If the above photo looks like golden cobblestones on the highway to heaven, then you and I are on the same page. Lucky for us this is not masonry at all, but Spanikopita, and it is addictive, edible, easy-to-make, and incredibly delicious as a bring-along to a holiday potluck dinner or brunch, as a main course served with a salad, or as a wonderful side dish for just about anything. I included this recipe as part of a Modern Chanuka Menu that I taught the other night for a fun group of 22 ladies at Congregation B’nai Israel in Basking Ridge, NJ. My reasoning, the basis in historical fact somewhat debated by my students at CBI, for including a Greek recipe on a Chanuka menu, was that the Maccabees (the Hebrews doing battle in the Chanuka story) were Greek! Or at least they lived in ancient Greece. Or at least they fought the Greeks. Whatever! There is a Greek connection somewhere in that story and that is a good enough excuse for me to make this wonderful dish and share with you right before the holidays.
Now, Spanikopita is usually made as individual, triangle-shaped pies, but making them in a deep-dish vessel makes it less labor-intensive and less dough-heavy per portion so those are two other admirable justifications for making this recipe! Less Work and Fewer Calories!? Now, that is a Chanuka miracle if I ever heard one!
This is not a damp newspaper I’ve set out to dry. It’s phyllo dough. Let me just reassure you that, YES, it is extremely fragile, YES it will tear and fall apart when you work with it, NO, you cannot make the layers perfect unbroken sheets, no matter how good you are. So you can relax. Phyllo is actually pretty forgiving. Even if you don’t make perfect, seamless layers because it’s falling apart on you, or it cracked when you defrosted it and unrolled it, once it’s scored, baked and browned it will still look pretty amazing….and it is part of the nature of this pastry that it crumbles and flakes.
Nutmeg. Spinach. Feta. Parmesan. Pine Nuts. Eggs.
Layered between butter and oil slathered phyllo. Score it and bake it. Voila! Crispy, veggie, cheesey, briny, buttery, lovely.
Deep Dish Spanakopita
2 small onions, finely chopped
by hand or in a small processor
20-25 pitted calamata olives, finely chopped by hand or in a small processor
2T olive oil
1 ½ teaspoon pepper
3 packages frozen spinach (10oz), de-thawed, drained and squeezed of all liquid
6 large eggs
2t nutmeg, grated
½ cup Parmesan, grated
3 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
8 ounces feta, broken into 1/4″ cubes (farmer’s cheese or drained cottage cheese, low-cost substitute)
½ cup pine nuts (walnuts are a lower cost substitute)
½ cup melted butter, or as much as needed to brush phylo. (You will need a pastry brush).
1 pkg of phyllo dough, defrosted, unrolled and held on a sheet pan under a damp towel
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Heat a large sauté pan to medium and add olive oil and onions. Sauté for about 10-15 minutes until soft and beginning to brown. Add chopped olives and sauté for another 1-2 minutes. Let cool slightly.
2. In a large bowl add spinach (you can also use blanched, chopped kale,or chard) Parmesan, nutmeg, bread crumbs, feta, pine nuts and onions and combine gently. Add salt and pepper to taste (olives and feta are salty, so do taste before adding salt.) Once seasoning is adjusted to taste, add eggs. Mix gently until fully combined.
3. To work with the Phylo: The sheets will be larger than your pan, so you must trim them to fit. Separate 12-15 sheets of the phylo from the pile and place on surface you can cut on. Gently place your inverted 9×13 pan over the pile of sheets (over to one corner, so you only have to cut 3 sides) and cut them to the size of the pan. Keep sheets you are not immediately working with covered with a damp cloth at all times or they will quickly dry out and be brittle.
4. Butter your 9 by 13 inch baking pan, and spread 1-2 sheet of filo, using a pastry brush to coat evently with butter, (top side only) as you go. Repeat this with a total of 6 sheets. Spoon the spinach filling over this layer of 6 phylo, then cover with 6 more sheets, buttering each sheet as you go again. Score the top 3 sheets with a sharp knife to outline how you will want to portion it when it is done (I like doing the scoring on a diagonal, starting in one corner, then spacing my cuts 2-3 inches apart, down the pan, then doing the same on the opposite end, criss-crossing back, so you end up with “diamond” pieces). Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until top is golden, let stand 15 minutes, then cut into squares and serve warm.