Appetizers: Christmas Spanakopita & Bocconcini-Pepper Twists

It’s December, and we (finally!) got our first real snow last week.  The Christmas spirit is really beginning to feel like it’s here.  This is a month that seems to rush by in a blur—the work week suddenly seems very inconvenient, between all the cocktail parties, family dinners and gatherings.  It’s going to be busy!  Many of us here have already been making party plans, and we thought it would be a great chance to try some appetizers this month.

Today, a crowd favorite – Christmas spanakopita!  We thought that adding red peppers to the traditional list of ingredients for the filling would give them some new flavour and a more festive look.  We were a little nervous – neither of us had worked with phyllo pastry dough before.  (Pronounced ‘fee-lo’.)  Luckily, we were able to find lots of instruction online and on the box. (You can find it in the freezer section, near the premade pie crusts and tarts.)   We adapted this recipe by pulling bits and pieces from a few we found online.  It’s not quick, with lots of preparation steps — but the end result was worth it and completely delicious!

Prep Time: 1 to 2 hours

Cook Time: Under 30 min

Ingredients

(note: all ingedient amounts except for the dough are approximate.  You can adjust each amount slightly to suit your taste.)

  • About 3 bunches of fresh baby spinach
  • 2-3 Aurora Sweets ™ conical sweet red bell peppers, roasted, skins removed, and diced into ¼” pieces.
  • ½ to 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 6-8 green onions, chopped
  • 3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2/3 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 generous pinch of nutmeg (essential for that classic Greek flavour)
  • about 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped (cilantro works well too)
  • 12 sheets (the amount that usually comes in a box) of phyllo pastry
  • about 3-4 tbsp of unsalted butter, melted + some olive oil (or more if required)

(Roasting peppers is simple – just cut them in half, remove the seeds and put them under the broiler for 6 to 10 minutes until blackened and blistered.  Let cool; skins should easily peel off just using your fingers.  We roasted red for the Spanakopita and threw in a couple extra orange & yellow for the other appetizer, our Bocconcini-Pepper Twists.)

1.  Trim the stems of spinach and clean them well in cold water. Drain, but leave some water clinging to the leaves. Roughly chop and then place them into a steamer or covered microwaveable dish

2.  Steam for 5-8 minutes (3 mins in microwave) or until the leaves are wilted.

3.  Drain, and place the cooked spinach between layers of paper towel in order to soak up leftover excess moisture. (This is very important to avoid a soggy filling.) Set aside.

4.  Take a skillet and heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sauté the onion until tender but not yet brown.

5.  Add the green onions and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.

6.  Measure out cheeses into a mixing bowl.  Add the spinach, peppers, herbs, cheeses and nutmeg.  Season with salt and pepper if required (we found the feta cheese provided plenty of salt & didn’t add extra).

7.  Preheat the Oven to 350°F (or 180°C).

8.  Carefully unwrap the phyllo dough onto a large flat work surface.

9.  Remove top three sheets and put others back into the bag or wrap the roll with plastic film to avoid drying out.

10.  Mix the melted butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Brush each sheet with butter/oil mixture and lay on top of another.

(Confession: we missed the “brush each sheet with butter” step when we made the first batch.  The spanakopita came out looking rather dry.  Still tasty, but a little flat.  The butter step is loaded with calories, but essential for producing those signature flaky layers.)  You can fold down the two top layers and brush the sheet halves if it is easier for you.

11.  Cut the phyllo into equal thirds (or quarters, if you want a more bite-sized triangle) lengthwise.

12.  Spoon a little filling on an angle at the end of the each strip. It takes a bit of trial and error to find just the right amount—too much and the filling will ooze out during cooking.

13.  Fold the pastry over to enclose the filling and form a triangle.  Then take it upwards to form another triangle

14.  Repeat this process until you reach the end. As you roll, pay attention to the corners and make sure the dough meets.  (Gaps will cause the filling to ooze out during cooking.)

15.  You’ll likely have a bit of dough at the end of your rolling; grease it with a little butter/oil mixture and stick it to the pastry.

16.  Put the triangles on a greased cookie sheet, brush the tops of your triangles lightly with butter mixture, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.  Try to avoid opening the oven every two minutes, swooning over the amazing smell (we couldn’t)!

Bonus appetizer: We roasted some extra peppers and cut them into ¼” strips.  While the spanakopita were cooking, we made little ribbons of pepper around mini bocconcini cheese, securing with a toothpick.  Then we drizzled a little olive oil over it all and sprinkled with some coarse ground pepper and sea salt.

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