Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
Out of all the things I miss from my 10-day trip to Greece last summer, food is at the top of the list. Specifically, the freshest yogurt I’ve ever had, local fish grilled whole and—my personal favorite—spanakopita. My friends and I ate these traditional spinach pastries pretty much every day, and I learned a lot about the nuances that make a big difference in its preparation. When I set out to recreate the dish at home, I knew I wanted an herb-forward filling with a happy ratio of spinach to feta, along with a casserole-style presentation cut into squares rather than individual folded triangles, which tend to have more pastry than filling per piece.
Here, you’ll precook the spinach to enhance its flavor with help from garlic and onions, as well as to get rid of excess moisture so the pastry doesn't get soggy in the oven. Take note of when to add salt and pepper to the mixture: I purposely placed this step after the spinach has been wilted (since it’ll greatly reduce in size) and mixed with the herbs and cheese, but before the raw eggs are added. That way, you can safely taste the near-finished filling to see if the seasoning needs to be adjusted. The spinach mixture can be made the day before, up until the point when you add the eggs. Just let it come to room temperature first so as not to throw off the cooking time.
You won’t need all the frozen phyllo dough, but there are endless ways to use what’s left over, whether you turn to another recipe or simply bake it in the oven and crumble it on top of salads or ice cream sundaes.
The herbs are kept raw until the filling is baked in the oven so that their flavors and colors stay fresher, allowing for a particularly pleasing wine pairing. The dish was a natural fit with a Greek white I had wanted to try, Santo Wines Assyrtiko Santorini 2018 (87 points, $23), from Santorini’s indigenous Assyrtiko grape. The wine showed salty, flinty qualities, with a backdrop of lemon, all of which accentuated the pastry. For a worthy $20 alternative, try Barone di Villagrande Etna White Superiore 2016, a blend dominated by Carricante, a grape native to Italy’s Sicily region. Light and subtle, with salty notes similar to the Assyrtiko, it was ideal for this light, herby dish—and the exact kind of wine you’d want to sip on a sunny day by the Mediterranean coast.
Pair with a clean, light-bodied white wine with herb and salt notes, such as Barone di Villagrande Etna White Superiore 2016 (87 points, $20).
Prep time: 15 minutes (dough needs to be thawed at least 8 hours ahead)
Cooking time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
Approximate food costs: $30
- Twelve 14-by-18-inch sheets frozen phyllo dough
- Eight 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/2 white onion, minced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 15 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped
- 4 ounces feta, crumbled by pressing with a fork
- 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup dill, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- Flaky salt (optional)
1. Let the box of phyllo dough thaw in the fridge the night before. Once you’re ready to start the filling, take the box out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature.
2. Melt 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or high-sided pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re softened and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and fold in spinach by the handful, letting it wilt a bit in between each addition. Cook the spinach until it’s fully wilted and most of the water has evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl double-lined with paper towels. Let the spinach sit for 5 minutes to drain and cool slightly as you preheat the oven to 350° F and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Discard the paper towels and gently fold in feta, parsley and dill, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in eggs.
3. Carefully remove dough from its package and place 12 sheets on a large, flat surface in between two moist paper towels. Add half the sheets of dough to the baking dish, two at a time, brushing olive oil between each layer and pressing down gently so it fits into the corners as neatly as possible (expect some tearing). Evenly spread on spinach mixture and top with the remaining sheets of dough, again layering two at a time and brushing olive oil in between. Gently press on the final layer and fold the excess dough over the sides, and then brush once more with olive oil. Transfer to the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden-brown.
4. Remove spanakopita from the oven and immediately sprinkle with high quality flaky sea salt such as Maldon. Let cool for 15 minutes before slicing into squares or triangles. Makes 6 large squares or 12 triangular pieces.