Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Phyllo Fears

I love refrigerator crescent rolls. It’s a little shameful, I know. But they were that special occasion side dish we had as a family. And I always knew I had stayed in the kitchen during holidays for long enough, when the honor of rolling the crescents was bestowed upon me. Even if I was scolded once for not making them in the appropriate crescent in shape.

I still tend to use crescent roll dough every now and then, like when a particular boyfriend’s crew team invites parents and guests to early morning exposition rows. They make wonderful savory filled croissants, and there is nothing like catering to hungry, college age, male, athletes to bolster your cooking ego.
But as I have progressed in cooking ability I feel as though I need to move up the ranks of premade pastry dough. So the next logical step of course is frozen puff pastry. I will literally wrap anything in puff pastry; beef, salmon, fruit, cheese, chocolate – anything. Then, after conquering puff pastry the only move up this dough ladder is on to phyllo dough.
I did have a traumatic experience with phyllo once and I am always a little hesitant to use it on my own. It dries out, it crumbles and tears; it is altogether a frightening piece of food. But this weekend when a friend invited me over and I couldn’t muster the energy to go to the grocery store, I opened the freezer and saw the phyllo. I had also bought some fresh local spinach and local goat cheese with basil and garlic. Obviously, I needed to make spanikopita.
I have made it before but with puff pastry and in triangle form. I thought I would make a pan of spanikopita, so I took a deep breath and defrosted the phyllo. It actually turned out better than I expected, so I thought I would share it with you.
You can use frozen spinach, but fresh will cook down in the oven. Although I am sure that arugula or another bitter green would work well also.

½ package phyllo dough (there are usually 2 rolls of dough in one box), defrosted to room temperature
½ cup butter, melted
3 cups fresh spinach, washed and roughly chopped
8 ounces herbed goat cheese (you can use feta)
Salt and pepper

Brush the bottom of an 8” square pan with butter, and preheat oven to 350°F.

Unwrap the phyllo and place on top of a damp (but not too wet) clean kitchen towel. Cover the phyllo with another clean, damp kitchen towel. Place one sheet of phyllo at a time into the bottom of your pan, brushing all over with melted butter. Once you pull one sheet off the stack, be sure to replace the damp towel so the dough doesn’t dry out. Keep layering sheets of phyllo and butter until you have about 12 lining the pan. The dough will extend up over the edges, just be sure to brush them with butter so they stick together.

Then, place some dollops of cheese into the pan, using about half the cheese – they will spread out while cooking. Cover with spinach and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (You can add a little nutmeg if you want). Top the spinach with the remaining cheese. Brush a little butter over the cheese and spinach, and start placing sheets of phyllo on top. Layer another 10-12 sheets of phyllo and butter in the pan.

Brush the top sheet of phyllo and sprinkle with a little salt. Slice the entire pan into squares or triangles, prior to baking, being careful not to tear the phyllo. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until the mixture has sunk down and is golden brown. Let cool, slice and remove from pan.

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