I’ve long been expert at sniffing out a good recipe. After all, I’ve done it professionally for more than 25 years and as an intriguing hobby for most of my adult life.
So when I recently met Judy Trogadis, a friend of my good pal Visnja Brcic, it wasn’t long before we were talking spanakopita, that delectable, deservedly famous Greek pie made with phyllo, spinach and feta that’s often served as a snack at parties.
The original recipe comes from Judy’s ex-husband’s first wife (hey, a good recipe can come from any source) and, says my new friend, her ex put his mark on it by adding mint and pepper (credit where credit’s due).
Long story short, a week after our first encounter, Visnja and I found ourselves seated at Judy’s dining table with a bowl of excellent vichyssoise before us and a plate of – you guessed- flaky little slices of spanakopita.
The filling was unusually creamy and the layers of phyllo that encased it lusciously crisp. In a nutshell, Judy’s was the best version I’d tasted. A few weeks later, the three of us were making this Greek pastry at my home in Stratford.
The trick is to work quickly so the dough doesn’t dry out. Otherwise, it’s a cinch. The secret to the creamy filling is cream of wheat. Judy credits her Austro-Hungarian background for her twist on the presentation: a strudel shape that’s cut in slices rather than the traditional Greek triangles.
We took a plate piled high with these mouth-watering morsels to a soiree that night; it was the first food to disappear.
Judy’s SpanakopitaWe used Presidnet’s Choice phyllo. You could use fresh dill and mint – just double the amounts.
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 bunches green onions, chopped
300g package frozen spinach, thawed, undrained
454g package frozen phyllo pastry, thawed
1 tsp each: dried dill and dried mint
1/3 cup cream of wheat
2/3 cup milk
250g container feta cheese, drained, grated1 egg, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
About 1 cup vegetable oil
Heat vegetable oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add green onions; cook about 2 minutes or until softened. Add spinach with liquid, dill and mint; cook, stirring, until combined. Reduce heat to low; sprinkle cream of wheat on top. Stirring, add milk, a little at a time; cook about 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; stir in feta. Cool to room temperature. (If necessary, place in sink filled with cold water.) Stir in egg. Taste; add salt and pepper if necessary.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Working quickly, unroll phyllo so it is flat. Remove one layer and place on counter; brush liberally with vegetable oil. Repeat with 4 more phyllo layers. Place a strip of filling about 1 1/2 inches wide along long edge. Fold over short ends (about 1 inch) as if making a package, then roll phyllo over filling as if making strudel. Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling. You will have 4 or 5 long strudels.
Brush large baking sheet liberally with oil. Place strudels on top. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before slicing into pieces a little less than 2 inches wide.
Makes about 40 pieces.