Food & Drink Magazine

'A Whole Lotta Less' Spinach & Ricotta Spanakopita Pie

By Weavethousandflavors

Spinach & Ricotta Spanakopita Pie

I am not often fond of words such as 'challenging' because when used in reference to things such as exercise for example, they denote a greater level of commitment that I am usually willing to give.

However, when the same word is used in reference to out of town guests with food restrictions, the word 'challenging' is one I welcome because it means putting on my creative hat and finding a way to make the meal a memorable one for all at the dinner table.

The guests we had to dinner early last week were about as challenging as one could get for a cook such as me who thrives on carnivorous meals. Not only were my guests devout vegetarians they also did not eat onions, garlic, eggs or any root vegetables.

I know what you're thinking "What on earth do these people really eat?" You will be surprised to know that these sect of Indians from Gujarat are known as Jains and have been so for about 3000 years and they also eat some of the most delicious foods. I should know - my grand mother is one.

So the easiest thing I could have done was to pull out my Nani's recipes and we could have had a wonderful traditional Gujarati dinner. But no! I decided I wanted to do a dinner with dishes from around the world all adapted to Jain cooking.

Fortunately, providence was on my side because when I came across Kat's recipe for spanakopita on her wonderful blog Food Advokat, I was quick to shoot her a couple of emails asking if I could substitute this for that - all to make the dish completely Jain friendly.

After that I went on my very own tweaking spree. The result a delicious egg-free, onion free spinach & ricotta spanakopita! See for yourself -

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 The main ingredients in this version of spanakopita are - phyllo pastry sheets (1 packet), fresh baby spinach leaves, 1 red pepper (which is a fabulous substitution for onions & garlic), ricotta cheese, good quality Greek feta cheese, butter, olive oil, ground nutmeg & a very important herb - fresh dill.

I also decided to add some cream cheese and some (panko) breadcrumbs to hold the filling together as a substitution for egg. 

Frozen phyllo sheets must be left in the refrigerator to defrost overnight.

The first order of business is preparing the ingredients -

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Red Pepper - Removes top knob and discard seeds and membrane. Chop and set aside.

Baby Spinach leaves - If not the triple washed variety, wash, discard stems if any.

Dill - Separate the fronds from the leaves. Chop with kitchen shears or a herb cutter. Set aside.

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In a large heavy bottomed saute pan, add olive oil. Heat on medium heat for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and as soon as it melts, add the chopped red pepper. 

Saute for about 7-8 minutes or until the red pepper is soft.

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Add the spinach and using kitchen shears roughly cut down the leaves as best you can. Cover with a lid. Lower the heat and allow the spinach to settle for about 3-4 minutes.

Once the spinach has settled,  increase the heat back to medium and saute till all the released liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.

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Ina large clean mixing bowl, add the ricotta cheese & the cream cheese. Stir till combine. Crumbled the block of feta cheese with your fingers and stir. Add the fresh dill leaves and the ground nutmeg. Stir till combined.

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Add the cooled spinach and stir till combined. Add the bread crumbs & ground black  pepper.  Stir once again combining all the ingredients. Taste and adjust salt. Set aside. 

Begin working with the defrosted phyllo pastry sheets. Remove from the cardboard box and the wrapping.

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Preheat the oven at 375 deg F.

Bring out a 9 x 13 baking dish that you are going to be using for the pie & your sharp pizza cutter. I am using my new Microplane one for the first time.

Place the sheets on a clean working surface. Take the  baking dish and place it over the phyllo pastry sheets as close as possible to the bottom & left side so you only have to trim the other 2 sides.

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Make a snippet on both edges and use a ruler/scale if you must. Use your pizza cutter to cut the phyllo sheets into a rectangle. You will have to go back and forth with the cutter to cut through all of the 22 sheets all at once. If you end up with a rough edge, worry not!

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Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl. Place 2 phyllo sheets at the bottom of the baking dish. Using a pastry brush liberally apply the melted butter on 2 of the sheets.

Keep placing the phyllo sheets in two's till a total of 10 sheets have been used up. Make sure you butter every 2 sheets.

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Spread all of the spinach filling onto the phyllo sheets. Smooth with a spatula as flat as possible. Place 2 more phyllo sheets and using a pastry brush liberally apply the melted butter on 2 of the sheets.

Keep placing the phyllo sheets in two's until the remaining 12 sheets have been used up. Make sure you butter every 2 sheets. Butter the final 2 sheets with butter.

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The phyllo sheets will  be frayed at the edges of the pan. Take a butter knife and tuck the phyllo pastry sheets into the edges of the pan so you have a nice clean edge.

Using a sharp chef's or utility knife (non-serrated) cut the pie into 6 squares. Cut all the way down to get the bottom layers of phyllo.

Do not keep pulling the knife out and pushing it down again - you'll get filling over everything and it will make the dish look unsightly.

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Bake in a preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes or until the top is a beautiful golden brown.

