Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spanakopita reinvented

That's not something you catch, it's just a Greek name for a delicious, savory spinach and feta creation. What does a nice Italian-Irish-Scottish-English-Dutch gal like me know about Greek cooking? Growing up we had a Russian / Polish neighbor named Manishka (Manya to us) who was larger than life in many ways, including her stature. She was married to a gentle Greek man named Peter Kotsofolis. Manishka Kotsofolis, what a treasure!! She was a slightly eccentric and highly creative Leo with a flair for the dramatic as all Leos have. I should know because our birthdays were just one day apart in late July. Manya and Pete had the first hookah pipe in the neighborhood (okay, probably the only hookah pipe on the North Shore), she was deep into horoscopes, making detailed charts for people (fire signs, sun rising, and all that language), and she made those incredibly colorful and detailed Ukranian decorated eggs. Her biggest creative passion though, was cooking. James Beard and Julia Child were always with her in the kitchen by way of their cookbooks, and because Manya was great friends with my mother, her cooking influenced my mom, and subsequently me. Manya and Pete celebrated Russian Orthodox Easter in a big way, which always included tons of very exotic foods and libations such as lamb, unusual sweet breads and desserts, and dozens upon dozens of deeply red dyed eggs. And there was always spanakopita. Layers of buttery, crunchy phyllo dough, spinach with a hint of dill, scallions, nutmeg, and lots of feta cheese. The Greeks make it in a big sheet pan and slice it up. I usually make it into smaller individual sized triangles, but sometimes when time is short I make them like this, in little individual open-faced phyllo cups. I know, I know—it's cheating, and Mayna would probably roll in her grave, but the flavors are all there. 

photos, Diane Carnevale

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