SPANAKOPITA THE COMMON THREAD
Three years after my parents divorced, my mother was remarried to a Greek man and I inherited a fairy tale Greek grandmother, tiny in stature with strong hands from pulling taffy in her family candy business and a huge "come into my kitchen" kind of heart. Her kitchen wore years of Sunday dinners and celebrations as Greeks do with such gusto. There was always something delicious in the oven like spanakopita, bathed in butter, that had consumed many hours of preparation and something fragrant in a well worn pot on the stove scented with cinnamon, tomatoes and lamb if it was a special occasion. Early on I told my grandmother how much I loved the spanakopita which guaranteed that she would make them for me every time I visited but also that I along with my preteen girlfriends would soon be around her plastic covered kitchen table folding hundreds of near perfect triangles by the sheet pan full. The pans would be whisked away to the freezer and proudly delivered to her cohorts in the Church basement for Greek Easter or an upcoming bazaar. These folding sessions, which became our favorite sleepovers, meant treats of all sorts we had never seen before including little round doughnuts drizzled with honey that my grandmother fried in a special corner in the garage so as not to stink up the kitchen-fabulous on so many levels and permanently etched in my culinary memory.
A decade or so later I started a catering business. My first job was for a waste management company retirement party for 250 enthusiastic eaters devouring platter after platter of spanakopita that I recruited several friends to my prep table to help me fold. They became one of my best clients, more often than not ordering the ever so time-consuming spanakopita! I was tempted to take it off the menu but could not find it in my heart to do so. Another decade passed, after having children, I found myself in a less demanding role teaching Greek cooking classes. Classes began with a story tribute to my Greek grandmother, tables of students, sheets of delicate phyllo dough, pastry brushes, pots of melted butter and bowls of bright green spinach dotted with sheeps milk feta and handfuls of fresh dill and oh a "secret ingredient" , which all Greek recipes contain, freshly grated nutmeg.
Now my daughter and I, when we can carve out the time, will spend an afternoon making spanakopita together to share around our table. The process of making spanakopita makes me feel the history, my own, the generations before me and with any luck my daughter’s as well.
BY LESLEY CANFIELD
Spanakopita, or spinach pie (spanaki means spinach), is prepared using the same technique as Tiropita with the addition of spinach and plenty of herbs and spring onion. Traditionally spanakopita is a fasting spinach pie, which is prepared without dairy to enjoy during periods of fast.
Makes 12 large or 24 small pieces
Preparation time: 30-45 minutes
Baking time: 20 minutes
2 boxes frozen chopped spinach
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 green onions chopped fine
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons dill
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups feta
1 pound phyllo at room temperature
1 stick melted butter
Preheat oven to 375º F.
Combine thawed and well-drained spinach with all of the ingredients, adding the feta last in order to keep it a little chunky.
Cut phyllo in desired widths up to four strips for (appetizer size). Cover the remaining phyllo strips with waxed paper or plastic wrap topped with a damp cloth to keep from drying out. Brush one entire strip lightly with melted butter and top with second strip part way up to make one long strip.
Put one heaping teaspoon of mixture a few inches from the bottom of the strip and fold up into a triangle (like a flag) using pastry brush with melted butter to seal up the package along the way. Periodically reheat the butter to keep it from congealing .
Bake at 375º F until golden.
Note: Try making the large size (phyllo cut in half lengthwise rather than quarters) for lunch with a traditional Greek salad or light soup. Try adding 1/3 cup fresh chopped parsley and pine nuts.