 😊


Any elaborate cooking or culinary experimentation I reserve for the weekends. I usually am up way earlier than the rest of the family and I get most of my prep work done and out of the way. This usually results in me spending minimal time in the kitchen afterwards, something that my three year olds don't object to. Most of the time, I am quite organised and methodical about my weekend cooking but is so happened that on the Sunday I made this Spanakopita, I overslept and ended up waking up at the exact same time as my kids. I was mortified as I had planned on doing most of the work whilst the household was still in deep slumber and then follow it up with a nice little coffee break. Goes without saying that neither didn't happen! I took twice as longer to make this Spanakopita than what the recipe suggested. It is a little hard when you have two little high-pitched voices interrupting you every 5 minutes with "Amma what are you doing?", "Amma can you wipe my nose?", "Amma, can you look at this abbu (boo boo) on my leg?", "Amma I want water", "Amma I came to give you a hug", "Amma I can't find my pony", "Amma I need to go on the potty", "Amma can you please come out of the kitchen?", "Amma my armpit smells like a lemon, can you smell it?" (I swear one of them actually did say that!). By the time I was done, I was both physically and mentally drained out! I learnt my lesson and the next time I'm making this dish is when I have a good stretch of time free from distractions 😁

Don't let my little story discourage you though. This is actually an easy recipe with mostly, easy to find ingredients. I made my own ricotta cheese from scratch because I think store-bought ricotta is grossly overpriced and doesn't taste half as good as when you make it on your own. And making it yourself is a cinch anyway. If you have access to filo pastry then you should try this recipe (please don't ask me about making filo from scratch though!). This dish looks great, is delicious and even my kids enjoyed it so it can cater to grown ups and kids alike.



Have at it you guys!

Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

Preparation time: 30-40 min; Baking time: 25-30 min
Total time: ~ 90 min
Serves: 3-4
Recipe category: Greek/Side-dish
Recipe level: Intermediate
Recipe source: Adapted from here

Ingredients:

300gm baby spinach, finely chopped 
2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
1 medium red or white onion, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions/spring onion greens, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
a squeeze of lemon juice
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup full-fat ricotta cheese (I made my own ricotta - refer notes)
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
freshly crushed black pepper - use as required
Salt - if required
7 sheets filo pastry
60g butter, melted
3 tbsp olive oil

Method:

1. Get all your ingredients prepped and ready before you start. Trust me, it is much easier that way.


2. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan, then add onions and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes until softened.


3. Now add the spinach and dill. Cook, stirring, over low until spinach has wilted and most of the moisture has evaporated.


4. Cool the mixture and then combine with cheeses, spring onion greens, lemon juice, beaten egg, nutmeg, salt and black pepper. Taste and add salt only if required.


5. Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix the melted butter with 2 tbsp olive oil. Brush a 8x8 square baking dish with the butter-oil mixture.

6. Lay one sheet of filo (folded into a double layer) on base and sides of the dish and brush it with the butter-oil mixture. Repeat with 3 more sheets (use a total of 4 sheets).




7. Spread the spinach-cheese mixture evenly over it.


8. Cover with remaining 3 sheets of filo, brushing each sheet with the butter-oil mixture as before. Trim excess pastry with kitchen scissors and tuck edges into sides of dish. Brush the top with butter.




9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden. Rest for 10 minutes.


10. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares. Serve it as mezze or starter next to other Mediterranean dips and appetizers.



Notes:

  • To make 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, heat 2 cups fresh whole milk (and not UHT) until foamy (but do not let it boil) and take it off the heat. Add the juice of half a lemon and 1/4 tsp salt. Stir gently to combine. Let the milk sit undisturbed for 10 mins. The milk should have curdled by this time. If not, add some more lemon juice until this happens. Stain the curds using a cheese/muslin cloth. Drain the ricotta for 30-60 mins. Store in an airtight container in the fridge
  • Spanakopita is herbaceous. In addition to the spinach and dill, you can also use a few springs of basil, parsley, cilantro, majoram, thyme and oregano depending on your preference
  • You can infuse the butter-oil mixture with some bay leaves for extra flavour. Heat the butter and olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the bay leaves. As soon as the butter is melted, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 min. Remove from the heat and steep the bay leaves for an additional 5 min. Proceed to use in recipe as directed
  • Once you unroll the defrosted filo, place a large piece of parchment over it and then cover the parchment completely with damp (but not wet) paper towels or a kitchen towel. Filo dries out very quickly and doing this will help prevent excess breakage
  • There is a good chance that the filo will tear when you are working with it. Not to worry! Keep layering and it will turn out just fine
  • The baked spanakopita can be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least 2 days



Cheers,
Megha


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