Spring in Maine! Mother’s day! The grass is greening and shoots are sticking up out of the garden. Farmers are just getting in their first early greens from greenhouse plantings and now I want to eat everything green; particularly if it’s wrapped in buttery fillo dough.
I get so starved for fresh green herbs and veggies in the winter that I’ll often forage for whatever is sprouting up as soon as spring hits. Did you know you can eat day lily shoots? It’s time to start stealing some of those young chives. At my house, I now have a tiny bit of mint showing and oregano from my perennials. I didn’t start a garden this year, but you might have some early pea shoots or beets that need to be thinned, or maybe some spinach or other cool weather greens coming up. Gather up whatever you can find that’s fresh or head to the farmers market and look for baby cooking greens, and let’s make a Greek greens and feta pie. If that doesn’t work out, you can do what I did a couple of weeks ago in desperation and buy a pile of organic baby spinach for this recipe.
This recipe is restaurant or party sized, you’ll end up with 20 servings of the size we used to serve at Cleonice, or you can cut them smaller for a cocktail party bite. It’s also set up to make ahead and heat as you need it.
We’re going to start by gathering up our ingredients for the filling, 2 pounds of greens. I used just baby spinach. Other choices would be mixed braising greens, kale (stripped of its stems, preferably a thinner leaved variety like Tuscan), Swiss chard, pea shoots, arugula, collard greens, mix it up. Go light on the strong flavored greens and herbs, like mint and escarole. Go wild with nettles, goosefoot, young dandelion, but make sure you know what you’ve got. Wild foraging can be dangerous.
Make sure your greens are clean and pretty dry. If they are wet from washing the extra moisture can make your filling too wet.
Now get your onions and garlic chopped. Get a large pan (this is a lot of greens), bring it up to heat on the stove and add a Tablespoon or two of olive oil. When the oil has warmed fully (it’s thin now and easily coats the bottom of the pan) add your onions and saute until they start to turn translucent.
Your onions will always take longer than the garlic, so start them first so that you don’t burn the garlic while you’re waiting on the onion. Saute the garlic and onion together just until you have a little caramelization happening.
Now you can pile your greens into the pan. If you are using a mix of greens, put your longest cooking greens in first, kale and collards for example. If you’re using Swiss Chard, you can put stem pieces in first then the leaves. If your greens are spilling out of the top of your pan, wait for the first ones in to cook down a little before you add the rest.
After the greens have cooked through, put them into a large bowl and allow them to cool a bit before continuing. 10 minutes or so, just long enough so the egg doesn’t cook when it hits the greens.
Whisk your eggs together until well blended, then add to your cooked greens and incorporate the eggs into the mixture.
Mix in the breadcrumbs. If you can, it’s good to take the time to make your own breadcrumbs. Just toast up some old bread ends til they are hard and pulverize them in your food processor. If you can’t make your own, don’t use seasoned bread crumbs, they will make your spanikopita taste like dried oregano and tired cheese and we want our spanikopita to taste like fresh greens and delicious feta cheese.
Combine your crumbled feta, cinnamon, pepper, and salt into your greens. The cinnamon gives it a light hint of sweet and spice. Chef Rich’s Nona would say, “Just enough so you don’t know it’s there.”
Now, are you ready for the labor of love part? You’re right, foraging for greens shows a lot of love already, but working with fillo dough is not a joy. Eating fillo is a joy.
You want to have everything ready when you start building your spanikopita with fillo. Turn on your oven to preheat to 375. Melt a stick of butter. Find that basting brush in the back of your drawer and make sure it’s clean. Find a super clean dish cloth (I’m using a flour sack drying cloth) and get it damp. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Now you can unwrap your thawed fillo dough.
We used Athens fillo dough at Cleonice. On their website they say it’s easy to use, and it is, pretty much, it’s just very fragile stuff. That’s why it’s so crispy crunchy delicious.
You can see that there are already cracks and tears in the dough from being kept in the freezer for a bit.
