I was working for Eiffel Tower Catering, whose owner is the originator of the following recipe, when I met Eli. It was 1999, the summer that I turned 19, and there wasn’t a thought in my mind that I would meet my future husband. Catering was the perfect job for me. Unless we catered a brunch I didn’t have to be to work before noon, I worked with a lot of fun people, and you could take a smoke break just about any time you wanted to. I look back with some amusement at some of the things I did when I worked in catering. I can remember one afternoon in July (a hot month in Utah) that I spent standing next to a smoking grill, barbecuing Korean ribs for an event that night, cigarette dangling from my lips while I tended the ribs and chatted with a co-worker. Yes, this was the uppity 19-year-old with the pierced septum that my husband married a little over a year later. If it hadn’t been me that he married I would have to wonder what possessed him to do such a thing.
Well, I haven’t been a smoker since I was 19 and I have a very different work ethic, but I do still have a hole in my septum, and if I weren’t a seminarian I might just wear a ring in it from time to time, but I digress.
Incidentally, I made this recipe, along with several other Mediterranean delights, when Eli and I were married in 2001. I have now made it “home kitchen” friendly, as the original was meant to make five half-sheet trays of spanakopita and calls for 12 pounds of spinach and 30 eggs, not to mention the 6 pounds of cheese and the 2 cups of oil. In my adjustments I’ve “thinned” the recipe out quite a bit, too, which has made it lighter but no less flavorful for its lack of butter and olive oil. The following will fill a 13 x 9 inch baking pan, or you can fold it into individual triangles, in which case I don’t know how many you’d get out of a recipe. I’m guessing upward of 30, but I don’t know from experience since I usually make it in a pan.
For the filling
2 10-ounce boxes of frozen spinach, or 2 pounds of fresh spinach, cooked thoroughly
6 ounces of feta, crumbled
4 ounces of asiago cheese, shredded
½ medium onion, diced small
For the spice binder
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon pepper
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoons basil
1 teaspoons oregano
½ teaspoons thyme
½ teaspoons dill
12 sheets of filo (phyllo) dough, defrosted
cooking spray or ¼ cup olive oil mixed with ¼ cup melted butter
Preheat the oven to 375° and set your filo dough out to reach room temperature before trying to work with it, otherwise it will crack.
Whether you use frozen, defrosted, or fresh, cooked spinach, make sure you squeeze as much water out of it as you can. The spinach will not be “dry” but it should not be saturated or dripping with any water either. In a large bowl combine the prepared spinach, the crumbled feta, the asiago cheese, and the diced onion.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs together with the oil, pepper, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, and dill until thoroughly combined. Pour the egg mixture into the spinach mixture and mix together until the ingredients are fully combined. I think it’s best to use your hands to do this. Don’t be afraid to touch your food–it’s not meatloaf mix, after all.
When you remove the filo from the package, keep it covered with a kitchen towel and work quickly so it doesn’t dry out. Spray the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray, and then line the bottom with six layers of filo dough, spraying each one with cooking spray or brushing with melted butter and olive oil as you go. With a small paring knife, trim the excess filo dough so you have a pretty squared layer along the bottom. Spread the entire mixture over the bottom layer of filo and pat it down evenly. Put 6 more layers of filo dough on top of this, spraying them between each layer as you did with the bottom, and trim the edges so you don’t have any overhang.
Before you bake the dish, cut the spanakopita into triangles as large or as small as you want them. If these will be served as an hors d’oeuvres, you will want them to be small enough to eat with your fingers in one or two bites, but if you are serving it as a tapa with a meal of a few other items, you will want them to be bigger. In any case, you will have to cut them again after they bake, but if you don’t cut the filo beforehand it will crack into a thousand tiny pieces when you try to cut through it after it bakes.
Bake the pan of spanakopita in the preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes, until the top layer of filo is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let sit until they are cool enough to cut again and remove from the pan, about 20 – 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.
To make spanakopita triangles
If you want to make these and freeze them to be used a little at a time, you can assemble the spanakopita into triangles. These look really nice and are lovely to serve, but they take more time to prepare since you have to make each one (around 30 of them) individually. This is well worth it if you want to make this recipe but don’t have the audience to consume them all at once.
To make the triangles, place three sheets of standard 17 x 12 inch filo dough on a surface in front of you, sprayed with cooking spray between each layer. Cutting from long edge to long edge (across the width), cut the dough into 4 even strips (about 4 x 12 inches). About 2 or 3 inches from the top of each strip, place 3 – 4 tablespoons of filling on the dough. Then, folding like a flag, fold the right corner across the filling so the top edge now meets the left side of the dough. Now continue folding the packet over like a triangle until you reach the end. Bake in a 375° for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and flaky. Let cool for 5 – 10 minutes before serving. If you are going to freeze them, don’t bake it until you are ready to eat them and then bake them, frozen, for 25 or more minutes, until they are golden brown and the filling is hot. Freeze them in a tightly sealed container or bag and use within a month or two or they’ll start looking bad.
To reheat your spanakopita if you refrigerated it, place it in a 350° oven for 10 minutes or so. The top will crisp up again and the filling will be nice and warm.