Sunday, September 9, 2018

Swiss Chard & Sweet Corn “Spanakopita”

A frequent topic of conversation at my friend Nancy’s bake shop (where I work on call) is what to make for dinner.  We both love to cook and eat…and we each have our different food and cooking ruts that we fall into—having each other to bounce ideas off of can, and often does, lead to delicious meals that we just wouldn’t have thought of without the other’s input. 

A little over a week ago during this conversation I was listing some things in my pantry that I really needed to use.  A big bunch of Swiss Chard and a portion of a box of phyllo (left from a class…phyllo is something I don’t ordinarily have on hand) were among the things I had to work with.  Nancy suggested I make some kind of Spanakopita.  I have of course made Spanakopita in professional settings (those little spinach, onion and feta filled triangles are a staple of catering operations everywhere…) but for some reason had never made it at home.  What a good idea.

When I finally got around to making my Spanakopita, I discovered I really didn’t have enough chard.  The quantity of greens used to make a typical sized (13x9 dish) Spanakopita is two pounds.  I had a very large bunch of chard, but the trimmed greens still only weighed about a half pound.  I could have simply made some small triangles (like the aforementioned catering fare) but didn’t really want to do something so fiddly for dinner. 

Since my Spanakopita wasn’t going to be classic anyway (I was, after all, using chard instead of spinach), I started to consider the things I had on hand that would be good with the chard and would bulk up my filling.  Almost immediately I settled on corn.  I am almost never without corn in the summer.  I really think it is one of my favorite summer foods.  And it is delicious when combined with slightly bitter greens (kale, chard and spinach).   I already knew it would be good in phyllo since my leftover phyllo was in fact the remains from a corn and mushroom filled strudel.

While looking for alternate fillings for my spanakopita I had done a little poking around on line and had found an interesting looking “spinach phyllo pie” on Martha Stewart’s site.  If I hadn’t thought of using corn, I would probably have made this recipe.  I loved the idea of adding golden raisins to the filling.  But what I really took away from her recipe was the shape.  It was basically a free-form roll.…perfect for whatever volume of filling one might happen to have.

I loved the way my “Spanakopita” turned out.  It sliced beautifully and tasted delicious.  With a simple salad of mixed summer tomatoes on the side, it made a satisfying late summer dinner.  But since summer—and the season of fresh corn and vine-ripened tomatoes—is just about over, I should mention that I’m sure you could make it in the fall or winter.  Just use frozen corn (there is still time to purchase fresh and freeze your own!)….and choose a more season-appropriate side:  Perhaps a Mediterranean chickpea or white bean salad…or maybe a pile of cumin and honey roasted carrots….or possibly a nice rice pilaf, with a little tzatziki….  No matter what you choose, I think you'll be glad I had this particular combination of ingredients on hand when Nancy and I started talking about dinner.  I know I was.

Swiss Chard & Sweet Corn “Spanakopita”

When I made this, I only made one roll/pie (which is why all the pictures are of just one)…but it really makes more sense to make two.  As I mentioned in the text, my bunch of chard was very large—really half again as large as a typical bunch.  If you purchase 3 bunches of chard, you will mostly likely have the 1 lb. of cleaned greens needed to make two pies/rolls. (For one roll, you would need 1 1/2 bunches…)   The other reason that I wanted to post the recipe for two rolls instead of one, is that two rolls will use exactly a half box of phyllo—and most boxes of phyllo contain two inner packages that can be thawed and used separately.  If I had only posted the recipe as I made it (for one roll) a quarter pound of thawed phyllo would have been left over… causing a similar issue to the one that made me go looking for a recipe in the first place….  You can of course cut the recipe in half and just make one roll (as I did).

2 T. olive oil
1 large or 2 medium onions (about 10 oz. total), diced
Salt & pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. minced fresh oregano
1 T. butter
2 c. fresh corn (cut from 2 large ears)
1 lb. stemmed and cleaned chard (from 3 bunches), leaves cut into rough 1-inch wide strips
2 eggs, beaten
4 oz. Feta, crumbled
1/4 c. (3/4 oz.) finely grated Parmesan
1/2 lb. thawed phyllo (18 9 x 14 sheets)
8 T. butter, melted

Warm the olive oil in a wide sauté pan—preferably one with deeper sides and a tight fitting lid.  Add the onions and a good pinch of salt a cook over moderate heat until the onions are soft and just beginning to caramelize (about 15 minutes).

Add the garlic and oregano and cook until fragrant.  Add the butter and when it has melted, add the corn and cook until the corn is hot and sizzling.  Begin to add the chard a handful at a time, turning with tongs to coat in the fat and vegetables and adding successive handfuls as the chard collapses.  (If the chard is dry, add a splash of water to the pan—otherwise, the water clinging to the leaves from washing will be sufficient to facilitate the cooking process.) When all the chard has been added, season lightly with salt, cover the pan and cook over low heat until the chard has completely collapsed and is tender.  Uncover the chard, taste and correct the seasoning.  Continue to cook until any excess moisture has evaporated.  Set the chard and corn mixture aside and cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the cooled chard, the eggs, Feta and Parmesan.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  You are now ready to build the rolls.

To form the rolls, lay a piece of plastic wrap on the counter.  Lay the stack of phyllo on top of the plastic and cover with another sheet of plastic, lightly pressing the edges to seal.  It is important as you work with the phyllo that you keep it covered at all times.  It dries out very quickly and is impossible to work with once it dries out.  Some people cover the phyllo with a damp towel instead of plastic wrap, but I think this makes the phyllo soggy.

Lay one sheet of phyllo on your work surface with the long side parallel to the edge of the counter.  Brush the sheet lightly with butter (don't overdo it or the finished pie will be greasy instead of crisp and light).  Place another sheet of phyllo on top of the first.  Brush lightly with more butter.  Repeat with seven more sheets of phyllo for a total of nine layers.

Arrange half the chard filling down the center third of the buttered phyllo, leaving an inch of so free of filling at both ends.  Fold one of the long edges up and over and then fold the other up and over—overlapping the other edge by about an inch.  Pinch the ends…or fold and tuck under slightly.  It isn’t necessary that this be beautiful—you just want to discourage the filling from oozing out the ends while the rolls cook.  Brush the surface with butter

and roll the log over so the seam is down.  Transfer to one side of a parchment-lined baking sheet, keeping the seam side down and brushing the top and sides with more butter.  

Repeat this process with the remaining filling and another nine sheets of phyllo, placing the second roll on the same baking sheet as the first.  Make sure there are several inches between the two rolls so that they will be able to brown on all sides as they cook.  Using a sharp knife, make 7 or 8 diagonal cuts on the top of each roll (cutting just deeply enough to go through all 9 layers of phyllo and expose the filling).      

Transfer the phyllo rolls to a 375° oven and bake until they are golden brown all over and the filling is bubbling through the slashes….about 40 to 45 minutes. 

Cool slightly before serving. Using a serrated knife, trim away the ends.  Then, cut the rolls on the diagonal to portion.  Each roll will serve 3 as an entrée and 6 to 8 as an appetizer. 

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