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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 44.0° F  Overcast
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When sorrel met spanakopita (recipe)
Fall greens to sub for spinach in the classic Greek savory pie
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Several years ago, I fell in love with a Greek phyllo-dough pie called spanakopita. I first had it at a friend's house, from a recipe based on his Greek mother's. Traditionally, spanakopita is built on feta cheese and spinach laid between flaky phyllo layers, and this was the way I made mine. Don't fix what ain't broke, right?

But after trying sorrel for the first time this spring and feeling a new rush of intoxication over the lemony, zesty tickle inherent to this unsung green, I was excited to see it back this fall, with the weather cooling down. What would happen if I used sorrel in spanakopita? In the recipe below, I've combined sorrel with spinach and another favorite green of mine, arugula (a.k.a. rocket), which has a slightly bitter, peppery quality. Also, keep your eyes peeled at the market for frost-sweetened spinach!

Some spanakopita recipes call for dill, but here fennel (a close relative of dill) stands in for that herb. Use the traditional dill if the "sweet anise" aroma of fennel doesn't suit you. This recipe can also be modified back to its roots by using all spinach and substituting additional onion for the fennel. But why not give this a shot? It's a wonderfully fragrant comfort food for a crisp fall evening.

Almost-Spanakopita
Serves 12

A note on using phyllo dough: The thin sheets easily dry out and crack. Working fast helps to beat this problem, as does placing a damp towel over the phyllo dough after you remove it from its package. The dimensions of phyllo dough may vary brand to brand, but you can use kitchen shears to cut the layers to fit if needed.

  • 2 bunches spinach (about 24 ounces), chopped
  • 8 ounces baby arugula, chopped
  • 1 bunch sorrel (about 8 ounces), chopped
  • 1 cup fennel, small diced
  • 1 cup red onion, small diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup packed dill or green fennel fronds
  • 2 eggs
  • 16 ounces cottage cheese
  • 16 ounces feta in brine, drained and crumbled
  • 4 ounces olive oil or butter, plus 3-4 tablespoons for sauté
  • 1 pound box phyllo dough
  • n1 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly brush 9"x13" pan with olive oil or butter.

Meanwhile, heat skillet over medium-high heat; warm 3-4 tablespoons oil or butter. Add greens in batches, cooking 3-4 minutes until wilted. Set aside in colander over large bowl. In the same pan, cook onion and fennel 4-5 minutes until onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook one more minute until fragrant.

Add onion mixture to greens in colander to drain and cool.

Once the mixture is cool enough to handle, squeeze as much water out as possible, either with clean hands or wrap in a kitchen towel and twist to wring out moisture. Put drained greens and onion mixture in medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs and combine with cheeses. Add dill, greens and onion mixture and mix well.

Set up a station to assemble spanakopita. Unwrap phyllo dough and place a damp cloth over it. Keep 4 ounces of oil or butter with a brush near greased baking pan and the bowl with filling. To assemble, place one sheet of phyllo dough on the greased pan. Brush phyllo sheet with oil/butter and place second sheet on top. Repeat until layers are five sheets thick. Next, evenly spread half of filling over phyllo. Using the same technique, assemble five more sheets of phyllo for the second layer. Spread remaining half of filling over phyllo, and layer five more sheets of phyllo on top for the third and final layer. Brush top layer with oil/butter.

Neaten rough edges around sides of pan by pushing edges down with a spatula. Bake 40-45 minutes until golden brown and cheeses bubble. Let sit 20-30 minutes before serving.

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