Use a flat metal spatula and cut along the cut edges of the pie pieces. Serve immediately.

Spinach & Ricotta Spanakopita Pie

First bite - absolutely delicious!

The red pepper added such a burst of flavor that even if I were to make this with onion, I won't omit the red pepper. The dill is such a wonderful addition and adds a whole dimension to the smooth creamy spinach filling along with the subtle undertones from the ground nutmeg.

The phyllo pastry, perfectly browned and cooked with just the right crispness on the top and softness at the bottom is the perfect backdrop to the filling. None of us even noticed the lack of eggs and the breadcrumbs disappear into the filling leaving no trace in the taste of the dish.

What a success! We had no leftovers whatsoever.

Once again, special thanks to Kat at Food Advokat for such a great recipe and for helping me adapt it to suit the evenings requirements.

 

Recipe for  

Spinach & Ricotta Spanakopita Pie

Preparation time - 30 minutes

Baking time - 40-45 minutes

Serves 6 

Shopping list

1 lb fresh baby spinach leaves

1 lb ricotta cheese   

1/2 lb good quality Greek feta cheese

1 red bell pepper

1 small red onion, chopped  (if using)

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (or 2 eggs - if using)

1/4 cup cream cheese

3 tbs chopped fresh dill

1/2 tsp Salt 

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1 stick salted butter for pastry sheets

2 tbs olive oil

1 tbs butter

1 packet frozen phyllo pastry

Preparation

Phyllo pastry - Frozen phyllo sheets must be left in the refrigerator to defrost overnight.

Red Pepper - Removes top knob and discard seeds and membrane. Chop and set aside.

Red onion (if using) - Discard the ends & peel skin. Finely chop.

Baby Spinach leaves - If not the triple washed variety, wash, discard stems if any.

Dill - Separate the fronds from the leaves. Chop with kitchen shears or a herb cutter. Set aside.

Eggs (if using) - Crack into a bowl, discard the shells. Beat with a fork & set aside.

Cooking Method-

In a large heavy bottomed saute pan, add olive oil. Heat on medium heat for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and as soon as it melts, add the chopped red pepper & onions if using. 

Saute for about 7-8 minutes or until the red pepper (and onions if applicable)  is soft.

Add the spinach and using kitchen shears roughly cut down the leaves as best you can. Cover with a lid. Lower the heat and allow the spinach to settle for about 3-4 minutes.

Once the spinach has settled,  increase the heat back to medium and saute till all the released liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.

In a large clean mixing bowl, add the ricotta cheese & the cream cheese. Stir till combine. Crumbled the block of feta cheese with your fingers and stir. Add the fresh dill leaves and the ground nutmeg. Stir till combined.

Add the cooled spinach and stir till combined. Add the bread crumbs (or eggs if using) & ground black  pepper.  Stir once again combining all the ingredients. Taste and adjust salt. Set aside.

Cook's Note - If making the filling the earlier evening or earlier in the day do not add eggs till the very last moment just before placing the filling on the phyllo sheets. Stir the eggs till thoroughly blended.

Begin working with the defrosted phyllo pastry sheets. Remove from the cardboard box and the wrapping.

Baking Method-

Preheat the oven at 375 deg F.

Bring out a 9 x 13 baking dish that you are going to be using for the pie & your sharp pizza cutter. I am using my new Microplane one for the first time.

Place the sheets on a clean working surface. Take the  baking dish and place it over the phyllo pastry sheets as close as possible to the bottom & left side so you only have to trim the other 2 sides.

Make a snippet on both edges and use a ruler/scale if you must. Use your pizza cutter to cut the phyllo sheets into a rectangle. You will have to go back and forth with the cutter to cut through all of the 22 sheets all at once. If you end up with a rough edge, worry not!

Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl. Place 2 phyllo sheets at the bottom of the baking dish. Using a pastry brush liberally apply the melted butter on 2 of the sheets.

Keep placing the phyllo sheets in two's till a total of 10 sheets have been used up. Make sure you butter every 2 sheets.

Spread all of the spinach filling onto the phyllo sheets. Smooth with a spatula as flat as possible. Place 2 more phyllo sheets and using a pastry brush liberally apply the melted butter on 2 of the sheets.

Keep placing the phyllo sheets in two's until the remaining 12 sheets have been used up. Make sure you butter every 2 sheets. Butter the final 2 sheets with butter.

The phyllo sheets will  be frayed at the edges of the pan. Take a butter knife and tuck the phyllo pastry sheets into the edges of the pan so you have a nice clean edge.

Using a sharp chef's or utility knife (non-serrated) cut the pie into 6 squares. Cut all the way down to get the bottom layers of phyllo.

Do not keep pulling the knife out and pushing it down again - you'll get filling over everything and it will make the dish look unsightly.

Bake in a preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes or until the top is a beautiful golden brown.

Use a flat metal spatula and cut along the cut edges of the pie pieces.

Serve immediately

Enjoy!


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