Monday, January 7, 2008

Spanakopita (spinach and feta phyllo triangles)

These are my very favorite appetizers in the world. My family ravenously consumes mounds of these at our annual New Year's Eve appetizer extravaganza. In fact, when I was looking for the recipe, I found it not in the appetizer section of our family cookbook, but in the main dishes section. Hmm...

In any case, this is a super yummy appetizer that takes a bit of work, but is quite impressive and aesthetically pleasing. You'll need the following ingredients:

3 pkgs 10-oz frozen chopped spinach
¼ cup olive oil
4 eggs, beaten
¼ cup bread crumbs
½ lb feta cheese, crumbled
½ lb cottage cheese (we substitute another 1/2 feta)
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped (use 2/3 less if using dried)
1 tsp dried dill weed
1 med. onion, chopped fine
1 cup butter, melted
½ lb phyllo pastry (one box)

I did have pictures of the intermediate steps, but they somehow disappeared, along with all our Christmas pictures and those sort of things. I'm extremely upset at my camera over this. Anyway.

Step 1: Choppin'

Thaw (microwave is fine), drain, and squeeze dry the spinach. If it's too chunky, chop it up so it will mix nicely.

Chop your onion finely. You want it to sort of meld into the rest of the flavors.

Step 2: Cookin'

Saute the onion in olive oil. When it's nicely yellowed and translucent, add the spinach and cook until the moisture is gone (be careful not to burn it!) Remove from heat.

Step 3: Mixin'

Beat the eggs, then add them to the spinach and onion. At this point, you'll need a fairly large bowl to make sure everything gets well mixed. (I'm not sure how many quarts the ideal bowl is--I just use one of the ones that's big enough to bathe a newborn baby. How's that for a standard of measurement?) Add cheeses, parsley, dill, and bread crumbs.

Step 4: Trianglin'

Here comes the exciting part. This is easiest to do if you have either a) a friend or b) a wet towel. Depending on the friend, they might be equivalent. Heh heh. In any case, you need to work quickly enough so that the phyllo dough doesn't dry out, hence the friend. If you're doing it by yourself, then place a damp towel over the dough to prevent drying.

Before you unroll the dough, brush a 9x13 pan with melted butter. Don't skimp.

Phyllo dough is tricky. Be VERY careful when you unroll it. It will probably be sticky.

You may have to use a sharp knife (very gently) or your fingernails to separate the sheets of dough from the plastic wrapper. Don't worry, after the initial separation it's easy.

Oh yeah! I actually recruited three friends (well, relatives: my mom, Elise, and Mary Beth) for this, because phyllo dough scares me sometimes. Okay, that's not true. The real story is that my sisters and I had this idea to make a cooking show out of it. We made up a dorky theme song that we sang and we followed each other around with a camera demonstrating chopping, dicing, choux-making (for the cream puffs), etc. We thought it was really cool. Actually, my sisters got kind of mad at me because we set everything up in tiny little ingredients bowls of pre-diced ingredients and then I forgot and dumped everything in and cooked it up while my sister was putting new batteries in the camera. Oops.

Back to the recipe. Look at that sneer on my face. I'm totally whipping the phyllo dough into shape.

Gently lift up one sheet of phyllo dough and place it on the buttered pan. Don't be put off by the fact that the dough may or may not resemble a tattered shroud.

Once you've plopped it on the buttered pan, liberally butter the dough. Basically, you want to butter it until it's translucent. Yum.

Repeat the process with another sheet of dough--lift, layer, and butter. Now that you have two sheets of butter-coated dough, it's time for my favorite part.

Cut the dough layers into five or six (depending on how big you want your little triangles) long strips (make the cuts running vertically where the top/bottom are the short sides of the cookie sheet).

Now plop about a tablespoon and a half (or more) of filling down on each little strip at the top.

Fold the dough in a sort of triangle over the filling. Fold it up exactly as if you were folding a flag.

See this picture here? This shows the right and wrong way to do it. The top example is a FLAG. The bottom example is a TRIANGLE. TRIANGLE BAD. FLAG GOOD.

Mary Beth had a little trouble grasping this concept. Fortunately, Elise was there to straighten her out and make fun of her lack of flag-folding skills. What a good pal.

When you get to the end, fold up the corners of your flag. Not a triangle, remember?

When you get a whole cookie sheet full of these little beauties, pop them in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Oh yum.

Then you might want to go for a good long run, and come back hungry, cause we're making chicken wontons next.

EASIER NO-FOLD METHOD: Layer 7-10 layers of phyllo in pan, brushing each layer with butter. Spread spinach mix over phyllo and add another 7-10 layers of phyllo, butter each layer. Bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees.