Our good friend and incredibly talented chef, Anna Gass, wanted to preserve ethnic family recipes, so she traipsed across the country cooking with immigrant grandmothers right in their own kitchens - including Nelly, my wonderful mother-in-law. This recipe for Spanakopita is a family favorite and can be found in Anna's gorgeous cookbook, Heirloom Kitchen.
For the filling:
•4 pounds frozen chopped spinach
•4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
•5 scallions, chopped
•1/2 bunch dill, chopped
•1 teaspoon salt
•1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
•5 eggs, beaten
•1 pound cottage cheese
•1 1/2 pounds feta cheese, broken up into small pieces
•1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
•For the dough:
•1 packet phyllo dough, #4 (Nelly likes Apollo)
•1 cup clarified butter
1.Preheat oven to 375° F. Thoroughly drain the spinach of all water by squeezing it in a cheesecloth. Wet spinach will cause for soggy spanakopita.
2.Over medium heat, melt butter with scallions and cook until scallions are soft and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes
3.Transfer to a large bowl and add dill, salt, pepper, eggs, cottage cheese, feta cheese, spinach, and olive oil. Fold ingredients together until fully combined, careful to not break up feta. Do not overmix.
4.Now time to prepare the phyllo. Lightly butter a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Prepare phyllo by removing from package and unfurling it. You should have around 25 to 30 sheets. As you work, cover the dough with a damp tea towel or moistened paper towel on top to prevent it from drying out.
5.Carefully peel off one sheet of phyllo and lay it on the bottom of pan. Sheets of phyllo should not be pulled tight. Instead, lay it in a crumbled fashion to create a textured layer. With pastry brush, generously spread with clarified butter until the sheet is moistened. Continue until you have used half of your total filo dough (about 10 to 15 sheets).
6.Spread filling over the sheets of phyllo in an even layer, to the ends of the dish.
7.Begin the process of covering with phyllo and brushing with butter until two to three sheets of phyllo remain. Pull the final sheets tightly over the top of the dish to create a smooth top. Brush top layer with clarified butter.
8.Using a very sharp paring knife, score six even lines lengthwise down the phyllo, about 1/2-inch deep. Now, on the horizontal, cut four even lines across. In each square, cut a diagonal line to create two triangles in each box. Nelly likes to cut the corner pieces in the opposite direction.
9.Take the remaining clarified butter and brush directly into each cut. This will keep the phyllo in place while cooking. Then, take the paring knife and carefully tuck border down by running the knife around all four edges. Brush border with butter.
10.Bake at for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown. Check after 1 hour for browning. Serve at room temperature.