Sometimes the decision to make one meal over another comes down to what’s hanging out in the fridge. It’s not romantic. Or intellectual. It just, is.
But that’s ok, because I think a lot of us are predisposed to rifling through the fridge (and pantry), rounding up what’s there and assessing our options. If there’s something missing, I might excavate something from the freezer (pesto, rapini, cooked canelli beans…) or head to the store to fill in the blanks. It might not be the most exciting way to pull together a meal, but the act of selecting and matching disparate items from your kitchen and making something delicious can be pretty satisfying – like watching a jigsaw puzzle come together. And this nerd LOVES a good jigsaw puzzle. Like this one, for instance.
It’s a Tuesday night, and I have exactly six things in my fridge aside from condiments, some butter and a sad-looking yellow pepper: phyllo, eggs, spinach, green onion, feta, cream – a Greek sextet that cleanly spell out:
The missing piece here is the dill, for which I will have to make an excursion through the remnants of a 30cm snowfall. But the dill is crucial, so I suck it up and suit up.
A little while later, laying eyes on the final product – a flaky confection of souffléed eggs speckled with bright green spinach and soft feta – I am consoled that it was worth every slushy step.
Spanakopita (makes about 4 servings for a meal)
(Note: This recipe is one that my mom was given by a friend via a Greek woman in the 70s – in other words, this recipe has total Greek cred. It was a staple at dinner parties, when mom would fold them into bite-size triangles and serve them around the room while guests drank cocktails – a notion that conjures up images of people in brightly-colored florals, walking around holding a spinach pastry in one hand and a Harvey Wallbanger in the other. Everyone smoking indoors. It’s probably not exactly how things went down, but that’s how I like to imagine it. Growing up in the 80s, I just remember them being an exciting feature at family gatherings…and also being the first thing to vanish off the buffet table.)
1 lb. (1 package) fresh phyllo dough
1/2 cup melted butter
16 oz fresh spinach
4 green onions
large handful fresh dill (about 1/2 cup finely chopped)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 eggs well beaten
1/2 cup 35% cream
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
In a small amount of boiling water, cook the spinach leaves just until wilted. Transfer to a bowl of ice water until completely cooled. Drain the spinach, wring with your hands to remove the moisture and set aside. In a food processor, finely chop the green onions and set aside. Put the dill and parsley in the bowl of the food processor, finely chop and set aside. Pulse the cooked spinach a few times in the food processor.
Heat about 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan and cook the green onions on medium heat for 1 minute until translucent. Add the dill and parsley, season with the salt and pepper, and continue cooking an additional minute, until soft. Remove from the heat and combine with the spinach. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and whisk in the cream. Add the spinach mixture and the crumbled feta cheese to the eggs. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375°F
Brush the bottom of an 8×8 inch baking pan with butter. Place one sheet of phyllo in the pan and brush with butter. Repeat until you have 6 layers. Place the spinach mixture on top of the phyllo and spread evenly.
Now, you have 2 options:
1) Take the edges of the phyllo that are spilling over the pan and fold them over the top and brush with butter.
2) Trim the edges and add another 6 layers of phyllo dough, each brushed with butter.
Place the pan in the oven and bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with a simple green salad.