This Greek spinach and cheese pie is different. Because it uses puff pastry instead of phyllo.
Does that disqualify it as spanakopita? I don’t know. All recipes I’ve seen require phyllo.
But I don’t work well with those delicate, crackly sheets. Maybe it’s the carpal tunnel issue, or maybe I’m just not naturally phyllo-friendly. But puff pastry is so much easier to handle. While it doesn’t produce as crisp and crunchy a product as phyllo, no one who’s eaten my spanakopita has ever risen from the table in outrage and stalked out of the house, muttering “Yuck.”
In fact, people usually make happy eating noises like “mhmmm and yumm.” Usually, there’s none left over, either. Which is nice, but maybe I’ll start making bigger pies, because I like to go around a few hours later and take a second slice.
The spinach is cooked not only with onion, but with garlic too, another departure from tradition. I can’t imagine making this without garlic. You know how I am about garlic.
So, are you brave enough to bake this radical spanakopita? The rewards are great for those who dare.
First, choose the best-quality puff pastry available; preferably one based on butter. I buy a brand that’s pre-rolled. All you have to do is set it in place. But if you must roll, roll it to about 1/4″ thick.
Then, choose the cheese. I favor a salty, crumbly feta, but sometimes bake the pie with a milder, sliceable white cheese. That’s what you see in the photos here. If using feta, you won’t need to salt the spinach, because feta cheese provides plenty of salt. If using another, taste it and judge if the spinach should be lightly salted after cooking. Spinach notoriously absorbs salt, so it’s best to salt it after cooking, when it’s all limp and helpless and can’t resist you.
Finally, the spinach. Fresh spinach if you can get it. It does require a certain amount of hand-washing and shaking dry. I wonder why fresh spinach is so often sandy. But there’s no beating the flavor. And while you do want to break off any tough middle stems , the smaller, branching stems cook up tenderly. No reason to pick each leaf off them.
Below, fresh Turkish spinach – or so the vendors in the shuk call this variety. Swiss chard substitutes very well for spinach, includingg the white stems, if finely chopped. And if you forage, you can mix dandelion greens and/or lamb’s quarters with the spinach or chard.
If frozen is all you have or can handle, use frozen. I have, sometimes. I keep a pack of frozen spinach for making a quick soup or stirring into rice or an omelet. It works in spanakopita as well. I will shop for fresh spinach, though, even knowing there’s a pack of frozen stashed away, because really, the fresh flavor is best.
Once your greens are cooked and ready to be layered with the cheese, the hard part is over.
Line your puff pastry with half the cheese, or more than half if you need it to cover the pastry. This keeps the pastry from becoming soggy. No soggy-bottom blues around here.
Then spoon all the greens in. Top the greens with the remaining cheese.
Place the top crust over all, trim the edges, and glaze it with a beaten egg. About 40 minutes later, you’ll pull a beautiful creation out of the oven. Your family and guests will want to dance around and yell “Opa!”
Bring on the ouzo.
Tip: Leftover pastry? Bunch it up, roll it out, and paint it with beaten egg. Then sprinkle grated cheese and pepper over it. Drizzle a little olive oil over all. Cut through it with a sharp knife to make squares or rectangles. Bake, after you’re done with your pie, at about 350°F – 175°C for 12 minutes, or until it’s crisp. Serve with soup, or as a nosh with a glass of wine.
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