About 10 years ago I had the good fortune to join my friend on a trip to Greece, where her father is from, to meet her family and to see the town where her father had grown up. We spent a few days in Athens with her uncle and his family and then flew to Alexandroupoli with her cousin to meet her father’s sisters in Pallouri, a tiny town in the Northeastern tip of the country. Her family embraced me with the same warmth that they embraced their niece, who they had only met as a baby, and made sure that we were both very well fed. And well fed we were.
We made visits to aunts, cousins, old friends, and at everyone’s home we were offered something delicious to eat. Not wanting to offend her family, we couldn’t refuse a bite, not to mention the fact that everything that we were offered was out of this world. I wish that I had been the foodie (I hate that word) that I am today and would have followed her Thea Anastasia and Thea Thespina around their kitchens taking notes. They are probably much like my mother-in-law and prepare everything at odd hours when everyone is sleeping, making the task of shadowing them in the kitchen very difficult.
My most delicious memory was a three hour lunch at her Thea Anastasia’s house, where you could see Bulgaria from one side of the balcony and Turkey from the other, her aunt pulled out a spanakopita from a small wood fired oven, which was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted in my entire life. We had sampled spanakopita in different places around Athens and in her father’s town, but I had never had it homemade. I can only imagine that she made the phyllo herself, or at least bought it from a local baker and not the freezer aisle in the grocery store. The taste is still singing in my mouth with the lovely burn of Retisna washing it down.
This recipe from Joy of Cooking is delicious, though I will never be able to match the heaven that her aunt made for us, it is much better than a lot of the spanakopita that you can get at greek and middle eastern restaurants.
Spanakopita from the Joy of Cooking
Stem, wash well, and coarsely chop:
- 2 lbs (or three 10-ounce bags) spinach
Heat in a large skillet over medium heat:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Add and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes:
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 4 scallions, finely chopped
Add the chopped spinach a handful at a time. Cook until the spinach is wilted and the liquid is released, 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is evaporated and the spinach is dry, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in:
- ¼ cup snipped fresh dill or chopped fresh parsley
Let stand until cool enough to handle, then squeeze to remove the excess liquid. In a medium bowl, lightly beat:
- 4 large eggs
Add the cooked spinach mixture along with:
- 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 tbsp grated kefalotiri or Parmesan cheese
- ½ tsp salt
- Several grinds of black pepper
- Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Lightly oil a 13 X 9-inch baking pan. Melt:
- 8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
Unroll on a dry work surface:
- 1 lb phyllo dough, thawed if frozen (following the recipe, I only ended up using half of the 1 lb Athens Fillo Dough package)
Trim 1 inch from the edges of the phyllo dough. Cover with a dry towel and cover the dry towel with a damp towel. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo in and up the sides of the prepared pan and brush lightly with melted butter. Top with 7 more phyllo sheets, brushing each one lightly with butter. Spread the spinach mixture over the layered phyllo. Top with 8 more sheets, brushing each one with butter, including the top sheet. Roll the overhanging phyllo from the sides to form a border all the way around. With a this, sharp knife, cut the pie into squares or diamonds, but do not cut through the bottom or the filling will leak onto the pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake the spinach pie until crisp and golden, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes. Cut the squares or diamonds right through to the bottom and serve.
One Year Ago: Fruit Tart with Crema Pasticcera and Shortbread Cookies, Farfalle alla Nerano, Renella, Pizza, Zucchine alla Scapece, Linguine with Artichokes, Cicoria Saltata in Padella, Lunch in Anzio