Tony and I visited Greece several times each spring while working aboard the M/V Clipper Adventurer, and we fell in love with this jewel of the Mediterranean. We also fell in love with Greek food, and Chef Ben's recent appetizer special at Sarello's featuring Greek Spanakopita has brought some of our favorite memories rushing back.
Cruising with Clipper Cruise Line was always an adventure, and our Greek cruises were full of sunshine, breathtaking natural beauty and happy passengers. The Adventurer was a small ship, carrying a complement of just 120 passengers and 80 crew members, so we were able to navigate into waters that larger ships can only sail by. One particularly memorable experience was our passage through the Corinth Canal, an incredibly narrow canal in the Aegean Sea that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf.
As we transited the canal, we'd gather our passengers on the bow of the ship for a canal deck party. We set the stage by playing the traditional Greek music of Mikos Theodorakis over the ship's public address system, and served our guests Greek hors d'oeuvres, including spanakopita, accompanied by small glasses of a traditional Greek liqueur called Ouzo.
Just before we exited the canal, we'd turn the music to the fast-paced "Zorbas Dance" and invite a few brave passengers to break a plate against the ship's steel deck, while the surrounding crowd wildly cheered "Opa!" The excitement among everyone, passengers and crew alike, was electric, and this experience was always a highlight of the cruise.
Spanakopita is a traditional spinach pie that is typically eaten as a snack in Greece, and we first encountered it during a stop in Santorini, where we enjoyed it as an appetizer at a restaurant perched along the island's dramatic cliffside.
These pastry pockets have a crispy exterior with a savory filling of spinach and feta cheese. Phyllo dough is most often used to make spanakopita, but this paper-thin pastry can be fussy and time-consuming, so Chef Ben adapted his recipe by using puff pastry instead, which greatly simplifies the process.
Spanakopita is easy to prepare and makes a perfect "just in case" staple for your freezer. We prefer to make our spanakopita in small triangles but you can vary the size and shape, or choose to make one large pie to cut into several smaller pieces.
To make Chef Ben's version, cut two sheets of puff pastry into 3-inch triangles, then place a tablespoon of the spinach filling in the center of each triangle and brush the edges with egg wash. Take the left corner and fold it over to meet the right corner, then gently pinch along the edges to seal. Place the prepared triangles on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush the top of each one with egg wash and then sprinkle with kosher salt.
Chef Ben highly recommends refrigerating the spanakopita for 20 to 30 minutes before baking, which enhances the puffed texture of the pastry. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Spanakopita is best when served immediately, but the Greeks also enjoy them at room temperature, or even cold. Chef Ben serves his spanakopita with a Greek sauce called Tzatziki, a wonderfully tangy cucumber dipping sauce which is also great with cut vegetables.
Jazz up your graduation and summer party tables with a bit of Greek flair this season, but be sure to use paper plates because you never know what could happen when you go Greek. Opa!
Chef Ben's Spanakopita
1 (packed) cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to extract water
1 cup feta cheese
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large egg
2 green onions, chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
For the egg wash, beat together:
1 tablespoon milk or water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place all ingredients (except the puff pastry) in a food processor and turn on to mix together for 1 to 2 minutes until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before using, or up to one week.
Cut the puff pastry into approximately 3-inch triangles, and use your fingers to slightly stretch the edges of each triangle. Place a tablespoon of the spinach mixture in the center of each pastry triangle and brush the edges with egg wash.
To fold, take the left corner and fold it over to meet the right corner, then gently pinch along the edges to seal. Transfer the spanakopita to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush the top of each triangle with egg wash and sprinkle with kosher salt. For best results, place the tray in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes before baking.
Bake in a 400-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately with Tzatziki sauce.
To freeze: Spanakopita freezes best before baking. Prepare the appetizers and place them on a baking sheet - do not brush tops with egg wash before freezing. Place tray in the freezer until the spanakopitas are firm, then transfer them to a plastic freezer bag or airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. There's no need to thaw before baking. To bake, brush the top of each triangle with egg wash and sprinkle with kosher salt, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown.
1½ cups plain Greek yogurt (or just plain yogurt)
1 cup English cucumber, peeled and seeded, sliced (about half a cucumber)
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Place all ingredients in a food processor and turn on for 1 to 2 minutes until fully blended. For best results, refrigerate for at least one hour before serving, or up to 2 days.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.