I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Friday, 14 February 2014

daring kitchen, february

This month's challenge made my kitchen burst into song. Literally.

Spanakopita. When D or the girls asked what I was making and this was my answer, I either got the word put into The Lion King's "Hakuna Matata" or Iron Butterfly's "In A Gadda Da Vita". Which made for a loud, but fun, cooking experience.

The February Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Audax of Audax Artifex. The challenge brought us to Greece with a delicious, flaky spanakopita - a spinach pie in a phyllo pastry shell.
I've made spanakopita filling before for little appetizers, in puff pastry spirals or bite-sized phyllo packages. I wondered if a whole pie would be too much in such a large serving, but followed a slightly adapted version of Audax's recipe and tried it anyway. The recipe, for an authentic Greek spanakopita, looked wonderful and really the only reason for any changes was based on a careful scientific analysis I call "what's in my fridge?".

First, the greens. Spanakopita is basically spinach pie. While I have access to fresh or frozen spinach, I also had in my freezer a couple of pounds of beet greens from the garden. I had blanched, chopped, and frozen them last fall in my hope of using the whole plant - and this was a great opportunity. The thawed greens were tossed with chopped onion and shallot (I didn't have the leeks the recipe called for, but I love leeks and will try adding them next time), olive oil, dill, garlic, and nutmeg. And feta, of course feta.

Side note: nutmeg is such an unsung hero. I've just been realizing this in the last few years. It's the thing I'll add at the last minute to give food that "hmm, what IS that?" taste. Sauces love it. So when I saw it in the recipe as an option, I made sure to include it.

Then things got messy. This mix was kneaded and squished in the bowl to mix it all together and compress it. This was the most unpleasant part of the process, since the just-thawed greens and refrigerated feta made my hands very cold. However, I'd never make it again without this step. The resulting texture was perfect. Next time I'll let things warm up a bit first.

Then, another funny step - squeezing handfuls of the mixture to get out the excess moisture, then using bread crumbs to soak this liquid up before re-adding it to the filling. Cold hands didn't like this either but again - I won't argue with the end result. An egg added and also mixed in finished off this part.

The pan was lined with phyllo layered with melted butter. Layer and paint, layer and paint. The filling added, some more phyllo and butter on top, the dough cut into pieces, and it was ready to put in the oven. An hour later, the house smelling warm and savoury, we got to try it.

We all loved it. While agreeing that using all beet greens likely made for a stronger taste, it was a huge success. Next time (and there will be several next times) I will try either all spinach, or half spinach and half beet green. 

It's a great way to get a lot of greens into one meal, and the flavour and texture are wonderful. We enjoyed it for supper, lunch the next day, and even little bites of it cold were delicious. It would make a great picnic addition. Another great thing about this is the make-ahead factor. The filling, once made, can be refrigerated. The whole pie, once made, can be frozen. A little longer in the kitchen, and you've got the one for now and one for later. Thanks, Audax!


Ana M. Adserías said...

It looks yummy :)

4pure by Andrea said...

I agree the kneading made the dish very tasty. Yours looks great!

Claudia said...

I love that you use a "scientific method" in your cooking, so do I.
I used Swiss chard, and have found that most cooked greens benefit from nutmeg.