Spanikopita is Greek for "Spinach pie". Do NOT stress over the filo dough. Think of that aspect like pie dough. You're making a top layer and a bottom layer. Don't worry about splits and such, or complicated applications of layer of this, layer of that. It's not important in this recipe. Almost every recipe I found for it in early part of the 21st century included ricotta. I hate ricotta, and never felt it belonged in spanikopita. After some research, I did discover a Greek cheese similar in taste called Myzithra (sometimes called Xinomyzithra) that has a similar taste, but has more body and does not leave an empty spot on the middle of your tongue. In that regard, it's more traditional to what I think the Greek immigrants intended when they came to the US. Go with aged Myzithra if possible, as it would otherwise alter the liquid content of the dish. If you do this make sure you do not use salt in your sweating of the aromatics. Aged myzithra is very salty on its own. I use green onions in this recipe because I feel they are less pungent and allow more of the other flavors to come out. Against very traditional versions of this recipe, I do use parmesan and/or romano cheeses. (Some controversy regarding this choice has popped up in casual sharing of this recipe, pointing out the frequent use of ricotta usually calms things down considerably.) If your income is limited (and I recently made this recipe under such conditions) substituting garlic powder for chopped garlic, onion powder for the green onions, using canned instead of frozen spinich, and using cheaper options for the parmesan still produces a very edible product, it just does not have the "WOW" factor this recipe usually produces. Spinach is the main ingredient here, and it deserves some attention. Use frozen. It is a big time saver, fresh isn't pre-chopped, and the taste quality is not the same, unless you picked it and put it in the pot inside of a few hours. This is essentially a vegetable pie so it is going to be heavily cooked regardless. For two people, the simple weight of this recipe ensures leftovers, even with seconds. It's very reheatable.
- 1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough (often have 2 rolls in them, you'll only need one if this is the case)
- 16 ounces frozen spinach, defrosted, strained and squeezed to remove excess
- 12 ounces feta cheese
- 6 ounces mizithra cheese (see directions) or 6 ounces romano cheese, and (see directions) or 6 ounces parmesan cheese (see directions)
- 1 -3 egg (see directions)
- 1 bunch green onion
- 1 -6 minced garlic clove (depends on garlic love)
- 1 -2 tablespoon basil
- 1 -2 tablespoon oregano
- 1 -2 tablespoon dried parsley or 1⁄2 cup fresh cilantro or 1⁄2 cup Italian parsley
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1⁄4 cup butter, melted
- Remove the green part of the green onions, and reserve.
- Using a good sized frying pan, in the olive oil, sweat (reminder not to use salt if later using myzithra cheese) the basil, oregano, garlic, and the chopped white part of the onions over medium low heat for a few minutes. If you are using dried parsley, add it to the sweat, otherwise do not add at this stage. (If you are substituting fresh herbs for dried, also do not add now.).
- When the onions are soft and starting to fall apart, add the spinach and any fresh herbs. Simmer for several minutes at the same heat. (The purpose of this is to add the flavor of the herbs and aromatics to the spinach.).
- Let that cool. This is very important. Commune with your family and/or friends, and forget about it for a while. Let the flavors meld, and accept that there's a reason for this. Preheating the oven to 375 depends on the oven, and how long the cooling process takes and how comfortable you are with your utility bills.
- Once the spinach mixture has reached at least a lukewarm temperature, in a mixing bowl, or if of limited means the same pan if it's large enough, add the feta, and get your hand(s) in there and start working the product. Depending on the liquid consistency, this is where this recipe becomes an art and a set of guidelines rather than a structured explanation. With your hand on the mixture, you're going to know whether it is feeling tacky or not. You want something like bread dough ready to bake, as far as tactile feel goes.
- You will need one egg for the inner part of the eventual product to "set" properly. Add that at this point in the process. That will give you a feel for how the rest of this will go. The reason you wanted it to cool was so that you could feel the temperature without burns, and to ensure that the egg did not cook in the spinach mixture.
- The strongly suggested myzithra should be added now. If that is not available, or outside of price range, then parmesan and romano should be added now. (It's a matter of preference, in the end, as the myzithra was the "WOW", but it's still an amazing dish without it.) What you want is at least a half cup combined. If the secondary cheeses (remember the feta was already added) do not drop the liquid consistency to "tacky", add more. If it is dry at this point, add another egg and add more cheese to get it to "tacky". What ingredients, dry or fresh, you used prior to this stage have an effect now.
- Once you reach that proper consistency, wash your hands, you don't need to touch it any more (potential cross contamination issues with the eggs), and oil a baking dish of similar proportions to the filo dough you purchased. I suggest butter, but do not use olive oil. Its smoking point is too low, and will often burn at 375°F.
- Lay out about half of the filo dough on the bottom of the oiled baking dish. Place the spinach mixture onto the lower layer of the filo dough. Make sure it reaches the edges. If there is some tearing, do not worry as long as the lower layers of the dough are still solid. This is normal, and will not comprise the final product. Lay the rest of the filo dough on top. Brush the top layer with the melted butter. This will assist in producing a crunchy top layer and help keep it from burning.
- Place in preheated 375F oven. Cook for 10-15 minutes, and check. Apply more butter if needed. Cook for a total of 20-25 minutes. You should be able to smell it and hear a solid almost frying sound when it is ready.