Updated February 4, 2022
Don’t let layers of flaky phyllo intimidate you. Here’s an easy recipe for spanakopita success.
Spanakopita is an essential Greek recipe. The pie is a savory mix of spinach, feta, and herbs ensconced in flaky layers of phyllo. Therefore, you will rarely encounter a Greek holiday or celebration without this masterpiece. In Greece, its prevalent supply leads it to be the logical choice for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Spanakopita’s versatility and portability makes it the perfect street food as well. I love making it for my Los Angeles personal chef clients. If you’re intrigued, read all about the history of Spanakopita.
Ingredients for an ideal Spanakopita
For me, the perfect spanakopita involves wilted spinach, woven with a variety of cheese. My goal is to have a filling that is tangy (from the feta), savory (from the Kefalotiri), and complex (from the herbs and scallions). In Greece, cooks 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 made from sheep’s and/or goat’s milk. If you can’t find that, try to source one that is tangy as that affects the spanakopita’s taste. Fresh herbs make the entire mix pop, so splurge on those. Most people traditionally use dill, mint, and parsley or any mix of those to your taste.
Making spanakopita in my kitchen.
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 fresh and frozen spinach. If you are using fresh spinach, wilt it in a large pan and then drain it in a colander. If you have a salad spinner, that’s even better. It 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. Then squeeze out all moisture using 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. The steam is excess moisture, which can make it soggy. In addition, scoring helps with cutting. You can cut phyllo before it cooks and 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. Then I 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, and pop it into the oven and bake directly from frozen. You don’t need to defrost it or anything. You’ll just need to bake it at a slightly lower temperature (350ºF) for a little longer.
Make this winning Spanakopita recipe
This recipe originally appeared on the Huffington Post in an article covering the 2010 KCRW Good Food Pie Contest. Moreover, 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.
Let me teach you how to make Spanakopita
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.
Check out the recipe!