Spanakopita and Tiropetes with phyllo or puff pastry

These Greek spinach and cheese pies have a complex taste: sharp bite of feta, green spinach, explosion of herbs: mint, dill, oregano, basil, garlic, and green onion, wrapped in a crispy filo dough or buttery puff pastry. My recipe was inspired by my Greek-American friend Margret’s delicious version.

You can make these traditionally with flaky phyllo (filo) dough. I use olive oil spray on the phyllo instead of spreading oil or butter with a pastry brush, to cut down on the fat. I also make tiropetes, which are phyllo filled with feta and ricotta cheese. They are great for breakfast.

On the other end of the calorie range, I recently tried these at a Greek restaurant made from puff pastry. They were rich and delicious! So I made them at home. It’s much less fuss than phyllo, although it has quite a few more fat and calories from the buttery pastry.

Makes 3 logs (about 18 triangles) of phyllo wrapped spanakopita or 8 triangles of puff pastry spanakopita

3/4  package defrosted phyllo dough OR 1 package (2 sheets) puff pastry (defrost for only 10 minutes at room temperature)

Olive oil spray for phyllo dough

Spinach filling: You can make this a day ahead of time.

2 heads fresh spinach, well washed, stems removed and chopped (use a food processor to chop it) OR 1 lb bag of frozen chopped spinach – about 3 cups.

1 tsp olive oil

2 scallions

2 cloves garlic

¼ cup pine nuts

1 Tb finely chopped mint leaves OR 1 tsp dried mint

½ Tb finely chopped fresh dill weed OR ½ tsp dried dill weed

1 Tb finely chopped fresh oregano leaves OR 1 tsp dried oregano

1 Tb finely chopped fresh basil OR 1 tsp dried basil OR 1 cube frozen basil

Several grinds pepper (about ¼ tsp)

1 egg for filling. Another egg if using puff pastry.

6 oz (about 1 cup) crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375’ for filo, or 400’ for puff pastry

Microwave frozen or fresh spinach in a covered casserole bowl about 2 minutes (longer for frozen spinach) until soft. Drain in fine mesh sieve over a bowl.

I place a bowl with a few cans in it on top of the sieve while preparing the other ingredients. Afterward, press on the spinach with a tablespoon for several minutes to squeeze out the liquid. You should have 1 1/2  cups drained spinach.

While spinach is draining, finely mince white and green parts of scallions, garlic, and mint leaves and other fresh herbs, salt and pepper Sauté onion, garlic and pine nuts in olive oil in a heavy skillet. After a couple of minutes, stir in the herbs and heat for another minute.

Finish squeezing the last liquid from the spinach and discard the liquid. Stir the spinach into the onion and herbs.

Beat the first egg and add feta and Parmesan cheeses. Stir in the spinach mixture until well blended.

Tiropetes

1 cup feta cheese

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 egg, beaten

2 Tb minced fresh parsley

Mix ingredients together. Spread on puff pastry or phyllo dough as below.

Assembling Puff Pastry (I used Trader Joe’s), cut both sheets in two. Beat the second egg. Using a pastry brush, paint the egg on each piece. Spoon filling o to fill exactly half the pastry, leaving about 1/2 inch border of dough on the edges. Fold the pastry over the filling, then seal the edges with the back of a teaspoon.

Place on a cookie sheet that you have sprayed with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes at 400’ Let cool, then cut in half diagonally, to make triangles.

Phyllo Dough directions:

For phyllo dough pastries: spread one sheet of defrosted dough on a large wooden board or cutting board. Spray olive oil on top. Spread another sheet on top of it and spray and repeat for a 3rd sheet. Spread a 2 inch line of spinach or cheese filling about 3 inches from the edge of the shorter side of the rectangle. Leave a one inch space between the filling and the sides of the phyllo.

Roll the dough up over the filling, then tuck in the sides, and continue rolling until the end. Spray a little of the oil on the edge to seal it. Place the roll seam side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray a little oil on top of the roll.

Bake at 375’ for 40 minutes until browned.

Let cool, then slice the logs diagonally in each direction into triangle shapes.

Asparagus and Mushroom Scramble

Asparagus is a symbol of Spring for me. It has a nutty green taste.

Did you know that asparagus tips are immature leaves?

My husband, Jesús, used to pick it as a child farm worker. He told me that once the leaves open, the asparagus is ruined. Because of the urgency of picking the fast-growing asparagus before the leaves open, his family was required to harvest it a grueling 6 ½ days a week!  Jesús never wanted look at another asparagus stalk! I am still working on getting him to eat it.

2 medium asparagus

About 1 Tb minced chives, from 5 chives or 1 green onion (scallion)

2 large mushrooms

3 eggs

¼  tsp butter

1 Tb water

1 Tb grated sharp cheddar or Jarlsburg cheese

a few shakes salt

Soak asparagus and eggs in a bowl of warm water for about 5 minutes to warm eggs and cleanse asparagus.

