Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cooking with Books: Spanikopita

Tuesday means another cookbook posting...until we get to March, then it's one a day for a month.

One section of my cookbook library deals with foods from particular regions of the world. Of course I have Italian and Chinese foods covered, but also quite a few on Spain and other far flung locales. I'm not sure where I first picked up Jim Botsacos' The New Greek Cuisine, but it's been on my shelf unused for a couple of years now. I finally cracked it open last week.

And I'm glad I did. It's packed full of recipes with traditional Mediterranean ingredients like lamb, olives, seafood and tomatoes. It was struggle to pick just one to be the first.

In the end, I decided to try one of the recipes we non-natives think of most often when we consider Greek food. Spanikopita. And it's perfect timing. I tried a couple pieces for myself. (Delicious and flaky and herbal without the overwhelming feta taste one sometimes gets.) I threw the rest in a freezer bag to serve at next weekend's Halloween fete.

Spanikopita (Spinach, Leeks and Feta Wrapped in Crispy Phyllo)
From The New Greek Cuisine
Makes about 5 dozen.

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, stems removed
Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups finely diced onion
1 1/2 cups finely diced white park of leek
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 large egg
3/4 crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons grated kefaiotyro cheese (I couldn't find this so I left it out.)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
1 pound frozen phyllo dough, thawed according to package directions

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the spinach in handfuls, season with a pinch of salt, and sauté until all of the spinach has wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a colander placed in a bowl so that all liquid can be reserved. Press on the spinach to drain off any excess liquid.

Spread the spinach out on a baking pan. Transfer to the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or until cool.

When the spinach is cool, transfer to a clean cutting board. Using a sharp knife or cleaver, chop the spinach until very, very fine. Set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup of the remaining olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion and another pinch of salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent but has not taken on any color.

Stir in the leek, cover again, and cook for about 5 minutes. Uncover, add the garlic and another pinch of salt, and continue to cook for 2 minutes, or until the leeks have softened but not taken on any color.

Add the reserved chopped spinach, stirring until well blended. If the mixture appears dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the reserved spinach juice. Cook for 3 minutes longer, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Transfer the spinach mixture to a baking pan, spreading it out with a spatula to make an even layer. Refrigerate for about 1 hour, or until chilled.

Remove the chilled spinach mixture from the refrigerator and transfer it to a mixing bowl. Stir in the egg, cheeses, mint, and dill. Season with salt to taste and set aside.

Line at least two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Lay the phyllo out and cover with a damp towel to keep from drying out.

Working with one sheet at a time, lay the phyllo out on a clean dry surface. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the phyllo with olive oil. Using a small sharp knife, cut the oiled phyllo lengthwise into seven 2-inch-wide strips. Working with one strip at a time, place 1 tablespoon of the spinach mixture in the lower corner of the dough. Fold the bottom end of the dough over the spinach to meet the right end of the dough, forming a triangle. Continue folding in the triangle shape until the entire strip has been folded.

Place the triangles on the prepared baking sheets as they are finished. (For very even browning, place the pies on wire racks on the cookie sheets before baking.) Continue making triangles until all the spinach mixture has been used.

When all of the pieces have been made, place the baking sheets in the preheated oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

Note: Spanikopita can be made ahead and frozen, unbaked, for up to 3 weeks. Bake as directed above allowing about 5 extra minutes cooking time.

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