When one lives in Italy, the neighboring countries are just that. Places that seem so far away from Oregon, were just “around the corner” from me, while growing up.
Many European capitals are reachable in less than 3 hours, with a quick flight from Rome.
Take Greece, for example.
What do most of the southern countries have in common with Italy?
Attitude, I would say!
While Northern Europe is notoriously over-productive and over-efficient, the further south one goes, the more these characteristic seem to fade with the sunshine. In Greece, the days are spent away from the heat. Life happens early in the morning, or late in the night. Lazy summer days are embedded in the Mediterranean genes, and the survival mode must kick in. Why rush, why worry? A good “siesta” in the middle of the day, away from the heat, seems such a good idea!
I’m sure it was plenty hot last time I went to Greece, in the summer of 2012. However, I do not recall that. I, on the other hand, have fond memories of the feelings this special place evoked.
It seems like I would always find a shady breeze, a cozy spot whenever I needed one, and a good refreshing drink, or some amazing food.
Of course, finding a pergola overlooking the Aegean Sea made my heart sing. By now, you all know how much I love pergolas and the sea.
My favorite Greek Island is Santorini. With its sensory overload of colors, smells and right amount of “personality”, this place is nothing short of magic. A vacation in Santorini is as surreal as it gets: we could sit outside all day, staring at the bay, calmed by the rhythm of the waves, caressed by the sea breeze, and just …be.
Why am I writing about a summer vacation in the dead middle of winter, you might ask?
I had to clean my refrigerator, I will say. Funny how our brais work, by association. Spinach, feta and pinenuts: Spanakopita. From there, the floodgates of memories opened up. Then, the rest is ….recipe.
(Spinach and Feta pie)
- 2 lbs fresh spinach
- 2 T olive oil
- 2 T butter
- 1 lg shallot, minced
- 10 oz feta cheese crumbled
- 1/2 C grated Parmigiano cheese
- 1/3 C pine nuts (optional)
- 1/3 C chopped parsley
- a pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/3 C white wine
- For the assembly:
- Olive oil and a brush
- 14 sheets of Phyllo dough at room temperature
- 2 T heavy cream and butter to finish
Prepare the filling.
Place the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add the shallot and saute’ until it caramelizes.
Deglaze with wine, and let it evaporate almost completely. Add the spinach a little bit at a time and wilt them. Keep going until you have used up all the spinach.
I don’t blanch them because I believe some flavor washes away with the water. This way, all the flavor stays in the dish!!
Now taste for salt and pepper. Add the nutmeg to taste (I use about 1/2 t)
Toss in the feta, pine nuts, parsley, Parmigiano cheese, and blend.
Wait until the mix is cool enough and then fold in the eggs. Set aside.
Assemble the dish
Butter and flour OR use breadcrumbs, a 9″ round cake pan.
(You could also use an 8×8 brownie pan)
Now let’s tackle the Phyllo dough.
Since the sheets of Phyllo are quite fragile, I keep the stash covered with a moist towel while working with one of the sheets at a time.
Carefully place one sheet on the pan, and brush it with oil. (not too much)
Repeat with 7 more sheets of Phyllo, alternating the direction of the sheets. Do not worry about the dough that hangs from the pan at this time.
Now spread evenly the cooled filling onto the pan.
Repeat the layering of 7 more sheets of Phyllo on the top.
Brush the top of the top layer NOT with oil but with heavy cream. Score lightly the surface.
I chose a diamond pattern, but it doesn’t matter. Freestyle cooking is encouraged!
At this point you can trim the edges of the pan, and get rid of the extra dough.
Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake at 375F for 45 minutes or until the top turns nice and golden.
Let the pie cool and then serve it. Vegetables never tasted this good. Pinky swear.
Until next time: mangia, enjoy, and ciao!