One of my aims on my recent trip to Greece was to learn how to make a good phyllo. I'm not good at doughs and pastries, I have trouble concentrating enough to weigh things out properly, something that has caused me great deal of grief working in kitchens.
I met Christina in Athens. She trained as a chef before going to work in a traditional Greek bakery to learn the skill of making phyllo. So I got her to show me how she does it. It's surprisingly easy, the only skill you really need is to be able to feel how much liquid to put into the dough which might take a couple of goes to get right. I've provided a recipe below, but depending on the weather, humidity etc etc, your dough might need a little more or less water. You're looking for a very soft and pliable dough, remember it has to be wet enough to roll out to be incredibly thin. The below recipe is based partially on what Christina showed me and also incorporates a couple of other recipes I've been reading. Have a play and see how you go, I use a rolling pin to roll the dough out but you could also use a pasta roller.
Spanakopita with Homemade Phyllo
For the dough
6.5 cups (800g) bread flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch flake salt
2 cups (400 ml) sparkling water, or just tap water is fine
2 tablespoons red vinegar or wine
Extra olive oil, to spread on phyllo
Rice flour to (to dust) while rolling out the phyllo
Semolina to sprinkle of the bottom of the pan
For the filling
1 bunch of spinach
1 bunch of dill
1 red onions
1 1/3 cup feta cheese
2/3 cup ricotta
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 handfull rasins (Optional)
1 handful tarhana or semolina (Optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 180.
To prepare the phyllo:
On a flat surface or in a large bowl, add the flour and make a pit. Add salt, olive oil, and vinegar or wine. With your hands, mix ingredients well, gradually adding water as needed. When adding wet ingredients on the table, make a pit in the flour mixture and pour wet ingredients, then gently fold the flour/dough on top of the wet ingredients to incorporate. Knead the dough with your hands, until you have a soft but not sticky dough. Cut the dough into 5 roughly equal-sized balls. Shape each ball and leave to rest, dusting with corn flour as needed to stop the dough from sticking. Leave to rest for half an hour.
For the filling, wash all the greens. Roughly chop the spinach leaves, if you are using the stalks of spinach, slice them finely. Add some salt to the spinach and massage it in, you want to scrunch it up a bit so that some of the water starts to comes out. Strain well!
Thinly slice the leek, dill and onion then add them to your spinach in a big bowl. Mince your garlic on your chopping board with some salt or grate it in to the mix. Then add in the rest of your ingredients and mix well. I've added in a handful of semolina to make sure that even if some liquid from the spinach leeches out while cooking, the bottom of your pie will still be dry, but you can leave it out if you want to.
To roll the pastry, press one ball of dough to flatten it as much as you can. Roll until the dough is approximately 0.5-1 cm thick, keeping roughly the shape of a circle.
Now you can switch here to use a long thin rolling pin like they traditionally do in Greece, or continue using a regular rolling pin if you don't have access to one of those.
Begin rolling the dough onto the thin rolling pin starting from an 8 o'clock position on the round. Roll the dough all the way on to the pin so that it winds around it. With the rolling pin and dough now facing you, pressing from the center to the edges, to open the dough. Roll the dough off the rolling pin and repeat, turning the dough gradually in a clockwise circle as you go, so that you get an even thickness all across the sheet.
Continue to roll out the dough, sprinkling rice flour on the top of of dough as needed to prevent any stickiness. Repeat the process until dough becomes paper thin, you'll probably need to open the dough out at least 10 times for each sheet.
Brush olive oil into a non-stick baking dish and sprinkle the bottom with semolina, this will prevent the bottom of the pie from getting soggy. Lay down one sheet of phyllo inside, letting the edges overhang the pan. Brush phyllo with olive oil.
Repeat the rolling/opening process with two more balls of dough. Layer these two additional phyllo sheets on top of the first, brushing with olive oil in-between each layer. You will have three layers total.
Add half of the filling to the pan, carefully spreading on top of the phyllo sheets. Repeat the rolling process with your fourth ball of dough. Lie this phyllo sheet on top of the filling in the pan, pressing flat on the filling and in the corners to remove any air. Add the remainder of the filling on top.
Holding the corners of the overhanging phyllo, gently pull at each of the four corners to remove a handful of the corner dough. This will ensure the corners are not too thick after they're baked. Now when you fold the edges over they'll fold neatly in to cover the pie without too much overlapping. This can be a bit messy, but it's going to get covered by a final phyllo layer. Pat down your sealed pie to remove any air pockets.
Roll out your final phyllo ball using the same process as before. Layer this sheet gently on top of the pie, cutting around the edge of the tray to get a neat shape. You can then pinch together and fold over the boarders of the pie, like is shown in the photo below.
Brush the top with olive oil, and cut your pie into serving-sized pieces with a sharp knife, this will help to release steam as well as keep the pastry in tack when you're cutting it later to serve. Sprinkle some water on top to finish, this will give the top layer a nice crust.
The pie will take about 45 mins in the oven, take care that the pie doesn't colour too quickly or the inside wont be cooked.