Spanakopita — the crispy, flaky, tender, Greek spinach-feta pie — has a special place in my heart. Back when I was running around the mean streets of Chicago covering crime for the Chicago Tribune, I arrived home one night utterly exhausted. So exhausted, in fact, that I had no energy to eat, much less cook. C came over with a plate of Spanakopita and as I ate each bite of the flavorful spinach pie, my energy reserves were slowly recharged. I begged him for months to show me how to make it and a few weeks ago, he finally caved.
The basic recipe is pretty straight-forward. You can purchase frozen phyllo dough at your local grocery store. I like Athens’ twin-pack, which is perfect for making two spinach pies. Always a fan of experimentation, I modified the recipe a little bit and added roasted red bell peppers for color and basil for flavor. Although it looks intimidating, spanakopita is really easy to make and perfect for packing for a picnic or a take-away lunch.
1/2 package of Athens’ twin pack phyllo dough
1 bag of frozen spinach
2 jars of roasted red bell peppers (from Trader Joe’s — you can find them next to the olives), drained. Dry the bell peppers with paper towels to remove the rest of the liquid.
handful of basil leaves
1 3.5oz package of low-fat feta cheese
3 Tbsp butter or Smart Balance, melted
1 egg yolk
A good tip to know before you start. In between layers, cover your phyllo dough first with plastic wrap and then with a damp cloth. This will keep it from drying before you finish.
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Select two or three sheets of phyllo dough and, using a pastry brush, carefully brush over with butter. Place the sheets of phyllo dough butter-side down into a glass or ceramic pan and brush the top sheet with butter.
2. Add about a half-inch layer of frozen spinach on top of the buttered phyllo and sprinkle cheese on top of the spinach. Sprinkle with a little ground pepper.
3. Butter another two or three phyllo sheets and cover the spinach.
4. Flatten the bell peppers and add a layer on top of the buttered phyllo dough.
5. Repeat the layering until all of your spinach and bell peppers are gone.
6. After the last spinach layer, cover the pie with another few sheets of phyllo, butter the sheets and spread a thin layer of basil leaves and a sprinkle of black pepper before covering the pie with more buttered phyllo.
7. If you have any phyllo left, butter every few sheets and continue placing on the pie until you’ve finished.
8. Create an egg wash by whipping the egg in a small bowl and then dip your pastry brush into the wash, adding a layer of egg yolk on the top layer of phyllo dough.
9. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the top layer of phyllo is a nice golden brown.