Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie) and Saganaki (Flaming Cheese)
|January 30, 2013||Posted by jcogswell1 under Dinner, Lunch|
There is a huge Greek population in Chicago. So much so that we have an entire neighborhood of residences, restaurants and shops called “Greek Town.”
I didn’t truly appreciate the convenience of having great tasting Greek food at my disposal until I moved to Boston for college and realized that no such Greek Town existed. To satisfy my Greek food cravings during my Boston years, I often tried to recreate some of my favorite dishes. My cooking attempts have included avgolemono soup, saganaki (flaming cheese – more on that in a minute), tzatziki, horiatiki (or villagers salad) and spanakopita – or spinach pie.
Spinach pie is a wonderful, healthy, vegetarian dinner. As the name implies, it is stuffed with tons of nutritious spinach, plus I add scallions, onions, dill, parsley and thyme to beef up the veggie content even more. But don’t think you are getting a healthy, no flavor meal either. Thanks to a good cup of high quality feta cheese and flakey and buttery phyllo dough, this meal satisfies on the taste level as well.
To go alongside the spanakopita, I also cooked up some saganaki, which is made by melting and then flambéing a Greek cheese called Halloumi.
If you opt to make saganaki, I would suggest doing so with caution as the brandy that you use to flame it with is highly flammable! If you do choose to forge ahead with making saganaki, the process is quite simple:
Step 1: Get yourself some high quality halloumi cheese. I find it to be readily available at Whole Foods in Chicago (thanks to the Greek Population), but it was more difficult in Boston. If you can’t find it, ask the cheese department or a specialty store what a good substitute would be.
Step 2: Dredge your halloumi in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper.
Step 3: Heat a medium sized sauce pan with 1 TB butter and 1 TB olive oil over medium-high heat until melted. Add the seasoned halloumi and sauté for 4-5 minutes per side until each sided is browned.
Step 4: Once nicely browned, TURN THE HEAT OFF. You do not want any flames on while you pour in the brandy. With the heat off, add about 1/4 cup of brandy to the pan. Light the brandy with a long lighter or a match and step back and yell “Opa” like they do in Greek restaurants. Allow the flame to burn off (about 30 seconds).
Step 5: When the flame is nearly out, spray the cheese with fresh lemon juice.
Step 6: Cut the cheese into pieces, pour the sauce over each piece, and enjoy with more lemon juice, a piece of nice bread, or on its own!
Kate and I enjoyed our saganaki while we waited for the spanakopita to cook, which takes about 30-40 minutes to get the phyllo dough nice and flakey and browned.
Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie) – Serves 5-6
2 16 ounces packages of chopped frozen spinach, defrosted and drained well (squeezing the spinach in a kitchen towel is a popular method, but I find that cooking the spinach over medium heat allows the water to evaporate more quickly)
3 TBs olive oil
1 cup white onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh italian parsley, minced
1/2 cup fresh dill, minced
1 TB of fresh thyme, minced
1 bunch scallions
1 cup good quality feta cheese, crumbled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 TBs freshly squeeze lemon juice
20 sheets of phyllo dough (or half of a box that you can find in the freezer section of your grocery store)
6-8 TBs of melted butter (3/4 of a stick to 1 stick)
S+P to taste
Defrost the phyllo dough for 24 hours in the fridge.
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and spray a 9×11 baking dish with cooking spray.
Meanwhile, add 3 TBs of oil to a medium sized sauté pan over medium low heat. Add the chopped onions and cook for 5-7 minutes until soft but not brown. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper and cook for another 1-2 minutes and turn off the heat.
This is pretty much the extent of the pre-cooking that goes on for this dish. The rest of the ingredients – dill, parsley, thyme and scallions are stirred into the onions to combine, but are not really cooked. Let’s discuss the copious amount of herbs I use in the spanakopita.
Although it may seem excessive to use this much and this many herbs, these are truly what give the spanakopita so much flavor, so don’t skimp! Mix the herbs into the onion and garlic mixture and stir to combine.
Meanwhile, break the eggs into a small dish and beat lightly. Add the crumbled feta cheese and stir to combine.
Now it is time to bring everything together. Mix the defrosted and drained spinach with the onion and herb mix, the cheese and egg, and the 2 TB of lemon juice and stir until everything is incorporated. At this point, you want to make sure that you taste the mixture and adjust for seasoning. I found that my mixture needed a lot more salt and pepper (about 1 tsp of each).
Next up is adding this mixture to the phyllo dough. Take your phyllo dough out of the package and roll out onto a damp paper towel. Once you have it rolled out, place a damp paper towel on top.
You want to do this to ensure that your phyllo dough does not dry out. Because phyllo is such thin dough, it can dry out quickly and fall apart on your, so the damp paper towel helps keep it moist.
Take the baking dish that you sprayed with cooking spray and place one piece of phyllo dough down. Brush the phyllo with butter until well covered.
Repeat nine more times so that you have a total of ten pieces of phyllo dough on the bottom layer. Pour the entire spinach mixture on the phyllo dough and smooth with a wooden spoon.
Lay a piece of phyllo dough on top of the spinach mixture and brush with more butter.
Repeat nine more times so that you have ten layers on the top as well. Pour any remaining butter that you have on top of the last layer of phyllo. Because, well, more butter is always better. Cut three slits on the top of the pie in order to allow steam to escape and sprinkle with lots of freshly ground pepper.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until hot and the top is brown and flakey.
Cut into large squares and serve warm.
Enjoy this dish for dinner and if you have leftovers, serve it up for lunch the next day. My only complaint about spanakopita as a leftover is that the phyllo dough doesn’t stay quite as crispy. The trade off is that the spinach mixture gets even more flavorful after a night in the fridge – so its great either way! Enjoy!