Spinach Spanakopita

This week’s feature is the strongman of the vegetable world: Spinach!

Spinach is believed to have originated in ancient Persia (modern Iran) and the Middle East. Arab traders carried spinach into India, and then the plant was introduced to ancient China.

In AD 827, the Saracens introduced spinach to the Mediterranean, and arrived in Spain by the latter part of the 12th century, where the Arab agronomist Ibn al-‘Awwam called it the “captain of leafy greens.” 1

Then it moved to Europe and Great Britain, where  it quickly gained popularity because of its appearance in early spring, when other vegetables were scarce.

In 1533, Catherine de’ Medici became queen of France.  She fancied spinach so much she insisted it be served at every meal. To this day, dishes made with spinach are known as “Florentine”, reflecting Catherine’s birth in Florence.

During World War I, wine fortified with spinach juice was given to French soldiers weakened by hemorrhage. 2

Spinach is a rich source of vitamin A, lutein, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, folate, betaine, iron, vitamin B2, calcium,potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. 3

Watch Popeye share the story of how he came to love spinach:
Popeye the Sailor Cartoon – Let’s Stalk Spinach

This week’s recipe is Spinach Spanakopita.  These warm triangles, crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, are my favorite way to enjoy spinach.  A “healthy plate” in a pocket, spinach spanakopita contain vegetables, protein, and carbohydrate all in the palm of one’s hand.  Let your little one show you they’re as strong as Popeye squeezing the water out of the thawed spinach.  The filling can be made ahead of time and refrigerated up to 3 days until ready to assemble triangles.  Make a double batch, freeze the unbaked triangles up to 2 months, and pop in the oven for 10 additional minutes as desired.

Recipe Variations:  Substitute silken tofu for cheese and palm margarine for butter to make a dairy-free version.   Saute spinach in an additional tablespoon of oil and omit egg for egg-free version.  Add seasoned sautéed ground meat / TVP for a heartier spanikopita.

Spinach Spanakopita

Preparation Time: 2 hours

Yield: 2-4 servings

Ingredients:

1 pound spinach, frozen
1-6 cloves garlic, minced
3T olive oil
1/2 cup feta
1/2 cup ricotta
Salt & pepper to taste
1 egg
1/2 pound filo dough (1/2 box)
1 stick butter, melted
Optional: 1/2 sauteed onion, 1/4 cup fresh parsley, 1/4 cup grated parmesan, 1/4 tsp dried dill, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Equipment:

strainer
knife / garlic press
cutting board
pan
spatula
bowl
measuring cups
spoon
scissors / chef’s knife
damp dish towel
pastry brush
baking sheet

Directions:

1.  Thaw package of filo and spinach in refrigerator for 2 days.
2.  Squeeze water out of spinach with hands and/or strainer.
3.  Mince garlic with knife/garlic press.
4.  Heat pan over low-medium heat.
5.  Add olive oil and garlic, then spinach and sauté, stirring until mixture is just slightly moist, but not wet.
6.  Place spinach mixture in bowl and let cool.
7.  Stir ricotta, feta (and optional extras if desired) into spinach mixture.

8.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
9.  Stir in egg well.
10.  Preheat oven 350F.
11.  Melt butter.
12.  Unroll filo, cut into 3-5″ wide strips, wrap in a piece of plastic wrap / wax paper, and cover with damp towel.
13.  Place one strip of filo on counter top, brush lightly with butter with pastry brush / fingers.
14.  Place ~2 tablespoons spinach mixture 1″ from end of filo strip.  Fold filo end over filling to form a triangle, then continue to fold up the strip in triangles, like folding up a flag.
15.  Continue folding up triangles, placing in a single layer on a baking sheet.
16.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden and crisp.
17.  Serve warm.
References:
1.  Clifford A. Wright. Mediterranean Vegetables: A Cook’s ABC of Vegetables and their Preparation in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa, with More than 200 Authentic Recipes for the Home Cook. (Boston: Harvard Common Press, 2001). pp. 300-301.
2.  Jacques Rolland and Carol Sherman, “Spinach”. The Food Encyclopedia: Over 8,000 Ingredients, Tools, Techniques and People . Toronto: Robert Rose. 2006. (WWW: Canadian Living. Accessed 03/07/2010).
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