Until recently, we had what I would deem a vintage package of phyllo dough in our freezer. I’m not even sure when it came into our lives- could have possibly travelled with us from our last apartment when we moved a couple of years ago? Yikes. In any case, it resurfaced recently while cleaning out the freezer to make more room for Maddie’s food, and Dylan thought it was high time we made use of it. Wiser types might have just thrown it away, declaring anything of such unknown age and origin to be better off in the trash that in our bellies. But our inner packrats prevailed and several sheets of phyllo were quickly used for some sort of dessert, the remainder stashed in the fridge.
As it would happen, Dylan was off to an out-of-town residency interview shortly after that and it fell to me to use the remaining phyllo. For whatever reason, I’ve always had a fear of working with it, much in the same way that yeast intimidates me. Not to mention that using phyllo tends to require copious amounts of buttter or oil painstakingly brushed on the sheets. Not my speed. Still there’s little I hate more than wasting food so after a brief search, I set out to make this recipe for a spinach, feta, and pine-nut phyllo tart from Epicurious.
I can’t complain about the taste- it was light and crunchy, a spanikopita variation that worked equally well as a snack or light lunch. But the phyllo itself- what a nightmare! I choose to think that it must have been its age- the dough cracked and crumbled every time I tried to move or unfold it, resulting in the rather messy tart you see above. I don’t think it affected the taste, but it made the process of assembling the tart decidedly less enjoyable than it might have otherwise been. Yes, I appreciated not having to make a pie crust, but I can’t say I’ll be racing out to use phyllo again in the near future. For those of you who are more enamored of it than I am, however, you should find this recipe a simple and tasty savory way to use phyllo.
Spinach, feta, and pine-nut phyllo tart(serves 6 as a main course)
1/2 cup pine nuts (about 3 ounces)
1 medium onion
1/3 cup olive oil
two 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup crumbled feta (about 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon fine dry bread crumbs
seven 17- by 12-inch phyllo sheets
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Toast pine nuts in middle of oven until golden, about 4 minutes, and cool. Finely chop onion and in a large heavy skillet, cook in oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Squeeze spinach to remove as much liquid as possible and stir with salt into onion. Cook spinach mixture over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until any liquid is evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes, and cool slightly. In a large bowl whisk eggs until combined and stir in spinach mixture, pine nuts, feta, and bread crumbs until combined well.
2. Stack phyllo sheets and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel. In a small saucepan, melt butter and cool slightly. Lightly brush a large jelly roll pan with butter (or use Silpat, as I did).
3. On a work surface lightly brush 1 phyllo sheet with butter. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon Parmesan evenly over buttered phyllo and repeat layering with 5 more phyllo sheets, butter, and 5 tablespoons Parmesan. Arrange last phyllo sheet on stack and lightly brush with butter. Transfer phyllo to tart pan, letting excess hang over edge, and spoon filling onto phyllo, spreading evenly. Fold edges of pastry over filling, leaving center uncovered , and lightly brush top of phyllo with butter. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan over exposed filling and bake tart in middle of oven until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.
N.B.: Filling may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring filling to room temperature before proceeding.