spanakopita / greek spinach pastry

 making dishes with sheets of phyllo is like origami, but with food.
roll it - fold it - line muffin pans with it. 
and then bake it into a burnished, crispy, wispy, weightless shell for a sweet or savory filling.
i won't lie to you, working with phyllo pastry is a little maddening . . . the sheets are so thin they're practically transparent. and, they get brittle and crack at the slightest exposure to air. but if you coat them with olive oil or butter it makes them pliable, and keeps them from drying out– and then it's easy to shape them into a roll, a triangle, or layer them like lasagna. 
every year when it's spinach season i make spanikopita, or greek spinach pastry. sometimes i stuff and fold the phyllo into small triangles to serve during the appetizer course, or to add geometric angles to a carrot salad. but, as a side dish for dinner, i admire the pretty way the sliced rolled version reveals the forest green filling that's a little acute because it's mixed with lemon juice and feta cheese. a red bell pepper coulis is a not-too-overpowering sauce to pair with it. or serve spanakopita with tomatoes when they're in season. and if there's any left over, next morning serve it with a eggs and bloody marys . . . bon όρεξη!
ingredients (serves 8 as a side dish)
• 2 lbs. of cleaned fresh spinach, stems discarded, and leaves chopped
• 1 med. yellow onion, finely chopped
• a few handfuls of fresh dill, minced (substitute with parsley)
• juice of 1/2 small lemon
• 1 egg, beaten
• 8 oz. crumbled feta cheese
• kosher salt and cracked pepper
• olive oil
• 12 sheets of phyllo dough (thaw 1 unwrapped frozen package by setting it in the refrigerator overnight– a box of phyllo dough usually contains 2 wrapped, sealed packages)
1. lightly coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil, and heat on med-low until shimmering.
2. saute the chopped onion in the skillet until it is soft and slightly browned.
3. add the spinach and toss until it wilts.
4. put the onions and spinach into a large mixing bowl, and add the dill, lemon juice, egg, cheese, salt and pepper. mix well and divide the mixture in half.
5. heat the oven to 400 degrees and coat the bottom and sides of a med. baking pan with olive oil.
6. lay a long piece of plastic wrap on the counter. open and unroll the thawed phyllo dough package and set the pastry sheets on top of the plastic wrap. cover the phyllo sheets with another long piece of plastic wrap to keep them from drying out during assembly.
7. coat a cutting board or counter space with a little olive oil.
8. remove 2 sheets of the phyllo from under the plastic wrap, and lay them onto the oiled board– the long edge at the bottom, nearest to you. brush the top of the 2 sheets with a thin coat of olive oil, paying special attention to coat the edges.
9. lay another few sheets on top of the coated ones, and brush on more olive oil. repeat until the stack is 6 sheets thick.
10. mound 1/2 of the spinach mixture along the long edge of the oiled phyllo sheets, and roll the edge up over the spinach. brush with olive oil if needed to keep the phyllo moist and pliable. roll again and seal the seam with your oiled hands. cut the roll in half and put the rolls, seam side down, into the oiled baking pan.
11. repeat from step 7. with the other 6 phyllo sheets and the spinach mixture.
12. bake at 400 and check after 30 min. continue baking until the rolls are golden brown–up to 45 min. allow to rest for a few min. and then remove the rolls to a cutting board with a spatula. slice each roll with a serrated knife into 6 equal pieces.
13. use a spoon to spread some (red bell pepper coulis) onto a plate. set the spanakopita, spinach side up, on top of the coulis and garnish with a few chopped olives and a little cracked pepper.

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