No one has ever asked me for my spanakopita recipe. No one cares if I have one. I have no problem with this.
You see, anytime I have visitors over and spanakopita is on the table, everyone takes one look and exclaims with joy “awesome, your mom’s spanakopita!” They automatically assume it’s hers. Like, they don’t even ask if I made it. And even if they did, I’d have to tell them “no”, because I always let my mom make it anyway. Why mess with a good thing?
Spanakopita (spah-nah-KOH-pee-tah) translates to “spinach pie” though the “pie” part in Greek is used to describe almost any pastry and not the kind of pie we think of in the U.S. It’s composed of a filling of spinach, feta, eggs, and herbs sandwiched between flaky layers of buttery phyllo dough. It’s usually served as a side dish or meze (appetizer), or even breakfast. It’s good enough to be a meal of its own!
It’s at the point that no holiday meal is complete without a tray of her spanakopita. Any gathering of family and friends regardless of which of us is doing the hosting will need to have a platter ready on the table. The oldest boy even recently asked for some for a birthday gift. So this means a recipe this good needs to get recorded. One of the saddest statements to hear is someone talking about a dish they loved but never got the recipe before it was too late.
Being a typical Greek woman, my mom prepares dishes like this by memory from years of practice. Ingredients get measured by the “με το μάτι” method (“with the eye”), which means there are no measurements. So in order for me to have a proper chance of recreating this, I had to learn from the master herself.
Some quick notes before you begin:
If you are not familiar with how to work with the delicate layers of dough known as phyllo dough, you will want to check out my post on tips and techniques for using it.
This recipe makes a large pan roughly 12 inches by 18 inches and an inch deep. My dad usually cuts the spanakopita into pieces 2 inches by 2 inches for a total of 54 pieces. And yes, he uses a ruler. He is an engineer, after all.
It is important to score the top layer of phyllo before baking. The phyllo will be very flaky after being baked and trying to cut it then will cause it to shatter and make a huge mess of your pastry. You’ll cut the bottom layer after it is baked.
My mom has always started with frozen spinach that has defrosted and had the extra moisture squeezed out. You must squeeze out most of the liquid or you will have a soggy spanakopita. However, the spinach should not be squeezed overly dry, either. What you can extract just by a firm squeeze between your hands is good.
Use regular salted butter for brushing on the phyllo dough and be sure to frequently mix the melted butter so that the solids don’t settle on the bottom. This will ensure a good balance of fat and moisture and give you a nice and flaky phyllo layer.
If you end up with leftover phyllo you can freeze it for later use if it hasn’t been opened. Or, you could make a delicious cake called portokalopita (orange “pie”). Very tasty use of leftovers!
You can also make individual pieces just like tiropitakia (little cheese pies). If you do, you would call them spanakopitakia (spah-nah-koh-pih-TAH-kee-ah, little spinach pies). The process is exactly the same with a different filling.
Spanakopita can be frozen for baking later. Put the pan in the oven directly without defrosting. It will take longer to bake and you will want to be sure that the top layer is not getting too brown before the filling is cooked. You may need to lightly cover the top with foil (just set it over, don’t crimp it down or the phyllo will get soggy) to keep it from burning then remove the foil immediately when done.
Mom's Spanakopita Recipe
- 3 pounds frozen spinach, thawed, almost all excess liquid squeezed out
- 3/4 cup olive oil, extra virgin preferred
- 1 large onion (about 3/4 pound), diced
- 4 ounces green onions (scallions), sliced into small pieces
- one large leek (about 1/2 pound), roots trimmed off and only toughest tips of green removed, sliced thin
- 3 to 4 ounces fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 3 Tbsp. dried mint
- 3 Tbsp. dried dill
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 pounds feta, crumbled
- 10 eggs
- 1 pound package phyllo dough (each sheet about 12 inches by 18 inches in size)
- 1/2 pound butter (this is also 1 cup or two sticks)
Put the oil in a large pot and set on high heat on the stove. Add the onion, green onion, and leeks and sauté until the onion is translucent and the leeks are soft. Add the spinach, parsley, mint, and dill and combine. Cook a few minutes more then set the pot aside to cool.
In a small pot melt the butter on low heat. You want it melted but you don’t want to brown it or cause it to boil. You could also melt it in a bowl in the microwave using short cooking times and stirring in between, otherwise it may foam out. Set the butter aside. If it cools and starts to solidify by the time you need to use it, you can rewarm it gently on low heat.
In a large bowl, scramble the eggs. Add the pepper and feta and stir to combine.
Using a pastry brush, coat the bottom and sides of the pan evenly. Put a sheet of phyllo in the pan, centering it as best as possible. Brush evenly with the butter. You don’t want pools of butter, but don’t be stingy, either, or your pastry will be dry. Repeat this process until you have used half of the sheets of phyllo in the pan.
Add in the cooled spinach mixture in small amounts to the egg mixture to make sure that the eggs do not get cooked by the heat from the spinach. Stir until the all the spinach and egg mixtures are evenly combined. Spread the spinach and egg mix evenly over the layers of phyllo in the pan.
Add another layer of phyllo over the spinach and brush again with butter. Be careful at this point as the uneven surface will make it easier for the phyllo to tear. Repeat the same process of layering and buttering the phyllo until the other half pound has been used.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
With a very sharp knife, score the top layer of phyllo dough. A 2 by 2 inch square is a good size in terms of how it will bake and be easiest to serve. Do not cut all the way through to the bottom of the pan, only the top layer.
Center the pan in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until the top layer of phyllo is golden brown and the filling is cooked through. Allow the spanakopita to cool slightly then cut through following the same cuts that you made before cooking.
Spanakopita is best enjoyed hot, but is also good at room temperature. However, if you are storing leftovers in the refrigerator, you will want to heat it up in the oven first otherwise the phyllo will be soggy. I find that 10 to 15 minutes in a 250 F oven is often good, just be sure to space the pieces about an inch apart so that they can heat quickly and evenly. Enjoy!