Sunday, February 14, 2010
Hmm. Is something amiss here? Did I do something wrong? Because my first experience with phyllo pastry was remarkably...easy. There was no pulling of my hair in frustration, no wringing of the fists, no stream of curses that would blanche a soldier. There was me. Phyllo pastry. And a lot of butter.
I'd done some research on the miracles and tribulations of using this dough and I felt ready. I had all the ingredients necessary to piece together an interpretation of Spanakopita. I had the requisite bravery needed work with those delicate, pale sheets. I marvelled at how a heaping mountain of spinach could shrink into a tiny pile of deep, dark green when wilted in a hot pan. I delighted in the vividness of the lemon zest abutting the lightly perfumed dill. I couldn't believe how everything was coming together with so much ease.
And when it came time to unwrap and layer the phyllo, well, it separated with minimal tearing. I lavished the layers with the butter and olive oil mixture, poured in the filling and put the pan in the oven with a light heart. As I sat and waited for it to turn golden brown, I thought about timing and how maybe this culinary experience, with all its steps and possible complications, came down to the right things happening at just the right time. Much like one of the most pivotal events of my life did; finding love.
Almost Husband and I met in high school, back when I was 17. It was in "Society: Challenge And Change" class that we first clapped eyes on each other. He was a punk, resplendent with a mohawk, pants made almost entirely of holes and patches to cover said holes and a defiant attitude. I was a somewhat pimpled, shy loner, damaged from the torment of junior high. I wore 20-hole Doc Martins that were too big for me; they were cool back in the day, so I ignored the fact that I looked like Ronald McDonald.
He mentioned to a mutual friend that he thought I was cute. I set about, in my clumsy, innocent way, to wooing him. Slowly, slowly, we gravitated towards each other, and in a few short months, he asked me to be his girlfriend. And thus, I embarked on my first love affair. And, as it would turn out, the only love affair of any consequence, beauty or gravity.
Like most relationships, ours was tested. By youth, by inexperience, by bad timing and bad decisions. We were mercurial. We broke up. We made up. Then we broke up some more. Over the years, we often found ourselves crossing paths again and felt that gravitational pull once more, twice more, but after the initial elation of our reunions, the timing soured like curdled milk and somehow, we couldn't make "us" work.
Fast forward to three years ago, maybe a bit longer. A dream, a dream of such lucidity woke me one morning with such a sense of longing and nostalgia for him that I knew I had to look for him. I Googled him. I found him. I contacted him. We made plans to meet. And from the moment I saw him, I was filled with the certainty that this time, the stars had aligned, the moon was in the right position, the heavens and fates were all smiling down upon us. The timing, at last, was perfect.
And it still is. We're getting married this May.
So here, my friends, is my take on Spanakopita. I promise that if you prepare your workspace, and don't handle the dough with ham-fists, you'll have no trouble with this recipe. I don't make any claims of authenticity for traditional Greek dishes, I just took the combination of spinach and feta and went from there. I found the lemon really adds a lovely note to the dish. I was so incredibly pleased with how gorgeous the whole thing tasted; I'll be making this over and over!
Spinach And Feta Pie:
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large bunch of spinach
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic (more, if you like)
1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh dill
zest of one lemon
juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 - 3/4 cup of feta cheese, crumbled (I went for 3/4 cup; there's never too much cheese for me!)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 box of phyllo dough
1/3 cup melted butter with 1 tbsp olive oil added
1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter. Add onion and garlic and cook on medium heat till soft and lightly browned. Remove from pan and add to large mixing bowl.
2. Add spinach to still-hot pan and allow to wilt; approximately 3-4 minutes. Pour into sieve and press out as much water as you can (I also pressed it in a dishcloth) Once drained, chop it finely and add to the mixing bowl.
3. Add the dill, lemon zest, lemon juice, ricotta and feta to the mix and stir till well combined. Add enough salt and pepper to your liking and then add the beaten egg. Put it in fridge till you're ready to use it.
4. Set aside a space to work with the phyllo. Have a buttered baking pan (I used a 8" x 8" one) and two damp dishcloths ready and waiting. Melt the butter and add the olive oil; have pastry brush on hand. Take the thawed roll, cut it in half (I had a 5"- 6" wide roll) unroll and place between the cloths.
5. Peeling one sheet at a time, place them gently in the baking pan, one on the right side, one on the left side, to cover the bottom and brush with the butter/olive oil mixture. (Make sure to keep re-covering the phyllo sheets between the damp cloths; this will save you so much hassle!) Keep layering till you've accumulated 6 or 7 buttered layers. There will be phyllo hanging over the edges of the pan; don't trim these, they'll fold neatly to cover the entire top of the filling.
6. Place filling on top of the buttered layers and fold overhang to cover. Butter the top and stick in the oven for 25-30 minutes; keep checking on it to make sure it doesn't burn. Allow to cool, cut it and enjoy!