Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Olympic Party (2): Spanakopita

Earlier this week, I shared the menu for my recent Olympics party, which took place during the opening ceremonies and featured foods and drinks from around the world. It was lots of fun, and my guests really got into the Olympic spirit by dressing up and bringing their own international contributions to the buffet table.

Today I'd like to share my recipe for the Greek representative from the Olympic menu. Spanakopita is essentially a Greek spinach pie which usually contains feta cheese. It can either be made in a pan featuring layers of buttery phyllo dough and a spinach filling, cut into squares and served, or can also be made into individual triangles.

The triangles are easier to make ahead and freeze, and also are easier to serve and make people feel all warm and fuzzy inside because they get their own little bundles of spinachy goodness. They are also a bit more time consuming than making than the pan version. I think it's worth it.

These spanakopita were another favorite among my guests. Every last one was polished off before the evening culminated with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. They are great to make ahead and freeze for last minute emergency appetizers or spanakopita cravings. Don't you wish you had one now?

Makes 30

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 scallions, sliced
1 lb. spinach
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg
4 oz (1 cup) crumbled feta
1 egg, beaten
20 (9-by-14-inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted

Add the olive oil to a large pot over medium heat. Add the scallions and saute until they begin to soften. Add the spinach, pressing it down into the pot and cover the pot. Let the spinach begin to wilt, uncover the pot and stir to redistribute the spinach. Cover the pot and continue to let the spinach wilt. It will release some water.

When the spinach has wilted, transfer it to a colander and let it drain until the mixture is completely cool. Squeeze handfuls of spinach dry and then coarsely chop it and add it to a mixing bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the crumbled feta and the beaten egg. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use the filling.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cover the stack of phyllo dough with a kitchen towel to keep it from drying out (and work quickly). Place one sheet of phyllo on a work surface with the short end nearest you. Brush with melted butter and top with another sheet of phyllo. Brush the second layer with melted butter as well. Cut the phyllo into 3 (3-inch wide) strips (phyllo comes in all different sizes so do your best to figure out how to cut your phyllo into the best size strips, about 3 inches wide and about a foot long or longer depending on your phyllo size. Mine were about 3-by-14-inches).

Place a scant tablespoon of filling at the bottom of each strip off to the side in a rough triangle shape. Fold the corner of the phyllo to enclose the filling and form a triangle. Continue folding the strip (like a flag), maintaining the triangle shape. If you have a little bit of unsightly dough left at the end once you've folded a perfect spanakopita, feel free to trim off that last bit of excess dough or fold it over the best you can while maintaining the aesthetic integrity of the triangle. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Place the triangles seam-side down on 1 or 2 parchment paper-lined sheet pans and brush the tops with melted butter. Alternatively the triangles can be frozen on a sheet pan (without the butter) until completely frozen, transferred to a freezer bag, and then baked later from a frozen state. Bake the spanakopita for about 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and crisp (if baking 2 sheets at once, rotate pans from top to bottom halfway through). Previously frozen spanakopita may take about 10 minutes longer to bake.

Check out all the Olympic Party posts here...

Part 1: Menu, Cheese Board, and Sangria
Part 2: Spanakopita
Part 3: Cottage Pies
Part 4: Har Gow Shrimp Dumplings
Part 5: Yakisoba


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