A number of people have asked for this spanakopita recipe, after I posted Karen’s photo of the one she baked using it. But, being a writer, I first want to tell you about the girl who created this version, Sylvia. You can scroll ahead, if you’d rather not hear about her, but I think you’ll enjoy making the recipe all the more if you know a tiny bit of the long history between us. I haven’t made this recipe in years, married as I am now to Mr. Davis, who wouldn’t eat spinach if it came with a plate of solid gold coins. Everyone who might eat a spinach pie is long out of the house, and as for guests, I’d only make it if I were sure they weren’t spinach-haters too, as it’s a time-consumer. So be forewarned.
I have a little recipe book where I keep recipes I’ve gathered from other cooks. Generally, I write the recipe down as the friend gives it to me, and staple the piece of paper onto a blank page in the book when I get home. The sheet of paper I wrote this on is over thirty years old. I hadn’t looked at it for so many years, that when I went to find it for Karen, I was shocked to see how much it had faded. So long since I’ve used it, and yet I remember how delicious it was, although I can guarantee part of the deliciousness of it comes from the long friendship, which is still alive, lucky me.
Sylvia and I met the first year I began teaching. We taught at a Greek Orthodox high school in Queens, New York. She was the art teacher, and I taught Music Appreciation, because they “needed a music teacher, and didn’t have an English position open.” I took that position with the promise that when a post in the English department opened up, I would move over, and I am so glad I did, because I never had so much fun introducing new artists to students who only seemed to know the Top Ten from their favorite radio station, (this was the 80s) and thought Greek music was only played with a clarinet. (How wrong they were.) The deal with them was they’d listen to the music I introduced them to with an open mind, and then I’d listen to what they loved. What a great arrangement. I learned as much as they did.
The commonality Sylvia and I shared right off was how much we loved our pupils. Together, we came up with some really fun and unique projects for them, such as the time she assigned her classes to recreate their favorite album covers and, if they wanted, we’d display them in the Music Room. I believe I was the first music teacher in that school to have Duran Duran, Wham! and Van Halen album cover recreations, among others, hanging on the walls.
Funny thing is, Sylvia was the Greek-American and I was not, but I was married to a native-born Greek, and she was and still is married to a man with a Dutch surname. I looked Greek, and she did not, not really. Occasionally, a custodian (all of whom were from Greece originally) would see us together, direct a question at me, in Greek, and when Sylvia would respond in Greek instead of I, their eyes would pop open in surprise. It made her chuckle every time.
She was the kind of teacher who might scold the kids if they misbehaved (art classes are rather relaxed in comparison to academic classes) and then start laughing in the middle of the scold, because, she said, “I sound so ridiculous trying to be fierce.”
She and I were friendly with another teacher, also Greek-American, who had had the temerity to marry out of her religion. She went from teaching there using her maiden Greek last name, and came back her second year with a Jewish last name, feeding the school gossip mongers for the whole rest of the time she taught there, as a result. Sylvia had that Dutch last name, I had the Greek one, but was not Greek. This confused and annoyed many of the older sticklers in that community, both teachers and parents alike. We were the outliers, for sure.
To those colleagues who didn’t know her, Sylvia seemed quiet and even shy, but she’d be the one, when the priests came in to pontificate at a school assembly, to whisper something to the two of us other anomalies that would make us snicker. Then, she’d look ahead innocently, as though enraptured by everything said priest was saying, as we got glared at by the sticklers.
So many things came to my mind about Sylvia as I was rewriting her recipe for Karen. Looking down at that faded, stained piece of writing, I remembered the time she lost her first baby, when she was seven months pregnant, how she begged me to tell everyone at school not to say anything to her about it, because she wouldn’t be able to bear it, if they did. If you’ve ever carried a baby that far into term only to lose it, you’d understand why she felt that way. It was a little boy. A while after that, I gave birth to my own son, and worried that it would send her into a depression. I fully understood if she could not show up for me. But not only did she, she came to the hospital with the most glorious gift– a stained-glass piece to hang in the window of my son’s nursery. She’d made it herself.
I still have it, along with this recipe, which I now pass on to you.
While you cook, know that you’re recreating the recipe of a kind, brave woman with a great sense of fun. It’s funny that Robbi Sommers Bryant asked me for this recipe first, as she too deals with the loss of a child, she too is brave and funny. As is Karen.
For many of us, it’s our recipe for life: Be kind, be brave, have fun, and occasionally, cook up a storm.
2 and a half pounds of frozen spinach drained and thawed. (You can use fresh, but the frozen will taste better)
2 bunches of scallions, chopped
1 bunch each:
1 pound of Greek feta cheese
8 ounces of cream cheese
6 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
1 box of filo dough, thawed.
1/4 cup of olive oil
Another 1/4 cup olive oil, mixed with 2 cups of salted butter, which has been completely melted. This will be to brush the filo dough sheets.
If you haven’t worked with filo dough before, be sure to keep the sheets covered with a moistened dish towel. Filo dries out very quickly.
Sauté scallions, spinach, in 1/4 cup of oil, add parsley and dill.
Blend all cheeses and eggs in blender.
Place the spinach mixture with the cheese mixture in a bowl. Stir together.
Completely oil a 13 x 9-inch baking pan, then line six sheets of filo in the bottom of pan, letting the excess hang over the sides. Each sheet should be lightly brushed with the butter/oil mixture. Alternate a layer of spinach mixture with one filo sheet, brush the sheet with the butter/oil, and repeat until you have no more spinach mixture and only six sheets of filo dough remaining. Place remaining sheets on top of the casserole, brushing each sheet with the butter/oil. Tuck the hanging over sides of the sheets into the casserole dish, if you can. (Most of the time, I end up trimming them before I tuck them. Bake at 375F for 45 minutes until the filo is crispy and golden brown.
Note: Karen reminded me this makes two pans. You can cut the recipe in half, or make two pans, and freeze one.