In a previous post, I promised I would make and then post the recipe for my very best appetizer as soon as somebody invited me to a really good party. When Jenna and Chet invited us to their wedding, which was to feature swimming, corn hole and an inflatable bouncer, I donned my apron. Here is my recipe for spanakopita, inspired by M.S. Milliken & S. Feniger, and the story about how one of the most labor intensive recipes got a little more intense, and how one hot wedding got a whole lot hotter.
Spankopita, is Greek spinach pie and requires loads of spinach. Unless you have paid off your mortgage and put all of your children through school, only make this dish when you’ve got a free supply. By a stroke of good luck, my father-in-law’s golf partner offered us firewood, scallions, and spinach a few days before the wedding.
This recipe makes >100 individual spanakopita. Feel free to scale it down but no matter how much I make for a party, there are never any leftovers.
about 5 large bags of spinach, or ~28 cups , loosely packed
1 1/2 c. chopped scallions
black pepper to taste
1 1/2 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
4 – 5 eggs
1 1/2 packages frozen phyllo dough, thawed and kept in the package in the refrigerator
melted butter, lots – probably 1 1/2 sticks
1. Wash and drain the spinach well.
2. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a deep sturdy skillet on medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the spinach and cook for 1 -2 minutes until it wilts. The day before the wedding was a scorcher, so I decided to prepare the filling outside using the side burner of my gas grill. Drain each batch well.
3. Wait for the the spinach to cool, then chop coarsely. Or if you are type A impatient like me, don’t wait, chop immediately, and burn your fingers.
At this point, 28 cups of spinach will be reduced to 4 – 5 cups.
4. This next step is a pain, but I believe is critical to making sublime spanakopita: Roll up the chopped spinach in paper towels, then roll these in a dishcloth and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze to get as much liquid out as possible.
5. Unroll, chop the spinach a bit more.
6. Heat up some more olive oil in the skillet on medium-high heat. Saute the chopped scallions a few minutes, then mix in the spinach and add pepper to taste. Drain off any liquid. Your total volume should be down to about 3 – 4 cups.
7. Add the feta and enough eggs to make the mixture moist but not runny. If you do this right, almost all of the liquid is coming from the eggs.
This is a good stopping point – usually. The mixture can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Here’s where this particular story gets really interesting….
The wedding was potluck and I wanted to make my share so I decided to make a blueberry pie as well. I figured I would make the crust and chill it overnight, then finish the spanakopita and pie the next morning before the wedding. When I checked the pantry, I discovered I didn’t have enough whole wheat flour or shortening. I’ve been watching a lot of Cake Boss and was sorely tempted to throw my apron across the kitchen and start screaming “what the $%**!!!! No shortening!!! Who runs a &@!* bakery without shortening!!!
But instead I found my keys and headed to Food Lion.
The next part was really interesting, maybe even better than an episode of Cake Boss:
When I entered Food Lion, all was well. I found the shortening, whole wheat flour, paid the cashier and headed for my truck. When I went outside, I felt as if I’d landed on the set of the Wizard of Oz. I’d never felt winds like that before. Trees were bent in half. Shopping carts were zooming across the parking lot sans drivers. I raced to my truck, started the engine, and began to pull out of the parking lot. Then I panicked. Was this a tornado? What should I do? I drove behind the Food Lion, called my husband, and asked his opinion.
Long story short, what I was caught in was not a tornado but a rare land wind storm called a derecho. On the drive home, I witnessed trees snapping in half like toothpicks. When I arrived home, everyone was safe but the electricity was out and would be for the next three days.
In the morning, I was still hopeful and made my pie crust once the sun came up enough to illuminate the kitchen, then continued working on the spanakopita. The wedding would not begin until 4 PM. Plenty of time for the power to be restored – or so I thought.
8. Unwrap and unroll the phyllo 1/2 package at a time. Keep it covered and work fast so it does not dry out. With a knife, cut through all layers length-wise to produce three long strips from each sheet.
9. Take a strip 3 sheets thick and move to the work surface. Spread with melted butter. Place about 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling on one end and then fold up like a flag. Work fast. After a few practice triangles, you should be able to make 3 – 5 at a time.
10. If you are going to bake these right away, you can skip this step. However, we still did not have any electricity. “WHAT! No power? How am I supposed to run a ^&$!@ bakery without power??? (Sorry, it was getting VERY hot in the kitchen and I was starting to channel the Cake Boss again.)
Layer the unbaked spanakopita triangles in a plastic container with wax paper in between the layers. Seal tightly and keep refrigerated until you are ready to bake them.
The PIE!!! I’d forgotten all about the blueberry pie, the wedding was now in 6 hours, and we still had no power.
11. If you have power, you can skip this step too. If not, drive across town to your in-laws house where they have power and a huge, spankin’-clean kitchen. Commandeer the place. (Only do this if your mother-in-law is as nice as mine.)
12. Butter several cookie sheets, place the spanakopita on them and butter the tops.
13. Bake at 350°F for about 15 min or until golden brown. Serve warm or wrap in foil to bring to your party.
And the wedding? Despite the fact that temperatures were approaching 100°F and there was no electricity at the venue, the day was fantastic, and so was the spanakopita.