While I was in college, art school to be exact, I was a vegetarian. I also wasn't a very adventurous cook. Spaghetti with jarred pasta sauce with some soy "meat" substitute, taco salad made with soy "meat"... you get the idea. Don't get me wrong, I ate fairly well and my friends (mostly vegetarian art school students) were always happy with the meals that I made. But one day, I decided to branch out and cook something a bit more labor-intensive. I made spanakopita. I have to say that it was a revelation. It turned out beautifully and gave me the confidence to try out other more involved cooking projects. Years later, my cooking skills have vastly improved and there are few dishes that I won't try to make in my home kitchen. And I still love spanakopita.
This recipe for spanakopita from JoAnn Cianciulli's L.A.'s Original Farmers Market Cookbook is adapted from Ulysses Voyage, a Greek taverna in Farmers Market. The recipe comes from owner Peter Carabatos's grandmother, Mama Voula. She's a native of the village of Kalamata, home of the famous black olive. Mama Voula used a thicker style of filo for her spanakopita, making it a bit more resilient and easier to handle. Look for country-style filo or substitute puff pastry for this recipe.
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- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek, plus more for brushing
- 6 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped and well rinsed
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 1/2 pounds fresh baby spinach, rinsed and dried
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups crumbled fresh feta cheese, preferably Greek
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 frozen country-style filo sheets or puff pastry sheets (see Note), thawed but kept chilled
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and coat with 3 tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hazy, add the leeks and garlic; cook and stir until fragrant and very soft, about 4 minutes. Add the spinach in handfuls, folding the leaves under with a spoon as you add each batch. Let the spinach wilt and cook down before adding more. Once all of the spinach is in the pan, season with pepper.
Remove from heat and transfer the spinach mixture to a colander over the sink. Using the back of a spoon, gently press out all of the excess liquid. Set aside to cool; the filling needs to cool down a bit to prevent the dough from becoming soggy. Once the spinach mixture is cool, put in a bowl and add the feta, dill , mint, and eggs. Fold the ingredients together until well combined.
Brush the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with oil. Working with 1 sheet at a time, lay the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it out slightly to fit the pan. Line the bottom of the dish with the first piece of dough, pressing into the corners. Trim off any excess with a pairing knife. Spread the spinach filling evenly over the dough. Cover with the second sheet of dough, trimming around the edges of the dish. Brush the top with oil.
Bake until the top is puffed and golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.