Spanakopitas are a great appetizer-sized morsel that can be made ahead and frozen easily for any last minute house guests or potlucks. They are very forgiving in terms of cooking and preparation because the inherent flavour of the ingredients and use of pre-packaged pastry makes them impressive without much need for skill :) In my case, I was even using spinach and chard (the main fillers) that were past their prime.
To start with, I washed and cut all the tough stems off the ends of my greens. I didn't bother taking the spines out of the chard because I figured that they were all soft from being wilted anyway and I could just cook them a little longer and chop them up finely. Got a wok nice and hot, added a little bit of olive oil, and threw the whole lot of slightly wet greens in.
A little salt and the residual water from washing wilted the greens down nicely. I gave the wilted green a squeeze in a mesh strainer with the back a wooden spoon to get rid of any excess moisture and laid them out on my cutting board with my pine nuts for a fine mincing.
How coarse or fine you chop them is a matter of preference. I chopped fairly fine this time, since I knew I had some chard stems in there to contend with. Next, everything got transferred to a bowl, to which I added my very small bit of leftover feta and some nutmeg.
Mixed that all around and had a taste. The feta was actually salty enough and I didn't need any more seasoning, but I did feel like it wasn't creamy/cheesy enough - so I dug around in my fridge and came up with some cream cheese that I threw in for added creaminess.
Wrapping time. You could make these with a single layer of phyllo if you were making very small triangles, but I like them about palm sized, so I layer two sheets of phyllo together. Just melt some butter and get a brush ready. Lay one piece of phyllo out, brush with butter (no, it doesn't have to perfectly cover the whole sheet - in fact, I usually just dab it on with the brush and casually "connect the dots"), and lay the other sheet over top. Cover the other phyllo sheets up when you're not using them with the wrap they came in.
I know some people find phyllo finicky. I guess that's because it is so thin and tends to fold, crinkle up and tear... but because you pile it on in multiple layers, I usually don't fuss with whatever it decides to do. I figure that the creases will not be detectable in the multiple finished flaky layers and any tears can just be overlapped with sheets that are turned in such a way as to cover them up.
Cut the layered sheet lengthwise into four long strips. Place a heaping spoonful of filling onto one end of the strip and start rolling. If you wanted smaller, bite-sized triangles, you could alternately use one or two sheets of phyllo layered together and cut into six or more long strips.
|This was actually not enough filling, my subsequent triangles were much more robust.|
And you keep on folding the triangle over and over again until you get to the top.
You don't need to worry about getting all the filling fully encased the first few folds, because as you roll the triangle up, all the edges and corners will eventually get covered in a few layers.
When you get to the top you get brush the end of the pastry with a little more melted butter to stick the end down and place it onto a baking sheet (lined with parchment or baking mat). They can be placed fairly close together on the baking sheet since they don't really expand during baking. Sometimes a little cheese leaks out of the corners, but this usually just forms some of that nice crispy burnt cheese pieces that everyone loves.
Once your baking sheet is full, brush all the tops with a little more butter and glue down any fly-away pieces of phyllo with a brush of butter as well. Place them into a preheated 375F oven and bake until they are golden brown (about 25 minutes).
I only baked one sheet and served them alongside a hearty salad for a light summer dinner. The rest I placed onto a parchment lined baking sheet and put into the freezer. Once they were sufficiently frozen, I transferred them to a ziploc bag and now I have some Greek pastries ready to enjoyed another day. They do not need to be defrosted before baking, though if you've made them really big you may want to lower the heat to 350F and bake them a little slower and longer to make sure the filling gets nice and warm. Alternately, you could cover them in foil if you think they are browning too quickly.
You'll almost always have leftover filling or phyllo. Leftover filling can be easily mixed into a pasta sauce or tossed with some warm pasta and pasta water for a quick lunch. You could also top a piece of bread or cracker with the filling and some cheese, toast it, and call it a crostini or bruschetta of sorts.
In my case, I had leftover phyllo... a lot of it. Since I was just using up leftover ingredients in my fridge I only had enough filling to make about twenty or so spanakopitas, leaving at least two thirds of the phyllo package unused. Phyllo generally needs to be used once the package has been opened as the pastry sheets dry out and start to crack quite quickly.
There's a few options here:
1. You could be ambitious and make something else with the phyllo: mushroom turnovers, baklava, cheesy beggar's purses.
2. Tiny tart shells. Layer up four or five sheets of phyllo with melted butter in between, cut them into small squares, fit each small square into a mini muffin cup (to form a tart shell) and brush the tops with a little more melted butter. Bake them until flaky and slightly golden and save them in the freezer for when you want a tiny tart shell for custard and fruit, ice cream or any sweet or savoury filling that needs little to no baking.
3. Phyllo "cookies" are also an easy treat. Again, layer four to five sheets of phyllo together - but this time, when you spread on the melted butter, also sprinkle on a sugar/ground nut/spice mix (e.g. brown sugar, finely chopped pecans, cinnamon). Finish the layers with melted butter and a small sprinkling of nuts. Cut your layered phyllo sheets into decorative triangles, squares, fingers, etc. and bake until crisp.
I used my phyllo to make a "pie crust" for a berry crumble. Write about it next post...