It was only recently that I realized my friend Cynthia, a mother of three whom I have known for a good five years now, really doesn’t cook. Like, at all. Having a husband with skills in the kitchen and reliable take-out options on speed dial, she’s got it covered. Clever girl.
So when she told me that spanikopita, Greek spinach pie, is one of just a handful of things she does know how to make, I figured it’s got to be good. Plus, Cynthia is half Greek, and there’s nothing like getting recipes from the source.
My instincts were right. The recipe is a winner. Crispy, delicate filo encase sautéed spinach mixed with eggs and feta cheese. My kids are big fans, completely wowed by the golden pastry and cheesy interior, they don’t seem to notice they’re eating a big ‘ole slab of dark leafy greens.
The recipe calls for frozen, chopped spinach, which means there is no fussing over washing and cutting. Consider opting for organic since conventional spinach is one of the “dirty dozen,” those pesky vegetables heavy on pesticide residues.
The original recipe is too decadent for my everyday cooking, so I tinkered with it a bit, scaling back the butter, eggs, and feta, using low-fat cottage cheese for added creaminess. Certainly it’s not as rich as the original, but it remains delicious, as evidenced by the amount I hoovered straight from the baking pan when nobody was looking. Don’t tell.
There was plenty of pie to hoover since I made three of them: one to deliver to my brother and his wife, who are nesting with a newborn, one to drop off at the neighbors who’ve just moved in down the block, and a double batch for us, some for tonight and the rest for tomorrow’s lunch boxes.
If you’ve never worked with filo before, this is a pretty forgiving place to start. I used the whole wheat version this time around and found it indistinguishable from standard filo in this preparation. I use a light hand with the butter, dabbing, more than slathering each layer of dough. It’s a good sort of dish to make with the kids since layering the dough and spreading the butter with a pastry brush feels like an art project. Plus, it’s a pretty sure way to get them to eat their spinach.
Note: If you don’t have the time or inclination to make homemade spanikopita, check out this one in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s; it’s not bad in a pinch, and pretty darn healthy.
Crispy Filo Spinach Pie
This spinach pie freezes beautifully and is excellent as a leftover. The recipe can easily be doubled and made in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Use 12 full sheets of filo instead of 12 half sheets. The baking time may be slightly longer.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 pound frozen chopped spinach
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¾ cup low-fat cottage cheese
- 6 ounces feta cheese (about 1 ¼ cup crumbled)
- 2 large eggs
- 6 sheets whole wheat or regular filo dough, defrosted overnight in the fridge or for 2 hours at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until it defrosts and the water evaporates, leaving no liquid in the pan. Add the salt and nutmeg, stir and remove from heat.
Once the spinach is cooked and the liquid absorbed, add the cottage cheese, crumbled feta, and eggs to the pan. Mix well until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Set aside while you prepare the filo.
Count out six sheets of filo dough, leaving them stacked. Cut in half crosswise. You will have 12 sheets of filo. Cover with a dish cloth as you work so they don’t dry out.
Brush an 8 x 8-inch baking pan lightly with melted butter and lay one sheet of filo in the pan, the dough will drape over two sides. Lightly brush with butter. Lay another piece of filo on top of the first, draping over the other two sides of the pan, and again, lightly dab it with butter. Continue until you have used up 6 sheets of filo and the dough is draping over all four sides of the pan.
Spoon the spinach mixture into the pan. Fold the four draping sides of filo over the spinach. Lay a fresh sheet of filo on top of the spinach and dough and brush with butter. Continue to lay the remaining 5 sheets of filo, alternating the way the dough drapes.
Tuck or fold any draping filo around the spinach, being sure the spinach is tightly sealed. Brush the top with butter. If you run out of butter along the way, melt another tablespoon and continue.
Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes.
If you aren’t serving this immediately, be sure to reheat it when you are.
Makes 4 servings