Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Spanikopita: Greek Spinach and Cheese Cassarole

I recently made a tray of spanikopita for a friend, and promised them a recipe.  Technically, what I make is spanikotiropita (it has more cheese than you are used to).  You can use this same recipe to make spanikopita (mostly spinach, with just a bit of cheese) or tiropita (no spinach, more cheese) as well.  If you're planning on this being a "main course" I think this is the best ratio.  If it's a side, use more spinach and less cheese.  If it's an appetizer, use more cheese.

So, here's a recipe.

To make one 9x9 tray, you will need:

  • 9x9 lasagne pan
  • 1 box DEFROSTED phyllo dough.  Most large grocers have this in the freezer section, near the pie crusts.  Let the dough defrost overnight on the counter.  Usually, a box has two "tubes" in it.  We will use only one to make one tray of spanikopita.  I usually make 2 trays at a time, and freeze one.
  • 1 pound cheese.  This should be a combination of feta and creme cheese.  The exact ratio depends on the feta.  The sharper you want it, the less creme cheese you should use.  Proportion to your taste.  When I make it for myself, I use all feta, and try to get the sharpest, briniest, goatiest feta I can find, but that's sort of an acquired taste.   Most non-Mediterranean folk seem to like it about half and half.
  • 1 pound frozen cut spinach
  • 1 small onion (optional)
  • 1 cup walnuts (optional)
  • white wine (optional)
  • garlic.  you will need way more than you think, but the amount depends on the freshness.  If you use garlic from a jar, you will need maybe 3 tablespoons.  If fresh pressed, about 6 cloves.
  • other spices.  I usually use black pepper, oregano, basil, with some bits of mint, thyme, and marjoram but it depends on the season and what I have on hand.  Garlic mustard is good. Personally, I like to add dittany of crete, which tastes like a cross between oregano and marjoram and is also excellent for love spells, spirit evocation, and travel in the Other Places, but it's kind of hard to find.  (I got my recent supply in a flea market in Lavrion, the oldest mining town in Europe, near the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion.)  Whatever you have that you think will be delicious is fine.  Unless your feta is very weak, you don't need extra salt.
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 2 eggs
  • cheese cloth (you can use paper towels if you don't have cheese cloth) and a colander
  • a dish towel
  • an apron or a shirt you don't care about.  this can get messy.
To prepare:
  • melt the butter in a small bowl.  let it cool a little.  it needs to be liquid, not just soft.
  • defrost the spinach and let it cool.  it cools faster if you spread it out some.
  • saut√© the onions in some butter until golden brown.
  • roughly chop the walnut and soak them in the wine, and then drain them.  you want them slimy, but not mushy (about 15 minutes)
  • Strain the spinach.  This is the KEY step.  Get ALL the water out.  Layer cheese cloth in the colander, and push.  Squish it through the cheesecloth as hard as you can.  You want it as dry as it can be.  SQUISH!!!
  • In a bowl, mix the cheeses, spices, onions, eggs and walnuts.
  • butter the pan
  • unroll the phyllo dough
  • place one sheet of phyllo on the pan.  It's bigger than the pan.  that's ok.  just let it.  It's ok if they rip some, just overlap it a little wherever it tore.
  • dip your hands in the butter, and smear them on the phyllo.  I like to paint magic symbols in butter on the dough, but you do you.  
  • place another sheet, butter it
  • use 10 sheets, total, for the bottom.
  • Smoosh in a layer of the spinach/cheese goo, about 2/3 of an inch thick.
  • lay and butter 5 more layers of dough
  • add another layer of spinach/cheese goo
  • lay another 5 more layers of phyllo, buttering between each.
  • add a final layer of spinach/cheese
  • trim off all the extra phyllo dough
  • add 3 layers of phyllo, buttering between each layer.
  • wash and dry your hands.
  • butter your hands
  • Carefully, layer 2 more layers of phyllo, making sure they are pretty and smooth and unripped.
  • Trim the phyllo carefully, and make it all nice and pretty.  When I make this at christmas time, I sometimes make a christmas tree out of spinach on the top.
  • Bake at about 350 degrees for about half an hour, or until the top is golden and crispy.
  • Do you have extra cheese goo?  Mix it into your scrambled eggs.  Very delicious!

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