For the last few years, my family and I have gone to a street fair on the Fourth of July in New York City. It’s a pretty good time, and if you don’t have a picnic to go to, it’s a great way to spend the day: eating your way through a variety of countries. Of course, you have all the New York staples: there are pizzas and Italian sausages with peppers and onions. There are funnel cakes and mozzarella sticks and french fries, as well as the soft pretzel and kebab stands. But there are also some more exotic ones: the arepa stands, for instance, where griddles turn out cheese-stuffed golden cakes. Or the Asian food stands, where you can get a chicken satay or a fresh spring roll for $1. There’s a crepe station, where they make both savory and sweet crepes, oozing with Nutella and powdered sugar. And there’s more than one meat stand, complete with every imaginable kind of barbeque – from enormous, umbrella-shaped revolving structures to the standard smoker and grill. There are enchiladas and tamales and quesadillas to be had, and there is also quite a bit of Greek food. I was devastated to discover last year that my favorite stand (the one that sells baklava, natch) was not represented this year, and that I’d have to settle for a dessert cupcake over the baklava I’d been dreaming about since we boarded the train (I know, I know, break out the tiny violins). But if there was no baklava to be had, at least I could still have spinach pie.
Mom and I walked the entire strip of stands once, just to make sure we’d be choosing the freshest, most delicious, most generous slice of the stuff, and we were rewarded for our efforts with a slab of phyllo-encased spinach-and-feta goodness. Impossible to eat neatly, crumbly, and incredibly satisfying, I really think it’s one of the great bargains of the food festival. And for all of these reasons, I refused to be able to eat it only once a year.
Now, I’m not as dumb as I look, and I know all about the devil that is phyllo dough. It is infuriatly thin and brittle, and it breaks the moment you so much as glance at it. It’s a challenge to even unroll it from the frozen package it comes in, and, if all that wasn’t enough, it must be layered a ridiculous number of times to achieve the desired crumbly-crust effort.
All that said, and all curse words muttered, I’m pretty sure there’s a reason that we haven’t all just chucked it aside and decided we’d be better off without it: it’s tasty. It gives dishes a crunch that you just can’t get from other doughs. And so what if it shatters into a million pieces the instant you touch it with your fork? Isn’t that half the fun!?
I didn’t put nuts in this, though I was planning to, because I forgot. I think they’d be wonderful in this dish, though, so if I were you, I wouldn’t forget.
12 sheets of phyllo dough, cut to the size of your baking dish
4 sheets of phyllo dough cut longer than your dish
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic
1/4 cup chopped onion
5 ounces frozen spinach, plus a handful of fresh
4 ounces feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a small baking dish (about the size of a standard Tupperware container you’d use for leftovers – mine’s about 7×7 and I use it for everything: the bread pudding, the polenta eggplant parm, the pumpkin souffle) and set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, heat oil. Saute garlic and onion until translucent, then add all of the spinach. Cook until fresh spinach is wilted and frozen is heated through. Add feta, and cook another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat (you can drain this if it seems especially watery – I didn’t think mine needed it).
Spraying each layer of phyllo with baking spray as you place it in the dish, gently lay one of the longer sheets of phyllo on the bottom and up the sides of the dish, then repeat (going in the other direction, so that both sides of the dish are covered) with another long sheet. Repeat with remaining two long sheets. Then, lay four sheets of the short dough on top. Pour in spinach and feta mixture and cover with all but one of the remaining short phyllo sheets, remembering to spray each sheet lightly with cooking spray. Cover the top with the ends of the longer sheets from the bottom to “close” the pie, then lay the final short phyllo sheet over the top.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until top is deep golden brown.