Phyllo Dough is a Wonderful Thing

Easter is my favorite holiday. It far outranks Christmas (too commercial and stressful) and Thanksgiving (I get a little grossed out by turkeys). Even my own birthday is a bit hit and miss– it always falls during finals week, and I usually have a boatload of grading to do. That is the absolute worst time to celebrate a birthday, when all of your job-related stress can meet up with your identity-related stress– and then throw a party? Worst. Idea. Ever.

Easter, however, is perfect. It is the perfect holiday. As a very lapsed Catholic, I do still like my religious holidays to have some meaning. Rebirth hits all the notes, both religious and natural. Even if you aren’t remotely Christian, there is something wonderful and primal about celebrating the lilac buds on the trees, the grass unfurling its green tendrils, and all of the summer fruit trees starting to  blossom.

And yes, it’s commercial, but it’s pretty much just all candy and some stuffed animals. Is that really so bad? An Easter basket is loads simpler than a Christmas tree and stocking, and just less stressful. If you have to get your kid a smaller basket one year because of a lack of funding, the guilt does not strike the heart as accutely as a “small” Christmas.

For my husband’s family’s Easter spread, I made Greek Easter bread and spanokopita– the pie version, not the little triangles. The little triangles are certainly attractive, and while not exactly difficult to make they do take upa lot of time. The pie version, though? It’s a cinch!

Here is the recipe for spanokopita, if you are so inclined. I adapted it from Vefa Alexiadou’s Greek Cuisine, because her recipe would have turned out HUGE. I mean, seriously, two pounds of spinach? Spinach doesn’t weight that much, so that’s actually a lot of spinach. My adaptation turned out well. Yesterday, it disappeared within an hour.

1 package phyllo dough, thawed

1 package frozen spinach, thawed or semi thawed– chopped spinach works best

1 pound block of feta

5 eggs

1 or 2 diced shallots OR 3-4 green onions

dill, to taste

1 cube salted butter

1/4 cup olive oil

Sautee the shallots or green onions, then put into a large bowl. Add the spinach, feta, eggs and dill to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Be sure to break the feta up into small pieces. If you like, you can break it up ahead of time, but that just seems like an extra step to me. Also, sometimes I add a pinch of red pepper flakes for a little kick, but I knew my mom would want to eat this, so I refrained.

Melt the butter and olive oil together on a low heat. Brush the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan or two large pie pans– this is an inexact science– with the butter and olive oil. Place two sheets of phyllo in the pan, then brush again. Two more, then brush, two more– then carefully dump half of the spinach-egg-cheese mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Then two more sheets, brush with butter, two more sheets, two more sheets, if you have enough, which you might not, depending on what brand of phyllo you bought. Dump the rest of the filling into the pan, spread evenly again, then repeat the layering and buttering until you’ve used up your phyllo. Press down on it lightly to be sure the spinach-egg-cheese layer is even and has no egregious air bubbles.

Be careful to not keep your phyllo in a warm or breezy place in your kitchen as you are working, because once it dries out it becomes impossible to work with. If I make the spanokopita triangles in the summer, I place slightly damp paper towels on top of the phyllo leaves as I fold the triangles. The nice thing about the pie version, though, is that it doesn’t really get as much of a chance to dry out.

Roll and pinch the dough around the edges to resemble a pie crust edge, then brush liberally with butter. Stick the thing in a 375 degree oven. It took nearly an hour for mine to be done, but the eggs need to rise. Runny eggs in the middle would be gross in this context, it really would, and this is coming from somebody who adores softboiled eggs.

Let it cool for a few minutes, try not to pick all the phyllo dough off the top (!), then cut into squares. Don’t even try to take it out of the pan. Perhaps you could line the pan with parchment first, if you planned on taking it out of the pan it is cooked in? Or, hey, just bake it in a pretty pan. People won’t care. It’s tasty and will disappear quickly.

I didn’t take a picture, so here is my Greek Easter bread. Maybe I’ll post the recipe for that tomorrow, since I winged that one, too.

  1. imageThere is no new reading news. I’ve been steadily working on Nesbo’s The Devil’s Star but I’ve been going to bed too sleepy to get very far.
  2. WTF just happened? I’m numbering things now? I was trying to put the slashy thing through Nesbo’s name– which I still can’t figure out how to do– and now I’m outlining. Our Apple crashed over Spring Break, and now we’re borrowing my mom’s Dell, and it’s a bizarre experience. The keyboard is awkward to press, the monitor is GINORMOUS and it is all kept in the kitchen of all places. And I have no idea how to access the international keyboard. I think I might have to download a whole program to get the little slashy thing? Writing about Trentemoller’s going to be difficult, too. Grr.
  3. Now there is an impatient seven year old wanting to play fairy games, so I can’t fix whatever this is right now. She goes to school tomorrow– I’ll figure this out tomorrow.

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