In the Greek classic spanakopita (spinach pie), greens are mixed with herbs and feta cheese and baked inside a flaky phyllo crust. Often made as individual hand-pies in the shape of triangles, the dish can be simplified by baking it in a large pan for a crowd; it works well on the table at a Mother’s Day brunch.
While most versions of this dish rely on spinach only, there is no reason not to substitute other greens. Choose whatever is in season or on sale at your local market, and blend it in with the spinach. This is a great way to incorporate new flavors and ingredients into a recipe that feels comfortable and appealing. To wash the greens and leeks, fill a large sink basin with cold water. Agitate the greens to remove all of the dirt, and let them sit for a few minutes. The dirt will settle at the bottom of the sink. For this reason, don’t drain the water from the sink. Instead, use your hands or a large slotted spoon to remove the greens from the top of the water, and transfer them to a colander. Once they have been sautéed, be sure to squeeze them firmly to drain all of the excess water from the leaves, thus avoiding soupy spanakopita.
Phyllo dough can be tricky to work with, depending on the age and quality of the dough. Store-bought options vary in quality, but we are lucky to have them, as making phyllo from scratch is a nearly impossible endeavor. Defrost the dough in the refrigerator the day before you intend to assemble the spanakopita. When you are ready to layer the dough into the pan, unwrap the dough and set it on a clean counter covered with a slightly damp cloth; the dough dries out quickly. Separate one paper-thin sheet from the top and place it into the buttered pan. If it tears, don’t worry, just piece the sheet back together within the pan and brush liberally with butter. The alternating layers of delicate pastry and melted butter are what create the irresistibly flaky layers. For this dish, you will need a total of 18 sheets, or about 8 ounces of dough. Once you have assembled the whole pie, be sure to secure the edges all the way around the pan by using a thin spatula to tuck in the layers. Carefully cut the triangle shapes into the top layers of phyllo with a very sharp knife and brush on one last coat of melted butter. (If you fear that scoring the top layer will do more harm than good, you can skip this step and bake the pie unadorned.)
Once the pie has been baked, allow it to set and cool slightly for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
|2||large leeks, halved lengthwise and sliced|
|2||pounds fresh greens (mixture of spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, or Swiss chard), roughly chopped|
|¼||cup olive oil|
|6||cloves garlic, chopped|
|1||cup chopped parsley|
|½||cup chopped dill|
|¼||cup chopped oregano|
|Grated rind of 1 lemon|
|14||ounces crumbled feta cheese|
|¼||cup grated Parmesan cheese|
|Salt and pepper, to taste|
|18||sheets phyllo dough (8 ounces)|
|2||sticks (1 cup) melted butter|
1. Have on hand a 9-by-13-inch pan. Fill a clean sink basin with cold water. Add leeks to the water and agitate gently with your hands. Allow the dirt to settle to the bottom of the sink. Again using your hands, carefully lift the leeks from the water and place them in a colander. Repeat the washing process with the greens, and transfer them to a separate colander.
2. In a very large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add leeks and cook slowly, stirring often, for 15 minutes or until soft. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
3. Add half of the greens to the pot. Stir until the greens have wilted sufficiently to add the other half. Add the rest of the greens, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Transfer to a colander or a fine mesh sieve. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, press and squeeze the greens mixture until most of the water has been removed. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
4. Add parsley, dill, oregano, lemon rind, feta, and Parmesan. Stir well. Add eggs, salt, and pepper. Stir.
5. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Lay phyllo sheets out on a clean counter. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch pan with melted butter.
6. Lay one sheet of phyllo dough in the bottom of the pan lengthwise. Brush liberally with melted butter. Repeat with 3 more sheets.
7. Lay 2 sheets of phyllo in the opposite direction so that they cover the entire pan, overlapping each other slightly and coming up the long sides of the pan. Brush liberally with butter. Repeat twice. You will have used 10 sheets for the bottom layers.
8. With a rubber spatula, spread greens mixture evenly over the phyllo. Fold exposed edges of phyllo over the filling.
9. Lay one sheet of phyllo dough on top of the filling and the folded edges. Brush liberally with butter. Use a thin spatula to tuck edges of dough down into the pan. Repeat with 7 additional sheets of phyllo, for a total of 8 sheets on top.
10. Using a very sharp paring knife or serrated knife, gently make 2 evenly spaced cuts down the length of the pan, cutting through only the top layers of phyllo. Turn the pan and make 3 evenly spaced cuts in the opposite direction, creating a total of 12 squares. Cut each square in half on the diagonal, creating 24 triangles. Brush cuts with melted butter.
11. Bake for 1 hour or until phyllo is golden brown, crisp, and cooked through. Cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing.