Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-auchool Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
It’s time for some spinach and phyllo fun with my recipe for a dialed-down version of the Greek classic, Spanakopita.
There are some Greek joints in New York City that make this spinach and cheese pie perfectly. I buy one slice and another for a “friend” who’s coming over. Yep, you guessed it: there’s no friend involved!
While labor intensive, I love fresh spinach. It tastes like springtime to me. When you buy it, remove the stems, thoroughly clean the leaves in cold tap water and lay it out on a kitchen towel until they dry. Even triple washed fresh spinach can still have soil on the leaves and stems. One mouthful of grit spoils the whole recipe, so be careful to wash it well.
You can also use two boxes frozen spinach in this recipe by defrosting completely and removing all of the water by squeezing it tightly in a kitchen towel. It does save a lot of time but it also doesn’t have as an intense or fresh flavor. If you do opt for frozen spinach, drain well and stir in some chopped fresh basil leaves to perk up the flavor.
Alex Guarnaschelli’s Spinach and Phyllo Cups
5-6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 lb. fresh spinach
2 cups heavy cream
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese plus an additional ½ cup for sprinkling
½ cup finely grated Gruyere cheese
1-2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 package small phyllo cups or 1 box frozen phyllo dough
1. Cook the spinach: Preheat a large sauté pan over high heat, and then add enough olive oil to almost coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil begins to smoke, add two handfuls of the cleaned, dried spinach to the pan. Season with salt immediately, then toss the spinach in the pan until the leaves take on a deep green hue and lose about 50 to 75 percent of their volume. Remove the wilted spinach leaves from the pan and place in a colander to drain. Repeat this step, cooking the spinach in batches, until all of the spinach has been cooked.
2. Drain the spinach: Press down on the spinach in the colander to remove any excess oil and moisture from the leaves. Remove the spinach from the colander and chop the leaves into pieces no bigger than 1-inch across.
3. Make the spinach mix: In the sauté pan where you cooked the spinach, warm the cream over medium heat. Simmer the cream until it’s about 1/3 of its original volume, then add the nutmeg, cheeses, Worcestershire sauce, pepper flakes and salt to taste. Whisk the ingredients together in the pan and cook 5 – 7 minutes or until the cream thickens. Gently stir in the spinach. Taste for seasoning. Refrigerate.
4. Bake and devour: Preheat oven to 375°. You can use small premade phyllo cups (1½ inches holds about 1½ ounces of spinach mix per cup) to make small spinach bites out of this. I also love to cut phyllo squares slightly larger than a muffin cup and layer 3 squares on top of each other. Brush melted butter between each square. Press the 3 layers into each muffin cup and don’t worry if the buttered edges overlap outside each cup. Bake until they are golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Cool slightly. When ready to eat, fill each with the spinach mix, top with the remaining parmesan and bake until warm, 15-18 minutes.
Tips for working with phyllo dough:
-When ready to work with phyllo, take the box from your freezer. Unwrap the “roll” of layers completely on a flat surface. Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel to keep the layers from drying out as you work with the phyllo.
-Have some melted butter and a pastry brush at the ready so you can brush you phyllo squares with butter.
-Want to add even more flavor? Sprinkle finely grated Parmesan cheese on each layer after brushing with butter. You can also sprinkle the layers with some salt and pepper.
-When finished, gently roll up the remaining layers, wrap in plastic and freeze in the box for the next time you need phyllo!
-If you want to make a creamed spinach casserole, cut four rounds of phyllo slightly larger than your favorite gratin dish. Brush with butter and stack the four layers on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° until golden brown, 15-18 minutes. Warm the spinach filling in the gratin dish and top with the phyllo just before serving so it stays crunchy.