Butter the parchment paper lining the cookie sheet lightly. Then taking the two corners closest to you of the top sheet of fillo, delicately lift it off, and place in your cookie sheet.
Lightly butter the fillo, then add another layer, butter that layer, repeat. There are about 20 sheets in a box of fillo, use half for the bottom crust. If you’re working fairly quickly, you might not need your damp cloth, but if the fillo starts to dry out while you’re working cover it with the cloth to keep it pliable. The cloth is also handy if you get interrupted by a phone call or such.
As you can see above, sometimes you get a tear, this can be frustrating, but it really won’t affect the finished product. Just do your best to flatten it out.
After you’ve used about half of the fillo, cover the unused fillo with your damp cloth. .
Now you can add the filling. Pour it out of the bowl and spread to evenly to the bottom curve of the pan. The fillo is large enough to over lap the edges so you’ll have a natural seal to the pie.
Start the layering and buttering process again. You can see that my fillo dough is tearing more now. Subsequent layers will help cover this up, but if you have a tear that keeps showing up from one layer to another, lay down your next sheet offset on the cookie sheet and trim off the overlap. Use the trimmed overlap to cover the remainder of the pie.
Put a second cookie sheet on top of the parchment. This will help the pie cook evenly and not puff up.
Bake your pie at 375 for 35 – 45 minutes. If you will be serving your spanikopita soon, take the cookie sheet off of the top for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking to brown the top. For the restaurant (or if you’re serving it at a party later) we’d leave the top cookie sheet on throughout. This way the top dough will just be cooked through, and we can reheat when we are ready to serve, getting to golden brown goodness on the second heating.
Allow the spanikopita to set before trying to cut into it. We let ours rest for about a half hour. Cut into 4 x 5 pieces making 20 squares, then cut diagonally to make triangles. At this point you can store in the fridge for up to 2 days and reheat triangles when desired.
Reheat in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes when ready to serve.
- 2 Tb olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 pounds of Spinach or other mixed greens
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup bread crumbs (unseasoned)
- 12 oz feta cheese crumbled
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 Tb olive oil
- 1 package 14 x 18" fillo dough (one pound) Thawed
- 4 oz of butter
- Heat a large saute pan (at least 12") and add oil.
- When oil is hot, saute chopped onions until beginning to become translucent.
- Add garlic to pan and saute.
- When onions just start to caramelize, add clean, dry greens. If they start to spill out of the pan, hold some back and add later.
- Sprinkle with salt.
- Cover and allow the greens to cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Stir greens with onions and garlic and add any remaining greens.
- Cover and cook until greens are fully cooked.
- Put cooked greens mix in bowl and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
- Beat eggs together before incorporating with the greens.
- Mix in bread crumbs.
- Crumble in feta cheese and add ½ tsp cinnamon, salt, and pepper and mix well. This is your completed filling.
- Heat oven to 375
- Prepare your station for spanikopita building.
- Your fillo dough should be thoroughly thawed. If you take it out of the freezer the night before and store it in the refrigerator, you should be in good shape.
- Ready a standard half sheet pan 13" x 18" and line with parchment paper.
- Melt 4 oz butter and ready a basting brush
- Wet a very clean dish cloth and ring out. You will use this damp cloth to cover the fillo dough to keep pliable when not in use.
- Butter the parchment paper.
- Carefully lift the first sheet of fillo from two corners and place on the buttered parchment.
- Lightly butter the fillo. Add another sheet, and butter it. Repeat until half of the sheets are used (about 10).
- Spread the prepared filling evenly over the bottom crust of fillo.
- One layer at a time, cover with fillo and butter each layer until fillo is gone.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the spanikopita.
- Place a second half sheet pan on top of the parchment paper.
- Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes
- Remove from oven when showing some color under the cookie sheet.
- Allow to rest for about a half hour before cutting first into 20 squares, then into triangles.
- At this point the individual pieces may be reheated in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes whenever you are ready to serve.
- Will keep refrigerated for two days.