Don’t let layers of buttery phyllo intimidate you. Here’s a recipe for spanakopita success.
Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie) is an essential Greek dish. Therefore, you will rarely encounter a Greek holiday or celebration without one. In Greece, it’s prevalent supply leads it to be the logical choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I also love making it for my Los Angeles personal chef clients.
My ideal Spanakopita
For me, the perfect spanakopita involves beautiful wilted spinach, woven with a variety of cheese. In Greece, they use a nice salty hard salty sheep’s/goat’s-milk cheese called Kefalotiri. It’s a little harder to source that in the U.S. so you can sub in parmesan, romano or pecorino or a mix of those. Additionally, Feta cheese is a main ingredient. I love traditional Greek feta, but you can use whatever you prefer and have available to you. This recipe also calls for cream cheese, which is not traditionally used in Greece, but I personally love how it binds the whole pie together with a satisfying flavor and texture. Fresh herbs make the entire mix pop, so splurge on those. Dill and mint are two herbs that really shine through.
Fresh vs Frozen Spinach
Let’s face it, nobody wants to eat a soggy spanakopita. But this doesn’t have to be your fate if you follow a few simple tips. Firstly, making sure you squeeze all the excess moisture out of your spinach. This is the case with both fresh and frozen spinach. If you are using fresh spinach, wilt it in a large pan and then drain it in a colander. Instead of a colander, a salad spinner is the perfect tool for getting all the extra moisture out of the spinach. For those using frozen spinach, make sure it’s thoroughly defrosted and then squeeze it out in a colander. You can also put it in a kitchen towel or a cheese cloth to help with squeezing.
Finally, scoring your spanakopita after you have assembled it serves two purposes. It vents the spanakopita and gets rid of the steam that can build up in the pie, which can make it soggy. In addition, it helps with cutting, since it’s much easier to cut the phyllo before it becomes super flaky. Also, baking it in a shallower baking dish will help the steam escape and give you a crispier result.
Freeze for later
Sometimes if I’m in the groove (like in the time-lapse video below), I like to make a few spanakopitas at a time and freeze them to easily bake off at a later time. All you have to do is make the pie up until you finish assembling it. Then wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it. Once you are ready to bake it, take it out of the freezer, apply the egg wash on the top and pop it into the oven and bake directly from frozen. You don’t need to defrost it or anything.
Make this winning Spanakopita recipe
This recipe originally appeared on the Huffington Post in an article covering the 2010 KCRW Good Food Pie Contest. I took home a 3rd place ribbon for it that year. I think I could have placed higher but there was some dispute if a spanakopita was a real pie. Obviously, it is a pie. It was a pie before pie was pie. But I digress.
I love teaching how to make this recipe in my cooking classes. Take the basic ingredients and riff off it to your own taste. This is the perfect ratio of scallions and spinach to cheese and herbs for me, but you may have another mixture in mind. Above all, savor your finished product. There’s nothing quite like a hot, buttery, spinachy, cheesy spanakopita that is just out of the oven.