by Ava Morlier, Culinary Arts Program at CTC
Finally, it’s June! The temperatures have stabilized (heavy jackets and pants are a thing of the past), school has let out, and summer begins! But that’s not the only reason we’ve been waiting for June. It’s time to roll out the delicious summer dishes! Dinner tables are no longer weighed down by soups and stews laden with hearty vegetables; instead, light and airy summer dishes grace dinnertime with crisp vegetables and delicious handhelds.
This being a summer article, it would be expected that I write about the traditional types of handheld foods: burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, and the like. But the handheld I’m writing about today isn’t necessarily an all-American sandwich. Today, I’m writing about spanakopita!
Spanakopita is a Greek handheld that is essentially phyllo-dough stuffed with feta cheese and spinach. While it doesn’t seem to be something that pleases a crowd, it has great potential to outdo the average burger on the grill.
What makes it so great? Many things: it’s vegetarian friendly, it is easy to grab from any tray (due to the pastry shell), it can be served as a side dish or an appetizer, and it adds elegance to any cookout. Plus, you no longer need to depend on Greek restaurants to make this delicious food; you can easily buy cheap phyllo dough and harvest spinach from your garden.
Though this process is time-intensive, spanakopita brings elegance and culture to the table. The technique is simple. The hardest thing is managing the paper-thin phyllo dough, which is fragile (but adds delicious crispiness to the dish). Don’t fret if you rip a sheet! Solutions are offered in the notes. I have ripped countless sheets accidentally when making this for the first time. To avoid ripping, make sure the phyllo dough is completely thawed out if frozen, and handle the layers very gently. It is also essential to cover unused sheets of phyllo dough with paper towels to ensure the thin sheets don’t dry out and become stiff.
Despite all that goes into making spanakopita, the payoff to this delicious handheld is worth it. Elegance, culture, and deliciousness are all wrapped in a sleek triangle of crisp, delicate layers of phyllo dough. Enjoy!
2 ½ tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. spinach, washed and drained
1 bunch scallions, chopped (use both white and green parts) (regular onions work also)
½ tbsp. parsley
½ tsp. salt and pepper
¼ lb. feta cheese, crumbled
½ c. (1 stick) lightly salted butter, melted
½ lb. phyllo dough sheets
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Start a medium pan on medium-low heat. Chop scallions and rinse spinach.
Once the pan is hot, oil the pan and add scallions. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until the scallions are soft. Take out of the pan and set aside.
Add spinach and cook until wilted, 2-3 minutes. Place on a bed of paper towels and squeeze out liquid. Let cool for 2-3 minutes.
In the bowl, combine scallions, feta, spinach, salt, pepper, and parsley and mix well. Place in fridge.
On a clean workspace (this can include on a sheet pan or on a counter), unroll phyllo dough gently. Cut into 3×11-inch strips and stack. Cover whatever stacks that aren’t being used with a wet paper towel to ensure that it doesn’t dry out (the wet paper towels may need replacing as you work the phyllo dough).
Gently peel apart layers of phyllo.
Gently lay down a sheet of phyllo on the open work surface. Brush with butter.
Add another layer of phyllo dough on top of the first, so it covers the first sheet, and brush with butter.
Lay a final layer of phyllo dough on top of the first two sheets.
Get out spanakopita filling from the refrigerator. Spoon a small amount 1 inch away from the left edge of the pastry.
Fold the dough over the filling so that it creates a triangle. Brush the rest of the sheet with butter and continue folding so that the spanakopita resembles a triangle (Food Network likens the folding to that of folding a flag).
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with a wet paper towel. Repeat until filling runs out.
Take off wet paper towels and brush with butter. Place in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.
Let cool for 5 minutes and serve.
Knife • cutting board • medium pan • plate w/ a bed of paper towels • medium bowl • 1 large sheet pan • parchment paper • wet paper towels • pastry brush • small bowl • spoon • spatula
It’s okay if the pastry sheet rips; you can still use both parts. Sandwich the broken layer between two unbroken layers to utilize the sheets.
The phyllo dough is incredibly fragile. If frozen, make sure the dough is completely defrosted before using.
Have too many unusable/ ripped phyllo sheets? Make crackers! Simply use the same layering technique mentioned above (layer, brush with butter, layer) except with smaller squares and more sheets. Season however you like (everything bagel seasoning is a popular flavor), both between layers and on top. Bake until golden brown.
*With credit to Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of Food Network.