Monday, July 9, 2018

Homemade Spanakopita: A Treasured Family Recipe

Food and recipes are interwoven into the fabric of life, and are among the most important treasures that we hand down from generation to generation. They gather together our loved ones, help us remember those who are long gone, and inspire timeless traditions. I marvel at the way great recipes are passed from one generation to another, such as my mom's decadent Nanaimo Bars, my Aunt Mary Lou's sensational Spinach and Ricotta Manicotti, and my Aunt Joyce's delicious Peach Jam. This recipe for homemade Spanakopita is a mother-to-daughter recipe, and comes from my sister in law Anna's mom Despina, and her Aunt 'theĆ­a' Rena. A popular, rustic dish worldwide, Spanakopita is a beloved Greek meze, made with fresh spinach, leeks, scallions, Feta cheese and fresh herbs, all enclosed in layers of golden phyllo dough. Making the traditional homemade dough is a skill passed down from generation to generation, the same way that Despina and Rena now pass on their culinary secrets to Anna and myself this evening — with camera and notebook in hand to transcribe Rena's treasured spanakopita recipe. So with a twinkle in her eye and big smile, Rena laughs, "I give you all my secrets today, why not?" And so the tradition begins.

Rena trimming the big bunch of fresh dill

Anna's Mom Despina sorting through the spinach

Most of the work in making Spanakopita is upfront, in the washing and slicing of all the vegetables

The chopped leeks, spinach, minced onion, spring onions and dill

The best way to combine all the ingredients is by using your hands

Lots of gorgeous Greek feta

The two sisters working together to combine the Spanakopita ingredients which 
they have done many times before

Anna adding a great grind of black pepper to the final ingredients, 
which Rena massages by hand to combine all the flavours

The mixture is well combined and allowed to rest as the dough preparation begins

The pyrex baking dish to be used for the spanakopita is coated with a little olive oil

Warm water is added gradually to the flour until the dough just comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl

Once the dough has been kneaded until it's supple and elastic, a portion is set on a floured surface and flattened into a circle about 5 inches in diameter 

The dough is rolled out large enough to fit in the baking dish

The dough is laid onto the bottom of the baking dish and stretched over the sides
to hold the spanakopita mixture 

Half of the mixture is added to the first Spanakopita, and the remainder saved for the second

Looking fabulous

The second layer of dough is rolled out and place on top of the spanakopita

The overhanging edges of the bottom layer of dough are tucked over the top layer
to seal the spanakopita

Two tablespoons of olive oil are poured over top of the pastry

The olive oil is rubbed in over all the dough, while pressing down on the spanakopita, 
to flatten the ingredients and for even browning

Using a sharp knife the dough is scored to allow for air to escape while baking

The spanakopita is baked at 375°F for an hour until golden brown

Golden brown and smelling gorgeous

Full of fresh dill, leeks, spinach, spring onions, feta and absolutely delicious

Food and recipes are part of the fabric of life, and among the most important treasures that we hand down from generation to generation — thank you Rena!

Rena's Traditional Spanakopita
Makes 2 trays
Recipe courtesy of Rena

For the filling:
2 bunches fresh spinach 
2 bunches spring onion 
3 leeks
2/3 bunch fresh fresh dill
1 lb Greek feta, crumbled
1 yellow onion, finely minced or blitzed in a food processor
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large eggs
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

For the phyllo dough:
1 1/4 lb all-purpose flour 
1 tsp salt
4 cups warm water
1/2 tsp white vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil, divided

Trim the root ends of the spinach, spring onions, leeks and dill, and place in large tub of cold water. Wash thoroughly and drain well. Finely chop the spring onions, dill and spinach, along with the stems, and place in a large mixing bowl. Slice the leeks in half and finely chop, then add to the bowl. Add the crumbled feta, eggs and minced onion, a little olive oil and season with black pepper to taste. Using your hands, fold the mixture together until well combined, then cover with a tea towel and set aside.

For the dough, begin by sifting the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Add the warm water about 1/2 cup at a time until the dough just comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and touch of vinegar, and continue to knead until the dough is supple and elastic, about 5 more minutes. Place the dough back into the bowl, cover and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Divide the dough in four equal portions and transfer one ball onto a lightly floured work surface. Flatten the dough into a circle about 5 inches in diameter and using a rolling pin, roll out until the dough is large enough to fit a 4-quart oblong pyrex baking dish. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the baking dish and then lay the phyllo in the bottom and up over the sides. Spoon in half of the spanakopita mixture and pat down lightly to even the mixture equally. Roll out the second ball of dough and layer on top of the spanakopita, folding over the sides to make a tight seal. 

Drizzle two tablespoons of olive oil overtop and using your hands, spread over the dough to cover thoroughly and compress the dish slightly, then using a sharp knife, score the top of the spanakopita width-wise into 5 equal portions, to allow air to escape during baking. Place the baking dish on the bottom rack of the oven, blow it a kiss for good luck according to Anna, and bake for 1 hour until golden brown, covering with foil if it is over-browning. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before serving. While the spanakopita is cooling, prepare the second tray and bake as before. A bowl of homemade tzatziki on the side would be sublime.

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