Monday, March 2, 2009

Spinach and herb triangles

Since I can't seem to stop myself from buying spinach, I have to keep finding new ways to eat it! These spanakopita-inspired pastries were a delightful new discovery; the addition of herbs and freshly ground nutmeg livens up the spinach, and the triangles themselves are actually much simpler to make than you might think.

I had always thought that making your own phyllo dough was some crazy, outdated thing that nobody would ever do now that frozen phyllo dough is widely available. I envisioned bakers of times past rolling the dough out onto enormous bedsheets and folding the paper-thin dough over and over itself in a method that was far too complex and bothersome for anyone to deal with these days.

But in fact, making your own phyllo dough is actually quite simple! And the good news is that when you make your own, it won't dry out as fast as store-bought dough does. The bad news is that it will probably be impossible for you to get the dough as thin as the store-bought kind; however, if you care more about taste than presentation, then I'd strongly recommend trying to make your own, at least once.

Ingredients for about 20 triangles:
For the dough:
400 g. all-purpose flour
A small spoonful of salt
A couple spoonfuls of strained, freshly-squeezed lemon juice
4 large spoonfuls of olive oil
Warm water
Olive oil for brushing the dough

For the filling:
150 g. spinach
5 or 6 sprigs of parsley
5 or 6 sprigs of coriander (cilantro)
A bunch of fresh fennel leaves (can be substituted with dill leaves)
200 g. ricotta
1 egg
1 large shallot
Olive oil
1 nutmeg*

*You can substitute the whole nutmeg with a few spoonfuls of ground nutmeg, but I've found that using a whole nutmeg and grinding it yourself changes the flavor enormously. The flavor is much fresher and more interesting - I think once you try it this way, you'll never want to go back to using pre-ground nutmeg again!

Sift the flour into a bowl and add in the salt. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and mix together, adding warm water a bit at a time until the dough is smooth and still fairly sticky. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead about 10 minutes, adding more water and/or flour as necessary.

After 10 minutes the dough should me smooth and pliable - it should not be dry. Place the dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave to rest in a warm, non-drafty place for at least an hour.

While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. Dice the shallot and set it aside. Wash the spinach leaves very thoroughly, dry them, and chop or tear them roughly.

In a large pan, heat some olive oil and, when the olive oil is hot, add the shallot. When the shallot starts to change color and soften, add the spinach, in bunches if necessary, so that you only have one layer covering the pan. Let the spinach cook until wilted - a few minutes is all it takes.

Once the spinach is done, take the pan off the heat and let cool. Wash and then finely chop the parsley, coriander, and fennel leaves. Using a mortar and pestle, or other grinding mechanism, grind the nutmeg into a fine powder.

Combine the spinach and shallot mixture with the chopped herbs in a large bowl. Lightly beat the egg, and add that in, along with the ricotta. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the nutmeg powder, and mix everything well.

If not using immediately, place filling in a covered container and refrigerate until ready.

When you're ready to make your triangles, preheat the oven to 180º C / 355º F and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper. Prepare the olive oil for brushing by pouring several spoonfuls of it into a small bowl.

Divide the dough into quarters, and leave three of the quarters covered while you work with the first one. Roll it out on a floured surface until you get a very very very thin sheet. This takes some time and effort, but keep going until the dough is as thin as you can possibly make it - the thinner the dough, the flakier your pastries will be. If the dough rips a bit in places that's okay, because you'll be rolling it all up on itself anyways, so another layer will cover the tear.

Once your dough is a big thin sheet, brush the whole sheet with olive oil and, with a sharp knife or other cutting implement, cut the sheet into strips about the width of your thumb. Spoon a dollop of filling into the center of the bottom end of one of the strips.

Fold the bottom edge of the strip over to the side to form a triangle over the filling. Then fold that triangle over its top edge into another triangle.

Continue folding the triangle over itself all the way down the strip, until you reach the end. Tuck any last bits of dough in, and place the triangle on the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the strips, and then roll the next quarter of dough out and continue making triangles until all the dough has been used.

Bake the triangles until the edges start to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Let cool and then serve.

No comments: