There will come a time in your life when you may feel that you are…
I finally conquered my fear of making spanakopita, the Greek savory spinach and feta pie, and yes, this means I’m going to tell you all about it. It took me so long because, however pathetically, I find filo/phyllo, the thin dough used to produce the flaky layers in many Middle Eastern and Balkan pastries, stressful: the tissue-like sheets can dry into crumbles in what feels like seconds. Having to brush each layer with butter or oil before using it is challenging in a small kitchen, and a lot of work in any size. Over the years, I’ve auditioned many spanakopitaish pies that allowed me to hedge a bit on the phyllo — triangles (only one sheet at a time made it less scary), spirals (ditto with one sheet; this recipe is in Smitten Kitchen Every Day), galettes (using a pie-like dough), and even “skillets” where I just messily crumbled some phyllo on top. All were good. None were this. This is exact spanakopita I crave, more doable than I thought possible.
So what changed? TikTok, my favorite diversion. I’ve spent the last few weeks working on the copyedits for my next cookbook [coming this fall! I cannot wait to tell you more about it] but obviously that also means I would scroll TikTok to rest my brain a little between detangling gram and grammar inconsistencies. A spanakopita video from Eat Like Greek With Julie (TikTok, Instagram, YouTube) appeared and it’s all I’ve thought about since. I probably watched it 24 times over the next two weeks. The moment my edits were in, I went straight to the kitchen to make it. It did not disappoint, not even a tiny bit.
Five things were different about this spanakopita than any I’ve made before:
- The sheets are not brushed individually, painstakingly with oil. You just drizzle it (generously) over every sheet or two, right in the pan.
- There’s no stovetop step. The onion goes in raw, yet is not crunchy or sharp in the pie. If you’ve ever cooked with fresh spinach, you know that there’s a lot of water in it. Most recipes begin with a wilt-then-wring step. This did not. I fully expected to slice into a puddle of a pie and this did not happen; it wasn’t even soggy. Do not ask me to explain the science of it. Just enjoy the freedom from this step. Watch some TikToks with the time you save!
- We mix this with our hands and it’s better off for it. I’m sorry for the word choice but squishing everything together gets the feta evenly over every leaf of spinach while softening everything. You start with an unwieldy mountain of spinach and end up with a tightened mixture, ready to bake. Just do it.
- The recipe uses a mix of flat and scrunched phyllo sheets for the most texture, including a layer in the middle of the spinach. Scrunching is fun. The pastry looks like rumpled bedsheets beckoning a nap [see: the fifth image below], which is an energy that speaks to me on this icy January week.
- We cut the pie into squares before we bake it. I’ve seen this technique for baklava but never spanakopita but it’s brilliant here for the same reasons — you won’t shatter the pastry as you serve it. Plus, the top ends up much more dramatic and crunchy, the center seems to cook more evenly, and it allows for more evaporation, thus less potential sogging.
The result is the best spanakopita I’ve ever eaten, and certainly made. I hope you feel equally triumphant when you pull it off at home.
- 1 1/4 pounds (20 ounces or 565 grams) baby spinach [see Note about frozen], roughly chopped
- 1 cup red onion (from 1 small or half a large), finely chopped
- 6 to 8 scallions (about 2.25 ounces or 65 grams) scallions thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill, or more to taste
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh mint, or more to taste
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 3/4 pound (12 ounces or 340 grams) feta, drained, crumbled
- 1 large egg
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1-pound (454-gram) package phyllo/filo pastry, defrosted [see Note]
- Olive oil
Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). In your largest bowl* place spinach, onion, scallions, garlic, herbs, and feta. Use your (freshly-washed, of course) hands to mix everything together, truly squeezing the feta into the other ingredients and breaking up the spinach a bit more as you do. I promise it’s fun. When the ingredients are tightly mixed, taste a pinch and add salt and pepper as needed to season it well — I use 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt and many grinds of black pepper. Add egg and mix until it disappears into the spinach.
Unwrap and unroll your phyllo so it’s in a flat pile and ready to use. I do not keep it covered with a cloth because we will use it fast.
Coat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet** or equivalent pan (12-inch cake pan or a 9×13-inch baking dish) generously with olive oil. You are going to want to be generous with the olive oil throughout this dish for the best flavor and texture; I estimate I use 1/2 cup, but probably more.
Arrange 4 to 6 sheets [see Note about phyllo types] of phyllo around the pan, draping each across the bottom and letting the extra hang off over the side of the pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Rumple 2 to 3 sheets phyllo (one at a time) so they just cover the bottom of the pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Arrange half of the spinach mixture across the bottom. Scrunch 4 to 6 sheets of phyllo (think: hamburger-shaped) and arrange over spinach; drizzle with olive oil. Spoon remaining spinach mixture evenly over these scrunched sheets. Fold the parts of the phyllo sheets draped over the sides of the pan over the spinach filling, one at a time. Drizzle this closed top with more olive oil. One at a time, rumple remaining sheets so they fit over the top of the pan. Every layer or two, drizzle with more olive oil, and finish with a final drizzle olive oil.
Use a sharp, serrated knife ***, cut the spanakopita into serving-sized squares. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until the top is very crispy and nicely browned. Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes before serving; you’ll need to cut again, most likely, but it won’t mess up the pastry very much.
Leftovers keep for 1 week in the fridge (and could also be frozen). To reheat from the fridge, place uncovered in a 350-degree oven until warmed through and the pastry is crisp again, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Spinach: You can use fresh or frozen spinach for this. If using frozen spinach, you’ll need roughly 1 1/2 10-ounce packages (each package is equivalent to 1 pound fresh). You’ll want to defrost it and squeeze out any extra liquid when you do.
- Phyllo/filo: Short of making your own from scratch (truly not as scary as it sounds, but that post for another day), you’ll want to buy it prepared. It usually comes frozen and most packages will tell you to defrost it in the fridge for a day before using. Phyllo pastry comes in many thickness. Julie recommended No. 7, which is thicker than what I could get, No. 4. All will work, but there might be fewer sheets of a thicker one a 1-pound package, and this is totally and completely fine. But, when there is a range in the recipe (i.e. “Crumple 4 to 6 sheets…”), you’ll use the lower number for a thicker phyllo.
- * I’m using this and am so glad I have a mega-sized bowl when needed.
- ** I’m using this, one of the first pans I ever bought. I use it constantly.
- *** I’m currently obsessed with these serrated paring knives.