Spanakotiropita Vassily

		Yes, TSC is at it again with a classic Athenian
		spinach pie fit for kings - yes, in Greek, TSC's
		name is Vassily and this name for the dish is a
		multiple pun, from Basileus - ignoring the nicities of
		Greek grammar.  This is very rich, and should be served
		in small portions.  For those accustomed to garden
		variety spanakopita, the richness may be a bit
		of a shock.

	INGREDIENTS (in order of use):

	4+    TBS olive oil, extra-virgin
	2     tsp black pepper, freshly ground
	2     tsp nutmeg, freshly grated or ground
	2      @  onion, small, finely chopped
	2      @  shallots, finely chopped [optional]
	1      @  leek, sliced very very thinly across
	4      @  scallions, shredded finely (sliced on extreme bias)
	2     TBS metaxá or brandy
	4     pkg spinach, frozen (10 oz @), [2.5 lbs] chopped and
		  squeezed dry and pulled apart again (In intolerable
		  measure, you are paying for the weight of this
		  added water.  That's pure Agribiz.)
		  Read Note #2.
	1/2   tsp salt

	1     cup parsley, chopped medium fine
	2     TBS fresh dill, chopped/snipped
	      (2 tsp dried if no fresh is available)
	4     clv garlic, chopped finely

	4      @  eggs, jumbo, beaten smooth with a fork or whisk

	1     cup kefalotiri, or Parmesan, grated
	1/2   lbs feta, finely crumbled
	1     pkg cream cheese (8 oz @), cut (lopped) in small pieces

	[Faster, cheaper and less work, omit this ricotta mixture]
	Mix in a bowl:
		2     cup ricotta (or galotiri if you can get it)
		2      @  eggs, jumbo
		1/2   cup sour cream [optional]
		1     tsp marjoram
		1/2   tsp rosemary
		1/2   tsp salt
		1     tsp black pepper, ground
		1/2   cup parsley or cilantro, chopped
		2     tsp onion powder
		1     tsp garlic powder

	1     cup butter, melted

	1/2   lbs phyllo dough [Phyllo, a.k.a Filo, Fillo by the illiterati
		usually comes in 1 lb boxes with 2 half lb. sealed packages

	6     TBS lemon juice (about 3 medium lemons)


	1. If using a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan, rub its insides with olive oil,
	   make it feel good, and set it aside.

	2. Heat a large skillet over a medium-high heat, and add the
	   olive oil together with the nutmeg and black pepper.
	   When the spices have foamed for 15 seconds, add the chopped
	   onion [and shallots] and leek. Cook and stir for 2 minutes, add the
	   scallions and continue stirring for another minute.

	   Add the metaxá, stir for about 30 seconds.
	   use for any deglazing.

	3. Add the spinach and salt.  Mix and cook for about 2 minutes.
	   Remove from heat and reserve to cool, uncovered.

	4. While the spinach, et alia, are cooling, make the Ricotta
	   mixture in a second bowl.  This should not be soupy; a
	   problem is that the moisture in ricotta cheeses vary.
	   Be wary, by holding any sour cream back until all other
	   ingredients have been mixed together.

	   You can also rethicken the mixture by returning it to
	   the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

	   If the ricotta mixture really is too soupy, rethink what
	   had been planned for phyllo sheet distribution, and enclose
	   it between two phyllo layers of at least 3 sheets.

	5. If the spinach is now close to room temperature, add the
	   parsley, dill weed, garlic and beaten eggs incorporating them
	   into the spinach mixture.

		Now would probably be a good time to set the oven
		for 400°F.

	6. Spread the spinach mixture out and distribute the three
	   cheeses over the surface.  Now with a spatula and wooden spoon,
	   cut the cheese into the spinach until all is worked in evenly
	   together, but with bits of cheese showing.  Reserve.

	7. In the oiled baking pan, lay down 6-12 sheets of phyllo, brushing
	   each with the melted butter after it is laid down.
	   (TSC uses 6 sheets for each layer here.)

	8. Spread out a scant half the spinach mixture smoothly and evenly,
	   by depositing spoonsful over the phyllo, and mushing them down
	   gently so as not to disturb the dough.

	9. Spread the ricotta mixture (again starting with distributed
	   large spoonsful) over the spinach (this should be a fairly
	   thin and sparse layer) and the remaining spinach mixture over
	   that, using the same procedure.

       10. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the final spinach layer, along
	   with several TBS of melted butter, figuring what you will
	   need in order to,

       11. repeat step 7 for the top layer of the remaining phyllo sheets,
	   brush the top layer as well - or pour the remaining butter over
	   the top layer.

       12. Baking

   	   For a 9 by 13 inch baking pan rubbed with olive oil.
		400° F oven for 20 minutes, then reduce temperature
		to 325° F for 30 minutes.

	   The top layer of phyllo should be an almost uniform
	   golden brown when your spanakopita is finished cooking.

   	   If you have frazzled yourself making Triangles on a cookie
	   sheet instead of what you were distinctly told to do, use
	   375 F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. [sigh]
	   See how I look after you?

   	   Serve warm, or room temperature - not hot!
	   Cold is a repulsive idea: the butter fat content must be
	   nicely softened.


