Welcome back everyone, it is a Beautiful Sunny Day here in Baltimore and I have 100 things on my plate today as usual. So I am always looking for ways to speed things up without losing the quality of the product I am making. This recipe is my dear mother-in-law Maria’s recipe for Spanakopita. It is a classic favorite for Greek food lovers everywhere!
I am a morning girl a very early bird and I love to get up and cook before everyone else wakes up. She was always up at the crack of dawn to start cooking and doing her chores, especially on very hot days. We had no air conditioning and she wanted to have all of her cooking done with her one little oven before it became really hot. I am just like my Mom, I love to get up early, but I don’t get up early to beat the heat. As a caterer before I had a commercial kitchen I used my home to do most of the cooking. I am very fortunate to have air conditioning and three ovens, I wish my Mom had seen my kitchen.
In fact a great childhood memory for me is lying in bed at dusk or earlier listening to her morning activities through the window of my second floor bedroom in our Row House. My window was over the back yard and I could hear the slam of the basement door over and over as she went back and forth with laundry to fill the clothesline. Then before the sun even came up I could smell the aroma of breakfast coming from the kitchen door. There was a little square deck off the kitchen door that was one flight up from the basement door. In spring and summer on Saturday mornings we would come rolling downstairs and she would always have a little card table set up on the deck where we ate our breakfast.
She dressed the card table with a linen clothe, linen napkins and served us our orange juice in wine glasses. She had flowers from the garden, Warm Spanakopita, Scrambled Eggs with Feta and Hotdogs (another story for another blog) her famous Sticky Buns and Half Grapefruits with sugar on top. Fifty years ago grapefruit spoons were not common and she had a set with bamboo handles. I only have one of those spoons left and I cherish it!
This is not only a great memory but also became a tradition I have continued for my children. Of course there are no clotheslines out of basement doors and bedroom windows open for lack of air-conditioning. We did have a deck that held much more than a small card table that barely fit four chairs around it. I knew I could not replicate many of the material memories but I could give my children the same wonderful feeling I had as a little girl. As it turns out, the memory I crated with my children is a little different. You see my house was much bigger than my house growing up and it became the meetinghouse for all their friends through Middle, High School and even through College. So on any given Saturday morning I would have as many as 10-14 boys rolling down the stairs for my breakfast.
The linens became washable placemats; the flowers became baskets of bagels, glass plates sometimes replaced by plastic. Yet, the food served was very similar to what my Mom served us. Ok, with the addition of a couple pounds of bacon and a mound of home fries, and yes they got her famous sticky buns and scrambled eggs with feta and hotdogs! I did often replace a few things for the gourmet touch. For instance, traditional Spanakopita, became a Spanakopita quiche and grapefruit halves became luscious fruit salads with a coconut mango glaze. Now, this has become their memory of great breakfasts with just our family and sometimes of course the 10-14 others that became part of the tradition.
As you know I have been catering for 30 years and I was raised in a Greek household. The combination of my American Culinary Education and Yia Yia’s Greek teachings have brought many of the classic and popular Greek recipes to a whole new level.
There are certain Greek foods that are popular and known by all ethnicities, I have found in my catering travels that Spanakopita holds the throne. Actually, I get the most catering requests for this Greek Classic from my non-Greek customers, not from my Greek customers. There are so many variations to this recipe depending on the Island of Greece your family is from. These are slight variations and a matter of tradition and preference.
Like the use of fresh spinach vs frozen spinach, fresh dill versus dry dill, green onions versus a vidalia onion and olive oil versus butter. Again tradition and preference dictate this. I will tell you what I learned from my mother & mother-in-law, what I learned in culinary school and what my preferences are!
Prep time: 30 min
Cooking time: 45 min
Servings: 120 (4 pans)
- 2 16oz bags frozen chopped spinach
- 2 medium vidalia onions, chopped small
- 1 cup chopped fresh dill or 3 tbsp. dry dill
- 1 tbsp. fresh grated nutmeg or 2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 6 eggs
- 1 32 oz ricotta cheese
- 2 cups parmesan cheese
- 3 cups domestic feta crumbled
- Salt and black pepper to taste (remember the cheeses are
- salty, taste before you add salt)
- 1 package phyllo dough 18 pieces in box
- 2 sticks of butter melted
Note: You will see that I choose a Vidalia onion instead of green onions. I feel that sweet Vidalia onions give it a wonderful flavor and the green onion adds nothing additional. I use green onions when I want the flavor of onion and the green to add color to my dish. There is plenty of green coming from the spinach. Next, I choose real butter, not margarine or olive oil.
For this recipe I feel butter infuses a better flavor in the onions and spinach, not leaving the mixture greasy. I choose frozen chopped spinach over fresh spinach because feel it does not make a difference in the finished product. Plus, using fresh spinach will add time and labor and it will take longer to get the hot flaky finished product on your plate.
As far as dill, I have used both and to me there is not a noticeable difference. I will buy fresh dill if there is a big fresh bunch staring at me, then I have to buy it and that usually inspires me to make Spanakopita. When it comes to nutmeg, if you have read my other blogs you will notice, I love fresh grated and I use that always.
I like to add the spinach to the onion and dill mixture after it has cooked for about 20 minutes on low. It absorbs any moisture left in the spinach, then add the pepper, nutmeg mix it really well.
Let the Spinach mixture cool for about 15 minutes, while you are waiting place, ricotta, Parmesan, Feta and Eggs in bowl and mix well. Then add the warm spinach mixture to the bowl. Mix really well and you are ready to roll your Spanakopita!
Now we need to talk about the actual procedure in making either the traditional triangle shaped Spanakopita like my mother did or my mother in laws method.
I know the traditional shape is the triangle and I will do it that way if I am making it large for an entrée portion. The only method I have used for the last 20 years to make them appetizer size is my mother in laws method. It is easy, quick, eye appealing and when I cater and have to make 600# pieces; it’s the only way!
Unroll Phyllo, leaving it stacked with the short end facing you. Then generously butter the top layer and place a line of the Spanakopita mixture at the short end of the Phyllo.
Ok I know many of my Greek readers will say, “no way, just 3 pieces of phyllo”! My answer is yes, because you will see as you roll up the log to the end of the phyllo; you will be left with a nice thick log that goes right into your buttered pan.
Remember, you are only buttering the first of the 3 pieces of phyllo so be generous with the butter. As you roll up the log tuck the ends in as you roll or leave them open as my mother-in-law did. The mixture will not come out.
Once the logs are all in the pan brush them again generously with butter. Then using the tip of a sharp knife cut them on an angle as you would for baklava. Bake at 325 degrees until golden brown.
This recipe makes 4 pans, I use the disposable EZ foil cake pans, 121/4×81/4×11/4. They are perfect because you can freeze all 4 pans or bake them or take them to a party with no cleanup.
The very best part of this recipe is that when they come out of the oven and you cut them all the way through and place them on a plate, they are beautiful!
The reason I like this method much better than the traditional triangle is because the sides are open and you can see the Spanakopita filling from the side.
Especially for Catering, they make a beautiful presentation. You can do Tyropita the same way and the filling will not come out. For those that do not know what Tyropita is, it is the sister of Spanakopita; minus the spinach, dill and onion.
So my friends, whether you are making one pan for the family or all 4 for a party or holiday; your Spanakopita will be a hit every time! I am so happy that my beloved Mother-in-law Maria shared her recipe and taught me this little trick that is a huge time saver!