Sunday, October 12, 2014

Had your fill of phyllo?

I have a funny feeling that phyllo dough will play a role in my afterlife somehow: if I end up in heaven, I'll be eating it; if I end up in hell, I'll be cooking with it....

This weekend marked my dad's 80th birthday. (Before you say it, I know he doesn't look anywhere close to 80. But it's true.) The past few days have mainly been spent cooking, eating, drinking, and laughing as a result. As it was a significant milestone --one only turns 40 twice, after all -- I wanted to be sure the food I was preparing was of a significant caliber and volume. So I broke out the recipe from my friend Jenn up in Brooklyn, memories of the flaky cheesy goodness she made for us for dinner one night when I was visiting this summer still lingering in my memory. Doesn't that just look delicious? And in this shot it hadn't even been popped into the oven yet to become crispy, creamy perfection!

Now, I recall phyllo being a bit of a challenge to work with, back when I was making baklava in Mexico. No need to get into the soggy and overly sweet disaster that was that little experiment. Let us just say that I knew not to over-butter each sheet this time.

I honestly think phyllo dough is God's little joke on food lovers. It is so tantalizingly delicious, and so tempting to think that this time one knows what one is doing, and will not make the same mistakes that resulted in the last attempt's imperfections. Keep the dough cool. Keep it moist. Not too moist. Work quickly.... Anyway, despite my best efforts, the brand new, cool but not too cool, barely moistened with a kitchen towel, paper-thin sheets of heaven fractured as soon as I attempted to unroll them. Armed with a glass of wine and no shortage of muttering, I forged ahead, patching the strips together with (you guessed it) plenty of butter. And you know what, it came out just fine. Especially if you pre-slice it before baking.

Adapted from Jenn's meticulous following of the spinach pie recipe in Amy Sedaris' hilarious cookbook, "I Like You." The changes are mostly due to my failure to read the original directions closely enough, but the result was still delicious.


  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs cooked spinach, excess moisture pressed out by smooshing in a colander
  • 8 oz neufchatel or cream cheese
  • 6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 8 oz small curd cottage cheese
  • 2 bunches scallions, chopped
  • 1 small bunch dill, chopped (comes to 2-3 TBSP)
  • 1 stick (8 TBSP) of butter, melted
  • 1/2 box (8 oz) phyllo pastry


  1. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until fluffy, then add everything else except phyllo and butter. (You can make this filling ahead of time and store for an hour or a day.)
  2. Using a pastry brush, butter a 9" x 13" baking dish.
  3. Line the bottom with one sheet of phyllo (or a bunch of individual strips of it if your day is looking like a phyllo-hell day, but don't worry, it will still work out!). Continue layering -- phyllo, then butter -- until you use about half of the phyllo dough.
  4. Add spinach filling and spread evenly.
  5. Place the remaining phyllo on top, again buttering between each layer.
  6. Pre-cut the spanikopita, cover with foil, and place in the freezer for about an hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 350F.
  8. Remove foil, baptize the top of the spanikopita with a little water, and bake until brown and crispy (45 minutes to 1 hour). If the top layer of phyllo starts to get too brown, cover with foil.
  9. Enjoy!

p.s.- Dad, in case you are inspired to try your own masterful hand at this recipe , have at it. I left some extra spinach and the other half of the box of phyllo in your freezer. I recommend at least one glass of wine to steady the nerves while working with it. Happy birthday!

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