Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spanakopita Revisited

Well, it was the kind of day that called out for pastry. Have you ever experienced that sort of day? I suppose it would be a very bad day indeed that couldn't be brightened up by some kind of pastry, and I had been reading my Jamie at Home again, thinking of a dish to choose for WeDine. I glanced briefly at the rustic tart with asparagus (it's so good right now! and relatively cheap!) but balked at the amounts of cream and cow's cheese Jamie called for. Instead I thought a tummy-friendlier spanakopita, with goat feta and chevre (and copious amounts of spinach) would be tasty. And, I must admit, lots of buttery layers of flaky phyllo pastry! Mm.

Reading up on phyllo was a little worrying, however, as I soon discovered that it needed a lot of thawing time. One site called for two whole days, which seemed a little excessive, but I'm assuming that was from completely frozen. It was already around two o'clock on the day that we would be cooking together (Wednesday, of course), and so I rushed out to the Marketplace and picked up two packages of phyllo that (thankfully) only required 3 to 4 hours of thawing time – which was perfect.

Our special guest this week, Kari, met us at Choices, and helped us gather together the ingredients for the spanakopita: two 1 lb packages of baby spinach, already washed, a bunch of dill, a bunch of parsley (flat leaf), a package of chevre and about half a pound of feta cheese (goat). I was going by Bittman's recipe from his ambitiously-titled but very useful How to Cook Everything, in which he refers to spanakopita as 'Spinach-Cheese Triangles,' which, although fairly prosaic, is certainly accurate: Wiki tells me that "Spanakopita (Greek "σπανάκι + πίτα", spinach + pie)."

Kari and Michelle sauteed (wilted?) a whole lot of spinach at two frying stations while the other ingredients were assembled, diced, julienned and otherwise prepared.

The filling required the spinach to be chopped after it was wilted, and added to a mixture of the feta, chevre and 3 eggs, whisked. We added the dill and parsley chopped, and then preheated the oven to 350 degrees. Oh, and there was a pinch of nutmeg in there. I don't know why, but people tell me it's indispensable. Seasoned with salt and pepper, the mixture was whisked until the feta crumbled and the whole thing achieved some sort of uniformity.

The phyllo sheets were unrolled from their package and layered, one on top of the other, with melted butter brushed between them (though there was such a thing as too much, as I began to discover when overbuttering). We layered three sheets together and then cut the resulting rectangle into three long strips (see diagram). A spoonful or two of filling was dropped on the top of each strip, and then it was folded into a triangle to ensure the filling was properly contained. The whole thing was then brushed with butter (what else?) on top for that crispy golden effect.

A salad would need to be pretty sturdy and flavourful to stand up against all that flaky filled-pastry goodness, and we found one that fulfilled those requirements – a beet and apple slaw. Meg julienned 2 red beets, one golden beet and 2 tart green apples. That was a lot of julienning! They were dressed by Alisha with the juice and zest of one orange, 3 tsp of cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of olive oil and 1 tbsp of caraway seeds. The caraway seeds may not be in your regular repetoire, but they were well worth it, we thought – they added a unique bite and flavour. You could also add about a tablespoon of chopped chives, but we had chive-finding problems, so they didn't make it into our finished salad.

And here is the finished plate! The red wine, a XOXO merlot/shiraz blend, was very nicely provided by Kari. The spanakopita took less time to cook than Bittman predicted – after 20 minutes they were done, and nicely golden. We were all starving, so ate them immediately, but I think they were better with a little cooling time.

My pastry cravings were fulfilled – and there were enough for lunch for all the next day!


Anonymous said...

Sounds great, esp the salad, but my pastry cravings would need a big Bubby Rose cinnamon bun to be fulfilled!!

Meg said...

Laura, this spanakopita was so good. I always stand by my mom's classic recipe but what I liked so much about this one was the texture of the filling - it was more of a puree and so creamy.

So I'm the one that kind of freaked out about the necessity of the nutmeg (an integral part of my mom's recipe) and my reasoning is it adds a subtle earthy warmth. Mmmm.

That salad was so crispy and delicious. I hardly ever find an occasion to use caraway seeds, but they were awesome here.

Yay for updating a WeDine favourite meal!

Leeeeesha said...

Meg, I agree. The nutmeg really is a necessity. I can't quite explain how, but I definitely notice that it's in there.

Laura said...

I had to look up Bubby Rose's cinnamon buns, but I believe I've found them:
At Bubby Rose's, of course, a bakery in Victoria. They seem to have amazing food (and apparently the rolls were voted best on the island) and a good recipe for challah french toast I'll have to try. Is there an actual Bubby Rose? Thanks GB!

Meg and Alisha, I'm a convert to nutmeg! Meg, you'll have to post your mom's recipe sometime. I'm glad they worked out so well, though - just the flaky pastry fix I needed.