I hate having leftover ingredients that I have no use for. This happens all the time to me with phyllo dough. For example, a few weeks ago I made some Chicken Pesto Cups, which only used maybe 16 sheets of phyllo, then I had the rest of that package not to mention the other package (they come two in a box) leftover with no idea what to do with all that phyllo! As it is, I am not a big phyllo fan. It has a strange mouth-feel, chalky taste to it…. or at least that’s what I get from it. Maybe I’m not brushing butter/oil on heavy enough? Either way, I just don’t like it. It doesn’t taste great to me and it takes what seems like forever to brush and layer all the sheets. With that said, I will admit that there are a few dishes out there that are traditionally made with phyllo which I can attest to their greatness- spanakopita and baklava. As you can see from the photos, I will not be sharing a recipe for baklava with you, but rather a really great spanakopita one that I luckily stumbled upon in my search to use up extra phyllo.
This is only my second time making spanakopita. The first time I made the traditional triangle-shaped pockets. I actually used Ina Gartens’ recipe, which was wonderful in its own right. But since I take issue with the amount of time that layering phyllo consumes, I wasn’t about to go through the act of making little pockets again. I decided to look for a recipe which was more “pie-like” in the sense that you create a bottom and top crust of phyllo and bake the filling sandwiched in a pan. I can’t stress enough how much easier this was!! I probably won’t ever make spanakopita again any other way.
The recipe itself was incredibly pleasing. I chose this particular one, not only because it was well-rated, but because it calls for cottage cheese. In my search I saw many recipes that called for ricotta, some for cream cheese, others were sans cheese, and then there was this one with cottage cheese. I don’t particularly like ricotta cheese for fillings, and cream cheese isn’t the healthiest of options, so I decided to go with cottage cheese. It has a very neutral flavor and if you get 1%, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Lots of bang for your buck with protein. It also uses a heavy dose of fresh herbs- parsley and dill, rather than mint and dill, which you sometimes see with spanakopita. I was so happy with how this recipe turned out (despite my personal aversion for phyllo…). I ate the entire trays worth within five nights (keep in mind I am just feeding myself). And to make things easier I used boxed frozen spinach rather than fresh. One box ended up being fine, but as you can see, my spanakopita came out pretty thin. Feel free to use two if you really want it chocked full of spinach!
- 1¼ lbs spinach, chopped (you can substitute one 10 oz box frozen, thawed well)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 large onions, diced
- 1 bunches green onions, diced (incl. 4 inches green)
- ¼ cup parsley, chopped
- ¼ cup fresh dill, chopped (substitute 3 tbsp. dried)
- ⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 oz ricotta or cottage cheese
- 2 Tb butter, melted
- 2 Tb olive oil
- ½ lb phyllo pastry sheets
- Wash and drain the chopped spinach very well. If using frozen spinach, thaw completely and squeeze out excess water. Spinach should be dry.
- Heat the olive oil in a deep saute pan or large dutch oven. Saute the onions and green onions until tender. Add the spinach, parsley, and dill and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the spinach is wilted and heated through. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.
- If using frozen spinach, you will want to cook until excess moisture evaporates. Spinach mixture should be on the dry side.
- Remove from heat and set the spinach aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the feta, eggs, and ricotta (cottage) cheese. Add the cooled spinach mixture and mix until combined.
- Combine the melted butter with the olive oil in a bowl. Using a pastry brush, lightly grease two 9 x 12 rectangular pans.
- Unwrap the Phyllo:
- Carefully remove the Phyllo roll from the plastic sleeve. Most packages come in 12 x 18 inch sheets when opened fully. Using a scissor or sharp knife, cut the sheets in half to make two stacks of 9×12 inch sheets. To prevent drying, cover one stack with wax paper and a damp paper towel while working with the other.
- Prepare the Pita:
- Layer about 10 sheets on the bottom of the pan making sure to brush each sheet with the butter/olive oil mixture. Add half of the spinach mixture in an even layer and press with a spatula to flatten.
- Layer another 10 sheets on top of the spinach mixture making sure to brush well with butter/olive oil mixture. Repeat the process with the second pan.
- Before baking, score the top layer of phyllo (making sure not to puncture filling layer) to enable easier cutting of pieces later. I place the pan in the freezer to harden the top layers and then use a serrated knife.
- Bake in a preheated 350°F oven until the top turns a deep golden brown. If the top is frozen when you put it in the oven, you will need approximately 45 minutes cooking time. If fresh, plan for approximately 20 to 25 minutes of cooking time.
adapted from Lynn Athan