To prevent our traditional spanakopita from becoming soggy, we microwave and wring out fresh curly-leaf spinach.
SERVES 10 to 12 VEG
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS The roots of spanakopita , a savory spinach and feta pie with trademark layers of flaky, crisp phyllo, run deep in Greek culture, yet most versions are nothing more than soggy layers of phyllo with a sparse, bland filling. We wanted a casserole-style pie with a perfect balance of zesty spinach filling and shatteringly crisp phyllo crust—and we didn’t want to spend all day in the kitchen. Using store-bought phyllo was an easy timesaver. Among the various spinach options—baby, frozen, mature curly-leaf—tasters favored the bold flavor of fresh curly-leaf spinach that had been microwaved, coarsely chopped, then squeezed of excess moisture. Crumbling the feta into fine pieces ensured a salty tang in every bite, and the addition of Greek yogurt buffered the assertiveness of the feta. We found that Pecorino Romano (a good stand-in for a traditional Greek hard sheep’s-milk cheese) added complexity to the filling and, when sprinkled between the sheets of phyllo, helped the flaky layers hold together. Using a baking sheet rather than a baking dish allowed excess moisture to evaporate easily, ensuring a crisp crust. If you can’t find curly-leaf spinach, you can substitute flat-leaf spinach; do not substitute baby spinach. Full-fat sour cream can be substituted for the whole-milk Greek yogurt. Phyllo dough is also available in larger 18 by 14-inch sheets; if using, cut them in half to make 14 by 9-inch sheets. Do not thaw the phyllo in the microwave; let it sit in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for 4 to 5 hours. While working with the phyllo, cover the sheets with plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying.
20 ounces curly-leaf spinach, stemmed
¼ cup water
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (2 cups)
¾ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
4 scallions, sliced thin
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces (14 by 9-inch) phyllo, thawed
1½ ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (¾ cup)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds (optional)
1. FOR THE FILLING Place spinach and water in bowl. Cover and microwave until spinach is wilted and volume is halved, about 5 minutes. Remove bowl from microwave and keep covered for 1 minute. Transfer spinach to colander and gently press to release liquid. Transfer spinach to cutting board and chop coarse. Return to colander and press again. Stir spinach and remaining ingredients in bowl until thoroughly combined.
2. FOR THE PHYLLO LAYERS Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Using pastry brush, lightly brush 14 by 9-inch rectangle in center of parchment with oil to cover area same size as phyllo. Lay 1 phyllo sheet on oiled parchment and brush thoroughly with oil. Repeat with 9 more phyllo sheets, brushing each with oil (you should have total of 10 layers of phyllo).
3. Spread spinach mixture evenly on phyllo, leaving ¼-inch border on all sides. Cover spinach with 6 more phyllo sheets, brushing each with oil and sprinkling each with about 2 tablespoons Pecorino. Lay 2 more phyllo sheets on top, brushing each with oil (these layers should not be sprinkled with Pecorino).
4. Working from center outward, use palms of your hands to compress layers and press out any air pockets. Using sharp knife, score spanakopita through top 3 layers of phyllo into 24 equal pieces. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using). Bake until phyllo is golden and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes. Let spanakopita cool on sheet for at least 10 minutes or up to 2 hours. Slide spanakopita, still on parchment, to cutting board. Cut into squares and serve.
NOTES FROM THE TEST KITCHEN
Working with Phyllo Dough
Phyllo dough, tissue-thin layers of pastry dough, is available in two sizes: full-size sheets that are 18 by 14 inches (about 20 per box) and half-size sheets that are 14 by 9 inches (about 40 per box). The smaller sheets are more common, so we use those in our recipes. If you buy the large sheets, simply cut them in half. Here are some other pointers that make working with this delicate dough easier:
THAW THE PHYLLO DOUGH COMPLETELY BEFORE USING Frozen phyllo must be thawed before using. This is best achieved by placing the phyllo in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.
KEEP THE PHYLLO COVERED WHEN USING Phyllo dries out very quickly. As soon as the phyllo is removed from its plastic sleeve, unfold the dough and carefully flatten it with your hands. Cover with plastic wrap, then a damp dish towel.
THROW OUT BADLY TORN SHEETS OF DOUGH Usually each box has one or two badly torn sheets of phyllo that can’t be salvaged. But if the sheets have just small cuts or tears, you can still work with them—put them in the middle of the pastry, where imperfections will go unnoticed. If all of the sheets have the exact same tear, alternate the orientation of each sheet when assembling the pastry.
DON’T REFREEZE LEFTOVER DOUGH Leftover sheets cannot be refrozen, but they can be rerolled, wrapped in plastic wrap, and stored in the refrigerator for up to five days.
1.Lay 1 phyllo sheet on oiled parchment and brush thoroughly with oil. Repeat with 9 more phyllo sheets, brushing each with oil to form bottom crust.
2.Spread spinach mixture on bottom crust, leaving ¼-inch border on all sides.
3.Layer 8 more phyllo sheets on top of spinach mixture. Working from center outward, use palms of your hands to compress layers and press out any air pockets.
4.Using sharp knife, score spanakopita through top 3 layers of phyllo into 24 equal pieces. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using).