The Day My Kids Joyously Ate Copious Amounts of Greens
Yesterday evening I stepped into a new world. A world of phyllo dough and feta cheese. It was surreal, like a long ago dream coming true. In this world you have to plan ahead. But not in the same way that you need to plan ahead when making lasagna starting your sauce hours if not days before the final delicious dish is assembled. This was the world of spanakopita. I was told by the wide array of recipes I consulted that I must thaw phyllo dough for hours and then let it reach room temperature before I could begin laying out layer after layer of the dough with a light smattering of butter between each delicate sheet. Thawing things is hard for me, because I often forget to take this essential step, but this day I remembered.
Bringing in the harvest...
Out in the herb garden, where I have a huge whiskey barrel brimming with nettles, I snipped each top off with great excitement. I'd say I only got stung about five times, not bad for how much I harvested.
FYI~ What is nettle? Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a dark leafy green plant mostly known for it's mildly vicious sting. Only fresh nettle stings. Once dried or cooked nettle can be safely consumed providing the body with a super power house of nutrients. Nettle contains high amounts of readily available iron, calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene and vitamin C as well as many other vitamins and minerals. All this and it is tasty too! Check out nettle in Materia Medica for more a more in-depth read about this amazing plant.
Contemplation and creation...
Back inside I sautéed onions and garlic with lots and lots of blood nourishing nettles and spinach, into a delicious warm dark green mass. I added ricotta, feta, provolone, eggs, oregano, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mixing it all up and inhaling the delicious smell while I contemplated this creation, I wondered if I set it down on a plate in front of my kids, would they eat it? Probably not, I would guess and I am not even going to risk it. I am not even going to tell my youngest what is in the spanakopita. My oldest child, who worked with fresh nettles this past summer at an empowering outdoor camp for girls, regarded the fresh nettles as I brought them in with interest and respect. So only she knows about the nettles and her enthusiasm for spanakopita seems to brighten at the sight of them.
Feet on the Earth is the organization that has the camp I sent my child to this past summer. It is run by an amazing woman, outdoor leader and herbalist Lorene Wapotich. My child came home from her week at camp confident in herself and excited about the outdoors!
I do bring the girls into the kitchen to see this strange creation called phyllo dough. They touch it and wonder over it. They rip off a corner piece and try it. Up until this moment I had wonderful dreams of assembling the spanakopita together. I could see my girls' happy faces while the carefully painted each sheet of phyllo with a pastry brush dipped in butter. But by the time I was ready to put the spanakopita together it was already dinner time and I was about an hour behind schedule. So I kicked them out of the kitchen and whipped it all up in super high gear. I am sure I was shameful in my lack of attention to the individual sheets of dough. I could almost hear the voice of some Greek grandmother admonishing me while looking over my shoulder.
The moment has arrived...
Forty minutes and one appetizer later the spanakopita was done. Each plate had a luscious piece placed ready for the eating full of dark, dark green veggies. I kept my cool and waited to see what my kids would think. They declared it delicious and happily scarfed down every bit and then some. The experiment was a success, my children's bodies have been nourished and I have a new dish to make whenever I want.
I loosely followed about three different recipes to make this dish which came out really delicious. My main inspiration came from the Rosemary Gladstar's recipe for Nettle Spanakopita in her wonderful book Herbs for Longevity & Well-Being as well as from the mighty nettle patch in my backyard. Here are the basics of what I did:
Saute together in olive oil:
- 1 entire bulb of garlic, minced
- 2 large onions, diced
- 2 large bowls full of fresh nettle tops, chopped
- 2 packages of frozen spinach
- 2 to 3 large pinches of strong dried oregano
- a tiny pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
Remove from the heat and mix in:
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 8 oz crumbled feta cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
For the flaky yummy crust:
- one package of phyllo dough
- one stick of butter
Butter the bottom and edges of a 9x13 pan. Start laying sheets of phyllo dough into the pan on sheet at a time. Keep the sheets you are not using under a damp towel to keep them from drying out. Apparently phyllo dries out quickly and becomes brittle. Lightly brush each sheet with butter before laying the next sheet on top. I did about a 3rd of the package and then put half of the green mixture down in an even layer. Then I repeated this process one time. Finally I took the remaining phyllo dough and created a top layer. I think next time I will just do a bottom and a top layer of phyllo with no middle layer because the middle layer seemed to get lost in the midst of the green veggies. Before putting the spanakopita in the oven I lightly scored the top into serving sizes and I was glad I did too because if you try to cut the top once it is baked the flaky sheets on top get messed up.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until golden brown on the top.
If you can't get fresh nettle for your own spanakopita you can stick with spinach or, I have read, kale. Have fun experimenting!
Here are links to the other recipes I used as a guideline:
About.com Greek Food: http://greekfood.about.com/od/pansizedpies/r/Spinach-Pie-With-Feta-Spanakopita.htm