It all started during my year in New York City — and a failure to fulfill my yearning for spanikopita, tossed tomatoes and olives with feta, and salted, roasted whole fish at one of my favorite Greek restaurants, Elias’ Corner in Astoria, Queens. Then, having moved out of the Big Apple, I began working for a Greek boss who, just feet from my desk, loves to talk about her passion for Greek food and cooking. Then, along comes Ina Garten — host of Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa” — who on a recent Saturday morning threw a Greek dinner party for friends at her Hamptons seaside digs. ! Thus the inspiration for my Big Fat Greek Feast.
Making homemade spanikopita is a somewhat delicate and time-consuming process. But the crispy, spinach-feta-filled pockets are amazingly worth the effort. This was my first time making these filo pastries, and it did take me awhile to get the hang of buttering and layering the paper-thin filo sheets: it’s a bit of trial and error to learn just the right amount of spinach/cheese filling to drop on the sheet before folding into a neat triangle shape (without tearing the filo!).
Kudos to GT for this authentic recipe. She encouraged me numerous times to get creative with the filling, adding other cheeses and herbs besides feta and dill that you might have on hand at home.
1 box filo sheets, defrosted
2 bags frozen chopped spinach
1 large bunch fresh dill, chopped
2 bunches spring onions, chopped
1 ½ lbs Feta cheese
Small container cottage cheese
Any other cheeses you may have left over in the fridge – Romano, parmesan, etc.
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, melted
(1) Defrost and drain the spinach. Squeeze as much water out as you can.
(2) Combine spinach, dill, spring onions, cheeses, eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the olive oil and some pepper to taste. *The mixture should not be too watery, nor should it be too dry. If it seems dry, add olive oil. Add bread crumbs if too wet.
(3) Place one sheet of filo on a flat surface. Brush lightly with butter using a pastry brush. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Add another layer of filo on top. Butter, sprinkle, etc. Repeat for 4 sheets, layered.
(4) Cut the filo into strips the long way. For each strip, at the end closest to you, add a dollop of mixture (about 1/3 cup) and gently fold into triangles — like you’d fold a flag. Butter outside and place on baking sheet.
(5) Bake at 350 until brown.
Lamb is another wonderful staple of Greek cuisine. For these kebabs, I deboned loin chops and marinated the meat in a yogurt-based sauce, with olive oil, fresh rosemary and oregano, garlic and lemon juice. Grill over a hot charcoal fire until medium rare.
Bright, colorful and zesty, Greek salad has always been a summertime favorite. The vinagrette is so simple: olive oil, red wine vinegar and oregano. Add garlic, salt and pepper to taste. We tossed with sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh out of the garden; red and yellow bell peppers; cucumber; red onion; and, kalamata olives.
The capstone of a Greek feast has to be the tzatziki sauce — creamy, thick, tangy Greek yogurt with dill, garlic, grated cucumber and a hint of lemon juice. I used Ina’s recipe as a guide but added some extra oregano and a little white wine vinegar for taste. The sauce held together the entire meal, and these grilled pita breads — dusted in olive oil and sea salt — were perfect to mop up the excess and to dip on the side.
Now…. if only I had a ocean view and warm salty breeze of the Greek Isles! Truth be told, this backyard setting worked just fine. Greek craving fulfilled!
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