Tag Archives: Feta

Extra-flaky spanakopita

It’s a new year, and a lot of people are eating their greens. Even if you’ve already had your traditional New Year’s Day greens for luck, we’re now in the health-conscious days of January, and winter vegetables are the order of the day. Of course, my favorite way to eat greens is to mix them with cheese and sandwich them between layers of buttery pastry, but hey. You do what you can.

Spanakopita, or Greek spinach pie, is one of my absolute favorite foods. If it’s on a restaurant menu, I order it. If it’s in the freezer case at the grocery store, I buy it. And whenever I end up with a glut of greens in the fridge, I make it myself. The filling is simple–a boatload of cooked greens, some sauteed onions or scallions, cubes of feta cheese, fresh herbs, nutmeg, and an egg to hold it all together. And the crust involves frozen phyllo dough, which thaws quickly on the counter and bakes up golden and flaky-crisp like you wouldn’t believe.

I’d be lying if I said making spanakopita was quick. I’ve done this on a weeknight, but you probably won’t want to. Phyllo is fussy stuff–you have to lay it out one gauze-thin sheet at a time and brush each sheet all over with melted butter or olive oil. But I’ve found ways to make it easier on myself, and the biggest one is simply to make smaller pies. Most recipes call for a 9×13 pan, which involves lots of jigsaw-puzzling of phyllo sheets to make sure everything is covered. I make my spanakopita in an 8-inch square pan, which is much closer to the size of a single sheet of phyllo, meaning more flaky layers with less work. I also don’t worry about the phyllo sheets cracking and tearing, which they inevitably do; that just means more crunchy flaky goodness later!

If you have the gumption to tackle phyllo–and I really think you should–then this is a great recipe to have in your back pocket. The filling is super-adaptable and uses up a lot of greens, which is great if you’re drowning in kale. You can serve it as an appetizer or as a showy vegetarian main course. The pie tastes great warm, but I also love it at room temperature. It even makes great (if slightly less-crunchy) leftovers.

spanakopita

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Lamb burgers with mint pesto and whipped feta

I’ve already discussed the life-changing burger bun I had in New Zealand. Now let’s talk about what was in it.

I’m not normally much of a burger girl. I’m not anti-burger, by any means–I’ll happily eat one if it’s what’s on offer–but for the most part it’s not high on my list of beloved foods. It takes a really spectacular burger to make me sit up and take notice. And this one did.

I’m basically reconstructing this from memory, but the flavors and sensations made a pretty deep impression. First there was that wonderful pumpkin bun, squishy and sweet and crunchy on top. Then there was the lamb itself, juicy and gamy and just salty enough. And then there were the condiments, smeared just out of sight under the lid: something minty, and something smooth with feta in it. The whole thing was topped off with a cluster of julienned carrot (and a slice of beet, which I immediately removed). Each bite had just the right amount of bready squish, a little carroty crunch, a little salty feta tang, a little grassy mintiness, and a morsel of earthy lamb. God, it was wonderful.

So, for Fourth of July week, what better way to blog than by recreating a burger I had in another British colony? And here it is: a juicy lamb patty, on a bun slathered with mint pesto and whipped feta dip, and topped with shards of carrot. It’s savory and salty and herby and sweet and crunchy, and I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite burger I’ve ever made. The ingredient list looks a little long and complex–you’re basically making two separate condiments from scratch. But because you can make both in the food processor, they come together in minutes, and each can be done several days or even a week ahead. (I normally make pesto by hand, with a knife, but all that lovely texture would be lost here. The machine is fine.)

Burger-cookery is a pretty personal thing, and I definitely have my preferences. For me, a 1/3 pound burger is the perfect size–not too big, not too small. I try not to compact or squeeze the meat too much as I’m shaping it, so that it’ll stay juicy and relatively light. I like to make the burgers just a tad larger than the circumference of the buns I’m using, because they shrink as they cook. And I season the outside of the burgers, rather than the inside, for no other reason than that it means I don’t have to dirty a mixing bowl.

Oh, and a note on the buns. I didn’t have time to make bread from scratch for these photos, so I bought some good-quality buns, and the burgers were just fine. They’ll taste great on pretty much any bun. But please, if you have the time and inclination, I beg you, do try making pumpkin buns for these burgers. They really elevate each other. They belong together. They sing.

lamb mint pesto whipped feta burger

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Baked feta in tomato sauce

I am not a very good photographer. I just don’t have It, that thing that allows people to capture the essence of their subject in a photograph. Most of the time I’m at peace with this. But sometimes it frustrates me.

For example. I made baked feta in tomato sauce. There’s a photo of it in this post. This photo does absolutely nothing to illustrate how delicious that baked feta was. What looks like a few unidentified bits and bobs floating in a pool of tomato sauce is, in reality, one of the most mouth-watering things I’ve made in quite some time. It’s a one-two-three salty sucker punch of feta, olives, and capers, tickled with Mediterranean seasonings and swaddled in tomato sauce. Feta is one of those cheeses that doesn’t really melt under heat, but holds its shape until prodded, then slumps into a creamy cloudlike mass. Bake it for a while, especially in a pungent tomato sauce base like this, and it’s perfect for smearing on crusty bread or crackers.

I got the idea for this from Emmy’s comment on my tomato sauce post. She mentioned it offhand, and gave no details. But it lodged itself in my head, and when the first of the year’s sheep’s milk feta came available at my local farmer’s market, I decided to give it a whirl. It’s an indulgence, this cheese–expensive, and worth every penny. I love the slight acrid muskiness it has, a clear reminder that it came from an animal. But really, any reasonably good-quality feta would do just fine here. It’s the salt and the lush texture that you want, muscling out from under the acid-sweet tomato sauce.

Just on its own, as a dip for bread or crackers, this is pretty phenomenal. But to make it a bit more of a substantial treat–say, for a Mother’s Day brunch–crack four eggs over the top before adding the shallot rings and oil. The egg yolks will set to a creamy, not-quite-runny consistency, and you can then mash the whole thing together with a fork or hunks of bread. I’m actually salivating just thinking about it.

baked feta in tomato sauce

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Broccoli and feta pasta

Happy Halloween!

This year’s spooky day snuck up on me.  I have no holiday-appropriate post.  No candy, no pumpkin, no orange food, nothing at all about putting on costumes and demanding sugary treats from strangers.

What I do have is tonight’s dinner, which accidentally turned out looking like something you might use in a haunted house to imitate human innards:

That’s Halloween-y, right?

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Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to…

It’s spring. The air is so downy and soft I could float away on it. The water in the San Francisco Bay is gemstone-blue and sequined with bits of sunlight. The trees are green again; the sky is cloudless and infinite. On days like these, I daydream about nothing but strawberries.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that robin redbreasts have strawberry bellies. The arrival of both bird and berry has always been my personal signal to get excited for warmer times. Even in Northern California, where we only have three seasons, the start of strawberry season is always occasion for at least a little joy.

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