I present to you today, a very special treat – a window in on the Greek kitchen, to peer in and rediscover a vanishing art in Greek cuisine.
I’m of course speaking of making your own phyllo dough. I promised to only show how to make a “pita” and homemade phyllo only when I can truly say that it was made with my own hands.
The ensuing Spanakopita was made under a very watchful eye of my mother but I’m very proud to present this to you, personally from me.
Follow the instructions carefully. One step’s successful execution will make or break if the next step turns out. After watching my mom and trying to making it myself in previous attempts, each step will determine the success of the next step.
Another as aspect of a pita is a good filling. I think the biggest mistake made by Greeks and non-Greeks alike is no balance in the filling: too much spinach, too much feta, not enough of one ingredient or the lack of other ingredients. A filling of simply spinach and feta is too bold, a sledgehammer to the palete – all other flavour is lost, like tasting the delicate phyllo, the mellow Myzithra (ricotta), the essence of the spinach.
Don’t expect to get this right the first time. You’ll need to get a feel for the dough and they make or break step of actually pinching out the dough with your fingers…that talent will come with time.
I love my mom’s pita and I challenge any Greek (or non-Greek) to make a better one. My mom used to be the crew-boss for the Ladies’ Auxilliary of our church and they would all participate n making trays upon trays of “pitas” for the annual St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church’s summer Greek festival.
Armed with her kitchen wisdom, I may just do it myself!
(makes 1 round tray, large sized pizza)
2 cups of warm water
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. fine salt
1/8 cup vegetable oil
Min. 4 cups of all-purpose white flour
(may need 5 cups of flour depending on the day)
a mixture of 1/2 cup clarified butter and 1/2 cup olive oil
500gr. Myzithra (ricotta cheese)
3 large eggs
500 gr. feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
2 bunches of scallions, sauteed in oil (softened)
2 -500 gr. packages of Cookin’ Greeens chopped spinach ( or 3 bunches of spinach, washed, blanched, drained)
salt and pepper to taste
- Mix all of the above ingredients and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, reserve.
- In a large bowl, add 2 cups of warm water, your sugar and yeast. Allow the yeast to activate in the time of approx. 5 minutes (it should foam).
- Add the salt and vegetable oil.
- Using your hands, gradually add the flour while kneading. depending on the day, temperature, humidity, you’ll need anywhere from 4 to 5 cups of flour. It should be firm, but still a little sticky
- Spread a handful of flour on your surface. Knead the dough for 5-7 minutes. Add small amounts of flour as your kneading until the dough ball no longer sticks to your hands. The dough should still be soft, firm yet a little sticky.
- Cut the dough into little meatball sizes (about 21 to 22 little pieces) and cover them with flour to prevent them from sticking.
- Divide your dough balls into two groups: 12 dough balls are for your bottom portion of the pita and 10 (or 11) balls or for the top portion of the pita (middle being the filling).
- Throw some flour on your work surface and roll out your dough balls into flat rounds the size of a large pancake. Brush each round with the butter/oil mix and create a two stacks (one for bottom, one for top).
- Brush the baking tray with ONLY vegetable oil…butter or olive oil will burn.
- This step is VERY IMPORTANT…Take a pancake of dough from the bottom stack, hold the top part of the round with both hands and use one hand to to move the dough (clockwise or counterclockwise) and use the other hand with your index and thumb pinching the dough upwards and outwards. This motion plus gravity is stretching out your elastic dough to a paper thin consistency. See it getting thin? Some holes may develop, it’s okay, your other layers will cover for you.
- Place your thin layer of what is now a phyllo sheet onto your baking tray and gently stretch it out to the rim of the tray.
- Repeats steps 8 and 9 until all of the pancakes from your “bottom pile” have been been laid out on the surface. Transfer to the baking tray and stretch out your bottom phyllo layers to the entire rim circumference.
- Drizzle the bottom layers of your pita with the butter/oil mixture and brush the entire surface. Poke some holes in the phyllo with a fork.
- Add your spanakopita filling to the tray and spread it out so that’s even.
- Repeat steps 8 and 9 to complete the top part of your phyllo component.
- Drizzle the top layers of your pita with the butter/oil mixture and brush the entire surface.
- Using a fork, poke any air bubbles that make have formed in the “pita’ and brush the top of your “pita” with the oil/butter mixture.
- Pre-heat your oven to 375F, middle rack and bake for 45-60 minutes or until the top is golden-brown.
- When your Spanakopita is done, place the tray on the stove or counter-top and cover with a large folded tablecloth for 30 minutes before cutting.
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