	1. This is not one of the things where the proportions and
	   ingredients themselves are critically balanced.  The basic
	   idea is simply spinach and cheeses bound by egg and encased
	   in phyllo dough, and that very basic concept is adhered to
	   here with TSC's usual extravagance.  Consider the proportions
	   to be a middle ground balance that works well, and that are
	   a good place to start in pursuing your own spinach pie muse.

	   What you need to be careful of is adding enough egg, and
	   little enough liquid so that the final result is the very
	   best middle ground between a rock and runny glop.  The above
	   will work; after that you are on your own.

	   The kitchen sink school of cooking is, as usual by TSC,
	   avoided, even though the number of ingredients and their
	   slightly finicky treatments will surely test certain
	   people's patience.  [Sigh] Yes, TSC knows who you are, but
	   loves you anyhow.

	   Nevertheless, other ingredients sometimes included in a
	   spanakopita are, tomatoes and mushrooms.  If you try that,
	   watch the liquids they contain.  Seeding the tomatoes
	   would be a good but not necessary idea.  Sauté any sliced
	   mushrooms, quickly, in small batches and only to the
	   point of surface translucence.  TSC would generally prefer
	   holding the tomatoes and mushrooms for something else, and
	   leaving the spinach and cheese to be what is it, but, ....
	2. On the matter of the spinach.
	   A very dear friend, Sandra Brown, Greek, and a wonderful
	   cook who made wonderful spanakopita once confided to me
	   one of her secrets for that.  She said that while even the
	   idea of canned spinach usually repulsed us all, this was
	   exactly what she used, and that this was the only thing
	   it was really good for.  It you understand the textural
	   aspect, this all becomes obvious.

	   Here's the thing.  If you use fresh or frozen spinach,
	   there is always the special matter of those tough stems
	   that seem to intrude, and they really do compromise the
	   soft texture that should exist in spanokopita: you should
	   not be pulling stems and strings out with your teeth when
	   you bite into it; there is nothing wrong with playing with
	   your food, but having to wrestle it to the ground is another

	   The canned spinach does not present this problem, and it does
	   combine nicely with the other ingredients, with no fussing.
	   Ultimately, however, TSC doesn't care much for the resultant
	   taste of modern canned spinach.

	   Use the canned spinach throughout, or keep some handy for
	   an emergency spinach infusion if there is somehow not quite
	   enough of the final mixture for your purposes.

	   Another way of dealing with the stem problem is to make
	   sure that the spinach is chopped finely enough.  With
	   frozen spinach it is often not.  Using a food processor
	   and simply pulsing a (good) number of times, scraping
	   between pulses should do the trick.  TSC recommends this
	   as a matter of course.

	3. On the matter of the phyllo.
	   This phyllo business is delicate and easy to make a mess of,
	   but, if you are reasonably careful and attentive, all will
	   be well.  If you are inattentive and stupid, you may
	   wind up being what is encased in it and so be obliged
	   to bake yourself in the oven.  This is not recommended,
	   so some care is needed.
	   Re phyllo:

	   a. It is usually bought frozen, and for success needs to
	      be completely thawed.  Let the package defrost at room
	      temperature for 5-6 hours.  If not completely thawed
	      you will wind up with little pieces of it all over the
	      place.  Take this defrost time seriously, and do not
	      defrost a day ahead; this will cause the phyllo to
	      become tacky and mushy enough to be prone to tearing
	      and to become difficult to handle.

	   b. Any phyllo sheets you are not working with should be covered
	      with a moist (not wet) kitchen towel, else it will dry out,
	      become brittle and once again make little pieces all
	      over the place.  Making spanakopita is not an exercise
	      in putting jigsaw puzzles of dough together.  The entire
	      routine works best as a coordinated two person operation.

	   c. Work as quickly and deftly as you can: phyllo is drying out
	      as you work, so work with only one sheet at a time,
	      splaying your hand as it has to support the sheet.
	      Rolling up like a carpet and then unrolling is a good
	      method of transport to your pan, but with small sheets
	      this is not necessary if you have become a phyllo adept.

	   d. Good luck if you are not paying attention.

	4. More variations:

	   Garlic can also be added at the outset before the onions.
	   Shallot and leeks also work, as do ramps also called
	   Chinese chives.

	   Yes, it is spanakopita, but in place of spinach, swiss
	   chard, beet tops, or "lambs' corners" can be used with
	   equal success.

	   Scientifically and biologically I can't imagine why butter
	   would ever be eschewed, but the perfect (and probably original)
	   replacement for the butter would be a good extra-virgin Greek
	   olive oil.  The flavor would be different, but then I happen
	   to like that particular flavor also.  Choose for yourself.

	   These are not the only cheeses that can be used, even though
	   the expected and traditional seems always to include feta.
	   The precise cheeses are no more determined here than they
	   are in a tiropita; what works there will also work here.
	   For some reason, the number of cheeses in a tiropita is
	   traditionally three.

	   Some people use mint (peppermint) together with the dill,
	   or use it in place of the dill altogether.

	   An alternative to the phyllo is to make a French pâté
	   feullité and use slabs of that as a top and bottom of the
	   spanakopita.  It's less than "Hellenically authentic", but
	   it might also be more elegant and refined. It is easier,
	   naturally, to buy and manipulate the phyllo than it is to
	   make a good pâté feullité at home.

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Created: July 27, 2007
Last Updated: August 22, 2011
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