Friday, February 10, 2012

spanikopita, not veronica's finest work

Years ago, my last roommate and I threw a small holiday party where we prepared ethnic dishes from our motherlands. Dan is Greek and one of his delicious contributions was spanikopita. I remembered that they were incredible, but seemed like an awful lot of work. You had to squeeze spinach! And apparently phyllo is a very delicate ingredient, vulnerable to the drying properties of air. Jeez. Anyway, it's taken me many years to psych myself up to the challenge. But here I am.

Aside from the phyllo situation, spanikopita is refreshingly straightforward to prepare. Wilt spinach with some onions! Squeeze it!! Add crumbled feta and some other stuff! Piece of cake. The mixture that remains seems like it would be delicious as is. But since it had a raw egg in it I didn't test this theory.

The next step, of course, was to bring out this week's daunting compulsory ingredient: phyllo. As Jamie mentioned, phyllo (sometimes spelled filo - weird) is frozen. A stack comes rolled up in a plastic pack to protect it from the drying air. Once you open the pouch, you have to keep the stack covered with a damp tea towel.

The recipe calls for two sheets to be stacked, each brushed with melted butter. And I don't want to discourage anyone, but if you do this for 8 servings you end up going through an entire stick of butter. That really blew me away. Anyway, once your buttered filos are ready, you glob some of the filling onto the bottom center of the rectangle and fold the sides in. Voila! A filo tube ready to be flag-folded up and - eek! - buttered at every turn. The finished products are cool-looking, shiny triangles that take to freezing well, so I placed them straight onto a cookie sheet in the freezer.

I kept the last two out (the very last one was mini) and popped them into the oven. It was not until they came out that I realized something had gone awry: spanikopitas aren't puffy! WTF. And even though I bet I could've used even more spinach, the flavor was pretty solid.

If I had to guess what went wrong, I'd say maybe each triangle needed only one sheet of phyllo. I mean, you fold it into itself so many times you get plenty of layers. I think the additional sheet provided more space for air to get in and puff it up. This is just a guess, though. I'm no scientist.

Anyway, try cooking some spanikopitas! They keep well and are not nearly as scary to make as you think.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Phyllo Pizza

Another first for me! I had never worked with phyllo dough before (and honestly, it took me a while to realize it’s in the freezer section in the supermarket). After poking around online looking for recipes (specifically ones that weren’t too hors d’ouerve-y or dessert-y), I decided to try a pizza. I had some fingerling potatoes that needed to be used, so I found some other ingredients that would go well with those. The toppings ended up being:

  • fingerling potatoes
  • asparagus
  • goat cheese
  • garlic
  • Parmesan cheese
  • rosemary
I boiled the potatoes, let those cool before slicing them up into little slivers (being careful not to sliver my own fingerlings, yuk yuk), tossed that in olive oil. Then I chopped up some asparagus and rosemary and garlic, and tossed those in olive oil. I’m not sure all that oil was necessary, as the pizza was rather oily in the end but I was afraid of burning everything in the oven.

When the phyllo was unfrozen, I worked quickly to get five layers onto the baking sheet, brushing olive oil and sprinkling some of the Parmesan on top of each sheet. The instructions on the box of phyllo seemed to imply that it dries out at the drop of a hat, so I was doing all this a bit more frantically than I usually cook. Then, added the toppings and the rest of the Parm, and into the oven! It cooked at 375 for about 18 minutes and came out smelling and looking delicious. Generally, my least favorite part of pizza is the dough (too doughy!), so the crispiness of phyllo was a perfect balance to the oozy goat cheese, just-roasted asparagus, and potatoes. I had the other half for lunch today, but the phyllo was a little soggy (though popping it in an oven may have restored its crisp).
lunch time pizza

[guidance for phyllo pizza making here; inspiration for toppings here]

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

another farro & cabbage casserole!

Who knew there were so many (at least two) farro & cabbage casserole recipes?  For mine, I turned to and it suggested these farro-stuffed, prosciutto-wrapped cabbage rolls.  Although the recipe was kind of vague in parts and there is absolutely no way that the end product could look like their photo (um, you put tomato sauce and mozzerella on top), it was delicious.  And due to my inferior cabbage rolling skills, much more casserole-y than I had originally envisioned.

I started out by trying to make Thomas Keller proud with a super-organized mise-en-place.
Basically, this recipe involves a lot of chopping and waiting.  Once things were prepped, I got the farro going in one pot while blanching the cabbage leaves to make them "easy" to work with in another.  And this is where I had my biggest problem with the recipe.  The author claims to prefer working with the outer cabbage leaves for their color.  After deciding to use inner leaves as well (I really did not want to buy four cabbages), I quickly learned that they are difficult to peel off and get wonky and cook much quicker than the outer leaves.  So when it came time to roll them, they were kind of a mess.  If I make this again (and I think I will--tasty!), I think that I'll turn to another source to better learn the fine art of cabbage rolling.
outer leaf - piece of cake!
After stuffing and rolling and topping, the casserole went in the oven for 35 minutes and came out delicious.  And the recipe provided enough food for K & I to get 4 meals out of it (without suffering farro casserole fatigue).