I think Phyllo dough is kind of fun. Some people approach it with fear and trepidation, but as long as you aren’t afraid of butter and can keep rolling when you encounter imperfection, you can do a million things with it. And the finished results just look impressive and special, even though they were results so simple to obtain.
My latest adventure in Phyllo is a recipe that I adapted from a Greek Spinach Pie recipe from The Junior League of Wichita Falls Cookbook. I’m from Wichita Falls…and I love junior league cookbooks, so this is a book I peruse with some frequency. Anyway, the original recipe is for a 9” X 13” casserole. I thought it was ripe for tinkering. I added some fillings and wrapped it up into a self contained pastry.
I had my neighbor, Linda, over for dinner and she was having fits as though I had done something incredibly difficult and adventurous. You know that moment when you want to just say “yes, I did, I am amazing, thank you”? I was having that moment and I guiltily had to admit that it was child’s play. Then she gave me the real compliment, which was “ooh, I want to steal this recipe and make it for my supper club.” Bingo. Compliments are one thing, but I have been on the giving and receiving end of too many over-blown food compliments. A recipe hijacking, however…that means you are on to something!
So, as you look at this, actively imagine how you would change it. I did two versions. The first night I used mozzarella (pictured above). The next night I tried feta (pictured below) and it was great, too. But do not be shy about seasoning. All of the spinach and artichoke need it. Unlike so many recipes (many of which I adore) that pair these two vegetables, this one has no sour cream or cream cheese or any of those other things that make them so rich and thick. This is actually about the veggies themselves and they need a little kick in the seat. The feta version less so, though, as that is a fairly salty little addition. I think I like the feta version the best, but they were both very tasty.
I’m thinking of this as a work in progress, but it is wonderful this way. And, while this is something that can hold and be served merely warm, I thought it shined right out of the oven, given just 10 minutes to rest after cooking. I think the Phyllo deteriorates with time, but that’s just me.
1 (10 ounce) frozen chopped spinach, thawed in the microwave (which cooks it a bit) and drained thoroughly
1 can quartered artichoke hearts (packed in water), drained thoroughly
4 ounces feta cheese (or mozzerella)
½ of a medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 cup all purpose flour
Salt and pepper
1 package of Phyllo dough (thawed)
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
Before you start, please remember three things. One, you MUST thaw the Phyllo. You cannot buy it at the store frozen (it is in the freezer section) and expect to start when you get home (as I did). Two, when I say “drained thoroughly”, I mean get out a roll of paper towels and squeeze as much water out of the spinach and artichokes as possible. And, three, Phyllo can be as difficult as you want it to be. Therefore, I handle it in “storybook” fashion when I can. This means lay out flat half as many sheets as required. Put a sheet of wax paper covering one half and fold it over on itself. Then you can butter it like a story book (starting from the back page) and turn the page and butter the next page and turn the page. When you get to the wax paper in the middle, just flip it over like a page and start buttering the second half of the book laying the sheets on top of each other as you go. Did that make any sense at all? Then you just go back and remove the wax paper and add the filling. Try it. Keep any unused dough under a damp (totally wrung out) towel so it doesn’t dry out and become useless.
OK, seriously now:
Drain the spinach and artichokes. Keep them separate. Chop your artichokes a bit more if they are very large. Gently sauté the onions in some butter in a skillet for about three minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the onions and garlic to a small bowl with the drained spinach. Mix to combine thoroughly. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Add the egg and mix to combine. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
Arrange 6 to 7 layers of Phyllo dough on a baking sheet so that half of it is centered on the pan, and half of it is laying open across the edge (remember the storybook). Lay a sheet of wax paper over half of the dough and fold the dough back over the wax paper so that you now have a closed book. Turn your pan around so you can now “read” your book starting with the back cover. Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan and get a pastry brush. Starting with the “back cover” butter the entire surface and fold it down. Butter the next page and fold it down on top of the first. Keep going until you get to the middle where the wax paper is. Flip the wax paper just like a page and keep buttering and turning pages. When you get to the cover, butter it, and then open the book to the wax paper. Now it is laying open flat again but it is completely buttered. On the right half of the buttered Phyllo, arrange your spinach mixture roughly in an elongated rectangular shape. Then, sprinkle your cheese directly on top of the spinach. Arrange your artichokes on top of the cheese. Season again with salt and pepper. Now, “close the book” over the fillings. To seal the package all you have to do is gather the ends and tuck any excess dough underneath. Mine was not exact and it turned out lovely. Just do it. If you think you have too much overhang, you can cut off an inch or so of the Phyllo.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
When you serve this, know that cutting Phyllo is like cutting ancient manuscripts. Things fall apart and crumble. You can minimize this by using the proper cutting tool (I used a bread knife and gently sawed through the first few layers). But if you can enjoy the beauty of the rustic nature of the dish, you will be happier. I also wondered what it would be like to score the uncooked assembled pastry across the top through at least 5 of the six layers before baking, but I haven’t tried it yet. It works with Baklava, why not here?
Try it, change it, let me know what you think. I’m dying to get some mushrooms in my next one but nobody else in my family likes them. I think a layer of sautéed mushrooms would be heavenly.
If you want to add a great Junior League Cookbook to your collection, try the WFJL cookbook Now Serving. I think you can still grab one through their website.