My maternal grandfather’s family is Greek. So from a very young age I learned how to make several key Greek classics. One of the most important of these was spanokopita or in my family simply ‘pita. There are a couple times of year when ‘pita is typically served. Greek Easter is one such time and New Year’s the other. Growing up in Maine, we didn’t really have ‘pita for New Years. Probably because in the dead of winter, fresh spinach is pretty difficult to come by. We were much more likely to see it made in the summer time when there was a plethora of spinach available from the garden. In fact in wasn’t uncommon to have 3-4 ‘pitas a summer depending on the quality of the spinach crop.
Today though, getting fresh spinach in the dead of winter isn’t difficult and because we were having guests for New Years I decide it was worth the effort to make a big pan of spanokopita. If you’ve never made ‘pita before, it is a time consuming process. When you’re using fresh spinach from the garden, you need to make sure that it is thoroughly washed, dried and sliced. You then combine it (2 16oz bags from the store) with 3-4 eggs, a pound of decent quality feta cheese (I personally prefer imported if I can get my hand on it), and 1/4 cup of clarified melted butter. You mix this all together in the largest bowl of pot you can find. Unlike, most spanokopita that I’ve eaten at restaurants, my family does not use dill in our recipe. Once you have the spinach mixture, you can start the process of layering the spinach and phyllo dough. While one person can do this job, it goes much faster with 2 people. One to sprinkle/spread the spinach mixture, one to lay the dough. Because the phyllo dries out quickly, I prefer the two person methodology. In fact, I was my grandmother’s helper during this part of the process from my tweens until she passed away. These days, if I’m home my mom and I work together.
It is KEY to make sure that there isn’t too much spinach in each layer and that the mixture is evenly spread out. Otherwise the ‘pita won’t hold together right. Furthermore, you MUST used clarified butter to brush each layer. If you try to use regular melted butter, the white milk parts will settle to the bottom of the ‘pita when you bake it off making it soggy.
Once you’ve successfully built all the layers, the ‘pita gets baked off. It starts at 400 for 15 minutes, this crisps up the phyllo dough. Then the over is reduced to 350 degrees for 45 more minutes. When the ‘pita is done it should come of our the oven looking crispy and fluffy.
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I always rest the ‘pita for at least 15 -20 minutes after removing from the oven; even if I’m serving it warm. This helps it solidify. Additionally, my family ate it cold as often as warm. If you have leftovers and you want them warm, I recommend reheating in the toaster oven. While the microwave will work, it make the phyllo soggy and tough.