Seed to Feed strives each week to introduce a new recipe from Pacifica and, perhaps more importantly, show how the foods we love and the stories they tell connect us to each other and our heritage. Daphne Lagios and her son Hunter are a perfect example of this with this weeks Seed to Feed recipe for spanakopitas.
Spanakopitas have a special place in my heart, the first chef job I ever earned was in a Continental Cuisine restaurant in downtown Sacramento called Pava's. A bohemian sort of place, lunch favorites included a large triangle of spinach and feta pie encased in crispy layers of phyllo, which was a form spanakopita. Versatility is a benchmark quality of this classic Greek dish as it can be made in a large pie, individual main course size triangles or, as Daphne and Hunter demonstrate, appetizer size--two bite triangles.
Daphne and Hunter's version is one of the best I have tried and I started baking them back in the early eighties. Leeks and goat cheese soften the bite of the greens and feta while the stories they tell bring the pleasures of writing Seed to Feed to new heights.
Walking into Daphne Lagios' home, you are greeted by the warm living room of a thriving family. In one corner hangs a Greek flag and just below that, a wall of photos we will return to after we finish cooking.
Rounding the corner into the kitchen you enter a place where food is elevated and enjoyed on every level. Classic culinary tools, not trendy gadgets, are interspersed with favorite ingredients and a child's art work. Hunter has laid out an organized demonstration of their family tradition: making spanakopitas.
Just like Darin Petersen with his Kalua Pork in last weeks Seed to Feed, Daphne does not show up to events with family and friends without a tray of spanakopitas. Being a second generation Greek, Lagios brings considerable experience with the skills required to make good spanikopitas and imparts some culinary wisdom in her advice many professional cooks could learn from.
"I remember the discussions among my aunts of how each one made the recipe a little different," Daphne said. "My mother made it with spinach, eggs, cottage cheese and feta. I've experimented with leeks, different greens and even winter squash--it's a constantly evolving recipe."
Annie Sommerville's recipe is where Daphne started, and the crunch of the walnuts is a welcome addition. A little feta is added as well to "give it some more zing." One ingredient which is common to all spanakopita is the phyllo dough.
Phyllo can be a problematic ingredient for many cooks but Daphne and Hunter are not afraid. The real secret is not a secret at all but rather is printed right on the package. Unless you are lucky enough to live near one of the few bakeries in the United States still making phyllo by hand, you will be using frozen phyllo. The instructions say to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Most people fully ignore the fact that it never mentions the option of thawing at room temperature and just throw it out on the counter and wait a couple of hours. Total mayhem ensues if one takes that path. Rapid defrosting creates small pockets of moisture in the rolls of dough and cause sticking together of the layers. In addition, other parts of the dough will be dry and tend to crack.
Moving to Pacifica in 1999 with husband Gary was an easychoice for the couple. Like many of us, love for the ocean makes our town the perfect home. Gary's love for wooden boats and walks on the beach with Gizmo, the family dog, make Pacifica the ideal location to watch Hunter's interests grow and evolve.
Look for Hunter and his buddies to show up in a future Seed to Feed with summertime smoothy recipes. Next week: the debut of Seed to Feed's outdoor cooking series!
Daphne and Hunter's spanakopitas
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1 tablespoon unsalted butter
-3 cups leeks, white part only. Cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced and washed. About 4 leeks.
-1/4 cup white wine
-1/4 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
-1/4 pound soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled, about 3/4 cup
-1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
-1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
-1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
-8 sheets phyllo, or more if you want to make more. There are usually 22-24 sheets in a package
-4 to 8 tablespoons of butter depending on your desired yield, melted and kept warm.
-salt and pepper to taste
Daphne encourages you to add to the mix. In our batch she added feta cheese and chard. You really can't go wrong.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
- Heat the oil and 1 tbl. of butter in a medium sized pan, add the leeks and season with salt and pepper. Sauté over medium heat until the leeks soften, no more than five minutes.
- Add the wine and let simmer until the liquid is all cooked off. Move mixture to a bowl and let cool.
- When the leeks are cool add the walnuts, Parmesan and goat cheeses, the herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
- Lay out the phyllo dough on a clean counter and cover with a damp towel.
- Lay out the top two sheets on a cutting board and brush the top layer with melted butter. Cut into four strips lengthwise.
- Spoon a heaping teaspoon of filling at the end of each long strip. Fold the end of the phyllo over the filling at a 45 degree angle creating a triangle. Continue folding as if you were folding a flag or a paper football. Do not fold too tightly or they will explode on baking.
- Finish the fold in a triangle shape with any extra dough folded on the bottom side.
- Fold all the spanakopitas in this way and then brush the tops with butter and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- At this point the spanakopitas can be refrigerated or frozen until baking time.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown, a little darker if you like extra crispy.
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