The February Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Audax of Audax Artifex. The challenge brought us to Greece with a delicious, flaky spanakopita – a spinach pie in a phyllo pastry shell.
I haven’t participated in a a Daring Kitchen challenge in … um … longer than I can remember. When I went back to the website, I was afraid that I might have been removed from the list, since the rules used to say that if you missed more than 2 months in a row, you were out. It seems the rules have been relaxed (at least for now) so, I’m in the clear! *whew*
I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of challenge cooking, though. I find that I’m much better about making new things when I have outside encouragement, so be looking for more of these monthly challenge posts from me!
Ok, onward with the challenge dish.
I love spanakopita, so I already knew I was going to like this pie. I’ve never made it from scratch but the recipe wasn’t at all difficult. The biggest surprise for me was to find out that none of the filling is cooked before it’s all put in the phyllo crust and baked. I thought for sure that the onion and spinach filling was sauteed first. The next biggest surprise was that the recipe included breadcrumbs and/or couscous for thickening. (For the record I used couscous.)
I made a few substitutions, but only because of my own lack of attention to the detail (and because, well, the day I baked this we were iced in and I couldn’t run to the grocery store and get my missing ingredients!). I also learned a few things!
- I totally misread the recipe and got yellow onion and not spring onion, so instead I used 2 leeks.
- I forgot to get fresh dill and I wasn’t sure that using the dried stuff would work out, so I left it out. I did have whole nutmeg, though!
- I only had a pound of spinach, and by the time I realized I needed 2 lbs, I’d already prepped and chopped all the rest of the ingredients. So for a “spinach pie” it was probably lighter on spinach than it should have been!
- Next time I make this (and I will make it again) I will add more layers of phyllo to the bottom of the pie.
- I tried to make it less messy by using a strainer and a spatula, but you really need to get in there with your hands and squeeze and mush things together for it to work, and to get the most liquid extracted (pic below).
- I used couscous for my liquid absorbing agent and it took about 3/4 cup for the volume of liquid I had. I added another 1/8th of a cup (roughly) to the mix just to absorb any juices in the baking. It worked well and there was no crunchy couscous in my final product.
- I need a lot more practice working with phyllo. Mine tore and folded and finally I just sort of gave up and plastered it all together with butter!
- I forgot to score the top before cooking, but mine sliced up pretty cleanly fresh out of the oven. The filling held together a little better if I let it sit for a few mins before serving, however.
We loved this as a warm and filling while-we’re-iced-in meal; I ate it as my main course and H had a serving as a side with some smoked sausage. And I keep going back for nibbles and bits. I wonder how it would work for breakfast with a poached egg? Hmmmm!
Here’s the recipe as posted.
- 2 lbs spinach (either frozen chopped or fresh, chopped and stemmed)
- 2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 oz chopped fresh dill
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 2-3 shallots, chopped
- 1 bunch spring onions, chopped
- 1 large leek, well washed, white & light green part chopped
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup of couscous (or bread crumbs)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 stick of butter, melted
- 1 packet phyllo sheets
Preheat the oven to 375°F
In a large bowl, mix together the first 8 ingredients (through the garlic) and mix well. I found that actually getting in there with my hands and mixing was the best way, especially if you’re using fresh spinach. You really need to smush up the ingredients and get them to meld. It was the suggestion in the original recipe, and it was spot on.
Let the mix sit for 10 mins or so and then squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can. Add the couscous or breadcrumbs to the liquid and let it sit for another 10 mins to absorb. (I used couscous and it took about 3/4 of a cup to get a paste like texture. I then added about another 1/8 of a cup of dry couscous directly to the filling mix to absorb any additional cooking liquid.)
Return the thickened liquid to the spinach filling, and add your eggs.
Butter the bottom and sides of your baking dish Begin layering phyllo sheets in your baking dish, brushing on melted butter between every 2nd sheet. I went with the 8 sheets suggested in the recipe, but I really recommend maybe 12 sheets. I found that after cooking, I really wanted a slightly thicker crust to the bottom and sides.
Spoon in the filling and smooth it out, then fold over the phyllo. Add 6-8 more sheets to the top, again brushing on the melted butter between every 2nd sheet. Tuck in the edges as you go.Score the phyllo before baking to make it easier to cut after.
Bake for 45 mins to an hour.
If you forget to score the phyllo before baking, found that it sliced pretty well without crumbling while it was still hot. The filling held together better after it had been allowed to cool for about 20 mins, though. So I’d recommend slicing it once right out of the oven so the phyllo doesn’t crumble, and then waiting 15-20 mins to cut out your pieces to serve.