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Tradition without the time

Making spanakopita, that Greek concoction of feta cheese, chopped spinach and phyllo dough, in individual portions will get the dish on the table in less than a hour.

By J.M. HIRSCH, Associated Press
Published July 26, 2006


Spanakopita from scratch to finish in under an hour?

It didn't seem likely. Most recipes for this savory "pie" (made from layer upon layer of feta cheese, chopped spinach and parchment-thin phyllo dough) take more than an hour of assembly and baking.

I wanted something a little more weeknight friendly. I'd recently been impressed by a technique that shaved time off a meatloaf recipe by baking it in muffin tins, rather than a slower-cooking loaf. Should work for spanakopita, too, I thought.

It did, though I learned a few lessons over the course of half-a-dozen batches. For my first attempt, I lined the muffin tins with phyllo, then heaped in the filling, capping it with several more sheets of phyllo.

It wasn't a success. Traditional spanakopita has many layers of dough and filling. The lack of phyllo layered throughout the cheese and spinach produced a goopy, soggy mess. This was easily fixed.

I also learned that though standard muffin tins work, oversized tins are better. The spanakopita still cooks quickly, but the assembly is a little easier, and one "muffin" is large enough to make a meal.

This recipe makes enough for four oversized cups, or about six standard muffin tins.

Quick Spanakopita

Olive oil cooking spray

10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed

1 1/2 cups (about 1/2 pound) crumbled feta cheese

3/4 cup cottage cheese

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon dill seed

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

20 9- by 14-inch sheets phyllo dough

(Start to finish 45 minutes, 20 active)

Preheat oven to 400. Liberally spray the muffin tins with olive oil. Set aside.

Place the spinach in a kitchen towel, wrap tightly and twist it over the sink to remove excess water. Transfer the spinach to a cutting board and finely chop.

In a large bowl, combine the spinach, cheeses, onion, eggs, parsley, lemon juice, dill seed, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.

Unfold the phyllo sheets on a dry counter, leaving them stacked. Using a large knife or pastry scraper, cut the sheets into halves vertically. Gently press two or three pieces of the phyllo into each muffin cup. The edges of the dough should fold outward over the sides. Lightly spray the phyllo with olive oil.

Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of the spinach mixture in each cup. Press another two pieces of phyllo into each cup over the spinach. Lightly spray the phyllo with oil.

Continue layering spinach mixture and phyllo, lightly spraying each with oil. Finish with a spoonful of spinach mixture, then fold the edges of phyllo over the top.

Spray each cup again with olive oil. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the edges of dough are lightly browned. If the phyllo browns too quickly, cover pan with foil.

Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.