Until I met my husband, I had never really experienced Greek food, and certainly not authentic Greek food. While I have yet to go to Greece where he and his family are from (but we have a trip planned!) there is wonderful Greek food right here in our community. We are blessed to have a beautiful extended family of friends that Pete grew up with, even though all of his aunts and uncles are still in Greece. And there are some incredible cooks among this family. They have all given me an important education in how special and delicious Greek food can be. It is one of those cuisines that is so closely linked to their culture and community, and you can taste it in every bite.
And Tula, my mother in law, is amazing in the kitchen. She raised three boys with great appetites, so she knows a thing or two about feeding people! I think all of the years of cooking for a large family have left her with a very relaxed attitude in the kitchen.
She was so generous to come over the other day and let me observe her while she got to work on some of our family’s favorite Greek recipes.
I know that of all the Greek dishes out there, spanikopita is probably one of the best known. I know that there are a million recipes out there, but I wanted you guys to have a great and authentic recipe to reference. Spanikopita really reminds me of American potato salad in that everyone’s mother makes it a little differently. It usually depends on the region that you grew up in as to what you put in it as accent flavors. Tula was raised in Athens and loves to flavor hers with a generous amount of leek, green onion and fresh dill. Other friends that are from more mountainous regions use mint. I think everyone probably does it differently. Tula’s is delicious- I promise!
You have crispy, buttery, delicate layers of filo dough with a perfect amount of creamy, salty filling sandwiched in the center. The egg rich custard is filled with fresh spinach, herbs and onion and studded with gooey, melting feta and cottage cheese. And despite all of the strong ingredients, it is not overwhelming- just really, really flavorful!
These are best served hot, but I sure love them cold the next day too! Great appetizers or as a side dish. You could even serve this at brunch in place of quiche.
Spanikopita, 20 servings
2 bunches spinach, rinsed well and dried
2 bunches green onion
1 large onion
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup cottage cheese
1.5 lbs feta
½ cup dill
1/3 cup cream of wheat* (Tula’s trick to keeping the filling from getting the filo soggy!)
8 Tbs butter
½ cup olive oil
1 lb filo dough
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Get out a half sheet pan (16×12 from the inner lid- like jelly roll pan with sides. see picture)
Finely slice the leeks and green onions and add to a large bowl.
Mince the onion and add to the bowl with the olive oil.
Finely shred the spinach with a sharp knife and add to the bowl.
Crack the eggs into a separate bowl, and then beat them until fluffy.
Add the cottage cheese, feta, dill and eggs to the bowl.
Mix well with clean hands, making sure to separate the rings of leek and green onion and mix the cottage cheese and feta in. Add black pepper (the feta should be salty enough). Add the cream of wheat and mix well.
Melt the butter and then add ½ cup olive oil to the melted butter.
Lay out your filo dough.
Butter the ½ sheet pan with the butter mixture. Tula’s technique was to do a generous figure 8 drizzle and then brush it in.
Peel a sheet of the filo dough off and lay it down the long way. (She was also very relaxed when she got a torn piece- I would freak out, and she didn’t care. Her technique to override the tears, is to just overlap the layers in the opposite direction so that the tears are covered.) Follow with another good drizzle and brush of butter.
With the next layer use two sheets of filo and cover half the pan with each sheet (the short way), overlapping in the middle. Another layer of butter.
Next time, lay the filo the long way and then brush with butter. So that is the pattern- the next layer is two sheets the short way again, and so on. Don’t forget the butter in between. There should be about 5 layers.
Add the filling to the top of the dough.
For the top, you will only lay the sheets the long way, with butter brushed in between each layer.
You want about three more layers on top, and then fold the extra filo edges over the top and brush them down with butter.
One final sheet is on top, with a heavy brushing of butter. (there will probably be a few sheets of filo left over)
Lightly slice the top into squares, and then into triangles.
Bake the spanikopita at 350 degrees for about an hour, until the filo is golden brown.
Slice through again and serve hot, (but it also delicious cold!)