I have an awesome neighbor named Millie; she’s practically my grandmother but she’s also a friend; and a real yenta (she’ll tell you herself!). Everyone should have a Millie in her life; she’s taught me how to crochet, taken me to the fashion district in L.A., and gave me this recipe in case I ever needed an easy, and tasty, appetizer for a bunch of people. It came in really handy when I was asked to bring something savory to a holiday gift exchange this past weekend.
Millie got the recipe from one of her Sephardic Cookbooks, so they’re just like Spanikopita, except in name. (I don’t remember the actual names of these, but I believe they were just called appetizer pastries and there were various recipes for fillings.) There’s only a short list of ingredients, and aside from being simple, they’re also pretty healthy. The other great thing about these is you can make them ahead of time because they freeze fantastically!
She makes these with different kinds of fillings – I’ve helped her make one with a beef mixture, tasted similar to stuffed cabbage but without raisins, and potato cheese one too – but today we will focus on spinach and cheese. You will need:
For the shell:
- 1 package of Phyllo sheets or Bureck dough – thawed
for the filling:
- 3 lbs fresh or frozen spinach – thawed and drained (I used frozen – wring these out well, you don’t want a lot of extra liquid)
- 2 or 3 eggs (I used 3, even though there are only 2 in the picture)
- 1 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese (I used both)
- 2 Tbsp mashed potato flakes or flour (I used potato)
- 1/4 cup feta cheese (I used Greek, but you can use what you like)
- salt to taste (I didn’t feel additional salt was necessary)
- 1/2 cup Vegetable oil (any kind of veggie or corn oil but NOT olive oil) – you’ll probably need more but can always refill
- pizza cutter or sharp knife
- pastry brush (or your fingers!)
- giant cutting board or countertop
Take your Phyllo out of the freezer to thaw a couple of hours before you’re going to bake.
When the dough is thawed, or almost thawed, you can make the filling. In a giant bowl, combine the eggs with the spinach. (Beating them first might have made incorporating them easier.) I opted to add a 3rd one after the first two didn’t seem to coat the leaves as much as I’d have liked. Next, add your parmesan and potato flakes, and stir until it’s all combined. Then crumble in your feta and mix everything so it’s distributed evenly. I just used one fork for this entire process.
Once the filling is ready, you can preheat your oven to 350ºF.
If you’re using Phyllo sheets, you’ll want to use two at a time since they’re pretty thin. Take out only the two sheets you’re using, and make sure to roll the rest of them back up in the plastic as it dries out quickly. You can even place a damp towel over the top of the plastic wrap, just make sure it doesn’t touch the dough directly.
To adhere the sheets to one another, we’re going to brush some oil on the lower sheet and lay the second one over it. Once you place the top sheet down, you can’t separate the sheets without them ripping so I have a little process of doing this, though you can experiment and find what suits you.
I find it easiest to keep the phyllo sheets lined up evenly by placing them one on top of the other, folding back half of the top sheet, brushing some oil on the bottom sheet, and replacing the top half so it lines up again. Repeat with the other side. Smooth it down with your hand – there may be lumps, but the idea is just make sure they stick together.
You don’t need to use too much oil, just do some horizontal stripes up the entire half.
Next, take your pizza cutter or sharp knife, and cut the Phyllo into 6 vertical strips – just gauge it, don’t stress yourself by measuring! As Millie says (frequently) when I point out something I have done that’s not perfect… “Big whoop!”
Spoon about one tablespoon of filling onto the lower end of the dough. You’ll get used to figuring out how much to put on each piece depending on how thick it is. You don’t want to use too much filling because it becomes harder to fold up neatly. And, one more note, if your filling is a bit on the wet side, try not to scoop up too much of the liquid when you’re putting it on the dough.
Next, add a stripe of oil to the dough above the spinach. (Can you see it in the picture below?) This will help the pastry stick to itself when you start folding it up.
To close these, we’re going to be doing a flag fold. As soon as Millie said that, I knew exactly what she meant. In case you don’t, I’ve done a little photo demonstration to help explain it to you; the photos will probably be easier to interpret than my blathering below. (I put the pictures all together because I thought it would read better than breaking them up with text. Let me know if I was wrong.)
Start with one of the bottom corners of the dough. I started with the bottom right, and folded it up at a 45º angle towards the left so that two of the edges were in line on the left side to make a right triangle. You’ll realize now if you have too much filling as it will ooze out the sides.
Next, take the bottom left corner of the pastry and flip it up and away from you so it folds over what had been the open top edge of the triangle.
Then, fold the triangle again over to the right, so that what was the bottom edge of the triangle is now in line with the right side of the dough and has sealed in the final open edge.
Keep folding until you run out of dough. Sometimes you’ll finish folding with the dough lining up in a perfect triangle, and sometimes there will be a bit extra left over. Just fold over the extra if you can, and place the spanikopita seam-side down on the baking sheet so it doesn’t open.
Fill up a parchment-lined baking sheet with as many as you can fit without them touching, like so:
Also, optionally, you can brush the tops of these with a little extra oil, or a little beaten egg, and sprinkle additional grated cheese on for extra flavor and decoration. I opted not to in this case.
Pop the tray into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the edges turn golden brown. Since I wasn’t serving these the same day I was making them, I opted to under-bake a little; knowing I would be reheating them in an oven and they would cook more. These will be plenty cooked at 25 minutes, but they’ll be more appetizing in color if you leave them in a bit longer 😉
And that’s it! I got about 8 dozen of these, but I lost count after a while, so who knows? Just keep going until you run out of filling. The more you use in each one, the less you’ll have in number but this recipe still makes a lot. The phyllo package says the dough keeps in the fridge for a few months, just make sure you wrap it tightly before storing the leftover. As for the spanikopita, they were a huge hit so you’ll be happy for any extra. As I mentioned earlier, you can freeze and happily nosh these for months to come.
Even if you don’t have a Millie in your life, you can still reap the benefits of her teachings. Get up and make these if you want happy, full bellies for the people you care about.