Today’s recipe comes from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, the vegetarian classic that was my first real cookbook. I still have my splattered old copy, with its friendly hand-lettered recipes and little line drawings of dancing broccoli, and I remember feeling very brave and grownup in my teeny galley kitchen (my very own kitchen!) learning to cook from it. I’ve made Mollie’s borscht and her Bulgarian peppers, the hummus and Welsh rarebit, but it’s the Greek spanakopita that I’ll always love best. I’ve made and polished off this savory spinach and feta pie many, many, many times.
Since it dries out so quickly, working with phyllo dough can feel a little fussy if you’ve never done it before. If you’re new to it and can recruit a kitchen helper for that step, all the better, but I’ve scaled the recipe down over the years so you won’t need the entire package of dough and can stand to sacrifice a few sheets. (Confetti the kitchen, paper-mâche the dog, whatever you like.) You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with fragrant, satisfying, nutritious comfort food, and in my case a little bit of sweet nostalgia.
adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, 1977; serves about 6
- two 10 oz packages of frozen cut spinach, defrosted
- one large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 5 fat garlic cloves, minced
- one teaspoon dried oregano
- one tablespoon dried basil
- 1 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- one 16 oz package frozen phyllo, thoroughly defrosted
- 6 oz crumbled feta (herbed or plain)
- extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- pastry brush
Over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften, 3 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the dried herbs and garlic; continue to cook for 2 more minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the flour.
Meanwhile, over a strainer wring as much water as you can out of the defrosted spinach. Add to the sauté pan, stirring to combine with the onion mixture. Sprinkle the feta over top and gently stir to combine. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Under running water, soak a clean kitchen towel; wring out until it’s just damp. Carefully unroll the defrosted phyllo dough and cover with a long length of plastic wrap. Place the damp towel over top. (This will help keep the dough from drying out.)
Measure about 1/3 cup of olive oil in a small bowl. With a pastry brush, apply a very thin layer of olive oil to an 8×8″ pan. Roll back your plastic/kitchen towel setup and carefully transfer a sheet of phyllo to your baking dish. (It’s okay if you have overhang, or you can also take a chef’s knife to trim the stack of phyllo so each sheet will fit your pan better.) Replace the towel and plastic. Lightly brush the sheet with olive oil. Repeat with more layers of phyllo, brushing lightly with olive oil in between each layer and keeping the unused sheets of dough covered. Continue until you have about 12 layers in the bottom of your pan. Spread the filling evenly over your layered dough. (You can either trim the excess phyllo so it’s even with the top of the pan, or fold over any overhang to cover the filling.) Continue adding layers of phyllo on top, brushing with olive oil as you did with the bottom layer.
Bake the assembled dish for 40-45 minutes, until the phyllo is well browned. Let cool 10-15 minutes in the pan before slicing into squares or triangles to serve.
Note: I separated the recipe into two smaller pans; cut the phyllo in half cross-wise to do the same. You can wrap an assembled pan well in plastic and refrigerate until needed. I used whole wheat phyllo, which was lovely.