Connie’s Coronavirus Cooking Chronicles – Recipe 1 – Deconstructed Spanokopita Casserole
The COVID-19 lockdown in California has been going on for about a month and a half now and although many people are going stir-crazy, I’ve found this time to be quite productive. Creativity often thrives under limitation and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be stuck at home and able to focus on many of the projects I had placed on the backburner for far too long. One of these is working on my blog and uploading more recipes.
So without further ado, I bring you the Connie’s Coronavirus Cooking Chronicles series. This series will consist of the recipes that I make (or have made) during the coronavirus “shelter in place” mandate. Most of these recipes are my own (I will state otherwise if they were created by someone else) and are often inspired by foods I have had elsewhere. For any recipe I make, I like to find the sweet spot between maximum deliciousness (to motivate you to eat), ease of cooking (to motivate you to cook), and healthiness (to make you feel good about both cooking and eating it).
The first recipe I’d like to share is one of my favorites. I love a good crunchy spanokopita (a Greek spinach and feta pie often wrapped with phyllo into a triangular shape and baked) and have had spanokopita at various restaurants in Greece and also at numerous Greek/Mediterranean restaurants here in the United States. Every restaurant has its own recipe so they all taste slightly different. Here’s a picture of a spanokopita I had in Santorini:
Spanokopita is one of my favorite dishes so of course I had to make it at home. Although I greatly enjoy the crunchy triangular-shaped pies, I don’t have the time or patience to brush each sheet of phyllo dough with olive oil and then wrap each pie into a pretty little triangle, especially given how quickly my husband and I demolish them. Instead, I came up with a deconstructed version (inspired by my Greek mother-in-law, who bakes her Spanokopita in a casserole pan, as many Greek families do).
This spanokopita bake can be made with or without phyllo dough. I usually make it without the phyllo, because like I said, it is quite time-consuming to brush all that phyllo with olive oil and both my husband and I think it tastes just as good without the phyllo and it is SO MUCH FASTER (and cheaper) to make it this way. Really, this is one of my favorite ways to get my husband to eat his vegetables. He usually asks for seconds and thirds and I have to stop him from eating it all to prevent him from ODing on greens. Here is what the casserole looks like without phyllo:
However, if you want to make it with phyllo (which is more traditional but more time-consuming), you have two options:
Option 1 is brushing each sheet (or every other sheet) of phyllo with olive oil and layering the sheets on the bottom of the casserole pan and also on the very top after you’ve put the other ingredients in before baking. I never do it this way (even though it’s quite traditional) because the phyllo on the bottom gets soggy and I also like to make enough for a few days, so the phyllo on the top gets soft and squishy in the fridge. At that point, it is irrelevant to me if the phyllo is there or not, since I only like phyllo for the crunch that it provides.
That brings me to Option 2, which is to bake the phyllo separately. I always make it this way when I use phyllo, because it guarantees that every bite of of phyllo is supremely crunchy. I brush each sheet of phyllo with olive oil (sometimes I brush every other sheet) and lay them on top of each other. When the stack is about 6+ sheets thick, I cut them into small rectangles. Then I put most of these stacked rectangles into ziploc bags, press the air out, and stick them in the freezer. Anytime I want some crunchy phyllo to put on top of my spanokopita, I pull out some of these rectangular stacks from the freezer and bake them in the oven at 350 F for about 10 minutes, or until they start to turn golden-brown. Maximal crunch achieved.
As for the baked casserole itself, the recipe I came up with after several trial experiments is below. Some recipes call for a mixture of different cheeses (including feta), but I think it tastes best with feta only. Also, some spanokopita recipes are more “savory” and some are more “sweet.” The sweeter ones tend to use dill and no garlic, but I strongly prefer the savory flavor, so this one is on the savory side. Most spanokopita recipes use only spinach but I actually prefer the taste and health benefits of including a mixture of greens, so I recommend Costco’s Organic Power Greens, which is a mix of baby kale, chard, and spinach. But if you only have spinach or want more of a traditional flavor, spinach only is just fine. Lastly, chickpeas are usually not in spanokopitas but my favorite Mediterranean restaurant serves spanokopitas with chickpeas inside and I think they add great texture and flavor to a dish that would otherwise be just soft, especially without the phyllo. The almonds also add some nice texture as well. Here’s the recipe!
Deconstructed Spanokopita Casserole
- 2.5-3 cups of feta cheese (I use 2 slabs of Dodoni Feta Cheese from Costco, chopped/crumbled)
- 1.5 lbs of prewashed organic spinach or mixed greens (I prefer the Organic Power Greens from Costco, which is a mix of baby kale, chard, and spinach – I actually prefer the flavor of this over all spinach)
- 1 onion (I prefer yellow)
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp pepper (no need to add salt b/c feta cheese is salty)
- 4 eggs
- 1 to 1.5 cups of cooked chickpeas/garbanzo beans (or ~0.5 cups dried) (see Notes 2 & 3 below on how to cook)
- 1/2 cup (or more) of slivered almonds (optional)
- 1/2 pack phyllo dough & extra olive oil for brushing (optional, see Note 1)
- 1 to 2 tsp olive oil for sauteing
- See notes below on how to prepare the chickpeas.
- If adding slivered almonds, toast them for a few minutes in a frying pan on medium-low, stirring frequently until golden. Set aside.
- Dice garlic.
- Dice onions.
- Sautee the onions in some olive oil until cooked through.
- Add garlic to the onions and sautee another minute. Let this cool a bit so you don’t accidentally cook the eggs when mixed in.
- Whisk eggs into a very large bowl.
- Chop the feta cheese and put the feta into the large bowl with the eggs. Add pepper. Mix.
- Pour onion/garlic mixture into the bowl too. Mix.
- Add the cooked and drained chickpeas and mix. If including slivered almonds, put the toasted almonds into the bowl at this time as well and mix.
- Chop the pre-washed greens by grabbing a bunch at a time and chopping into 1/2 inch slivers. Chopping in one direction is fine, no need to chop in both directions. As you chop, put the chopped greens into the big bowl with the other ingredients.
- Use two spatulas to mix everything in the bowl until the greens are evenly coated with the mixture.
- Pour everything into a casserole pan (I use 10″ x 13″) and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or so, or until the center reaches 170 to 190 degrees. I usually don’t preheat my oven because I use a small countertop oven that doesn’t take very long to heat up.
- Cut finished casserole into rectangles and serve. Dig in!
- If you want to add phyllo, read the blog post above the recipe for Option 1 or Option 2 on how to prepare and bake the phyllo.
- If using canned chickpeas, boil them with water until they are as soft as you would like. Drain and set chickpeas aside to cool a bit so you don’t cook the eggs when mixed in.
- If using dry chickpeas, soak 1/2 cup (or more) chickpeas overnight in water in a container that allows the chickpeas to more than double in volume during the soak, then drain the next day and cover with fresh water in a pot (the water should cover the chickpeas by about 3 inches). Boil without a lid for about 60-90 minutes until they are to your desired softness (they will not soften more during the bake). Drain and set chickpeas aside to cool a bit so you don’t cook the eggs when mixed in.