Spanakopita was a mainstay at neighbourhood get-togethers back in the day, and the offerings ran the gamut from soggy mess to succulently, crisply delicious. Elena’s were the gold standard to which we all aspired. One year, just before Christmas, Elena got a bunch of the neighbourhood ladies together and let us in on the secrets of genuine, delicious Greek Spanakopita:
- Use fresh spinach (never frozen).
- Use a sharp knife or pizza wheel to cut the entire stack of phyllo sheets widthwise into eight strips.
- Drizzle the butter (don’t brush).
- Work quickly, and you won’t need to cover the pastry with a damp tea towel.
- Place the finished triangles on a baking sheet and freeze them so they can be stored in large, ziplock bags, ready to pull out and bake at your convenience.
We all watched in awe as she washed and stemmed a large bag of spinach (baby spinach was not common back then) before dousing it with boiling water and squeezing it dry. She mixed the spinach with ricotta and feta cheese, seasoned it before arranging small scoops at one end of each stack of phyllo strips, and then quickly folded them into triangles. She worked at lightning speed; before we knew it, we were munching on delicately flavoured, tender triangles of heaven.
One of us made a note of the proportions, jotted down the instructions, and shared it with the others. I still have that dog-eared and much-stained paper in my catch-all recipe binder. I remembered it when I spied a Kale and Spinach Tart picture in an Autumn Bliss issue of Victoria Magazine. Not being a kale fan, I modified both recipes to bring you Phyllo Tart, with Chicken, Spinach, Feta and Pine Nuts. Enjoy!
- 2 tbsp olive oil (divided)
- 2 large chicken breasts, skin-on, bone-in (762 g raw, 440 g cooked meat), seasoned with kosher salt
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- 150 g (5 oz) fresh baby spinach
- 90 g (3 oz) pine nuts
- 75 g (2.5 oz) golden raisins
- 150 g (5 oz) Feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
- 1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 16 oz package Phyllo pastry, thawed
- 180 g (6 oz) unsalted butter, melted
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and pre-heat to 375°F or 350° Convection.
- In a medium cast-iron skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Place the seasoned chicken breasts skin-side down and sear until the skin turns golden (about 5 minutes). Turn the breasts over and lightly brown the other sides. Place the skillet in the oven and roast the chicken until the juices run clear, and the thickest part of the breasts registers 170 degrees (20-25 minutes). When cool enough to handle, remove meat from the bones, discard the skin and chop it into ½” pieces. Set aside.
- Reduce the oven heat to 350°F or 325° Convection.
- In a large skillet, warm 1 tbsp olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent (about 3 minutes). Remove to a large bowl.
- Place the spinach in a large metal colander, douse with boiling water and squeeze dry. Add to the bowl with the onions, and combine with the chicken, pine nuts, raisins, Feta cheese, eggs, oregano and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spray a 9” springform pan with high-quality baking spray. Arrange 3 sheets of phyllo pastry in the bottom of the pan, drizzling each layer with melted butter. The edges of the pastry should extend up the sides of the pan.
- Arrange 12 overlapping sheets of phyllo pastry in a spiral pattern on the bottom and up the sides of the pan, letting the sheets extend 2” over the sides, rotating the pan approximately 1” with each addition. Drizzle each sheet with melted butter before adding the next.
- Spoon the chicken mixture into the pan. Fold the edges of the phyllo over the mixture (it may not meet in the middle). Crumple 10 sheets of phyllo over the spinach mixture to completely cover the filling. Drizzle with melted butter.
- Bake until the phyllo is golden brown. Let the pan cool before unlatching the sides. Serve at room temperature.