Mince chives or scallions.

Rinse asparagus a few times to remove any dirt, then chop finely. Slice mushrooms

Beat eggs then grate cheese into the eggs. Add salt and beat well.

asparagus and mushrooms n green onions

Heat a nonstick skillet. Rub a butter stick over the hot pan until it is coated with about ¼ tsp butter. Add mushrooms, chives and asparagus. Sauté a few minutes, then add 1 Tb warm water so that the asparagus can steam another minute.

Pour eggs over asparagus and gently turn with spatula until desired doneness. Nice with toast.

asparagus and mushroom scramble

Minestrone Soup

Fall in the Bay Area brings a few weeks of sunshine to ripen tomatoes, then rainy and chilly days, perfect Minestrone Soup weather. Pick those ripened tomatoes off the withering vines, combine them with broth and chopped veggies and herbs in a big pot. This is a pretty forgiving recipe, so if you want to clean out the veggie bin of your fridge, throw in what you’ve got. You could use frozen veggies  or canned tomatoes. There is a use for everything, even Parmesan cheese rinds! The rind lends a wonderful flavor to the soup. If it doesn’t break up, leave it in the pot when serving.

10 servings:
1 or more Parmesan rinds
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 bunch red Swiss chard, leaves torn off ribs and chopped fine, to make about 3 ½ cups, dice the ribs
1 large red bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1 large green bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms
1 Tb salt (to taste)
½  tsp fresh minced rosemary
1 Tb fresh minced oregano
1 tsp dried basil
6 cloves garlic, minced
several grinds black pepper
One package (4 links) Aidells chicken sausages. either artichoke and garlic or sun-dried tomato with mozzarella cheese (optional)
1 bay leaf
several shakes red pepper flakes
10 cups (2 1/2 quarts) homemade chicken or vegetable stock Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup or vegetable broth (you can use boxed stock, but it won’t be as good!)
1 can tomato paste
4 cups diced tomatoes (Roma is best)
OR 28 ounce can San Marzano peeled tomatoes to sub for tomatoes and tomato paste
4 dried Porcini mushrooms
1 rind Parmesan cheese
1  cup peeled and diced carrots (2 large carrots)
2 peeled and diced red potatoes
2/3 cup small pasta (I used the tiny tubes called ditalini for my last batch, but I have also used salad macaroni)
4 small zucchini, diced to make 1 ½ cups
1/2 pound green beans, chopped
1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 small bunch Italian parsley, chopped.
1 Tb fresh minced basil (about 5 leaves)
 
Garnish:
a few pinches dried oregano to taste
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Heat stock, Parmesan rinds, tomato paste, tomatoes or canned tomatoes  in a large pot.

Grind dried Porcini mushrooms in a coffee grinder or small food processor and add to the stock. Add salt to taste.

Scrub mushrooms and rinse well. Dry in paper towel. and cut off woody ends from the stems. Place mushrooms on toaster oven tray and spray with olive oil spray. Broil for 10 minutes. When they cool, cut them in quarters and add to stock.

Stir-fry onions, red bell pepper, chard ribs, garlic, celery, and herbs in  olive oil in a heavy skillet until translucent. Add to stock.

Slice sausages in quarters lengthwise and then into half-coins. Stir fry in the same skillet as the onions were in for about 4 minutes, until browned. Add to soup, then ladle some soup into the frying pan and scrape the browned bits into the soup, then pour back into the pot.

Stir in carrots, chard leaves, canned beans, and potato and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in pasta, green beans, zucchini, parsley, corn and peas. Cook 10 minutes on medium. Stir in fresh basil.

Discard bay leaf and ladle into bowl. Stir in a pinch of dried oregano, fresh basil, and a few spoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a slice of good bread such as Acme herb slab, foccacia, olive bread, or sourdough baguette. Manga!

Seven Vegetable Lasagna

This lower-fat lasagna is filled with delicious veggies, 7 in all if you use  Eggplant Marinara I put in fresh picked young squash when I made it in late summer.

Ingredients

1 recipe of Eggplant Marinara sauce (In a hurry or just too tired to do all that? Add one cup sliced mushrooms and 2 tsp. fresh basil to 2 jars of sauce.)

½ package lasagna noodles

One head of spinach or a 10 oz bag of spinach

3 small zucchinis

One 14-oz. can of artichoke hearts

16 oz container low fat ricotta cheese (Calabro is the best brand)

2 eggs

3 Tb. minced Italian parsley

12 oz. low moisture, low fat mozzarella cheese, grated or cubed

8 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated

1 Tb olive oil

Directions:

Wash spinach well and remove  long stems. Microwave it in a covered container for 1 minute until just wilted.

Slice squash thinly, then quarter slices. Drain artichoke hearts and slice thinly, then mix with squash.  Saute in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt for a few minutes until vegetables just begin to soften. Stir in spinach. Drain any liquid.

zucchini-spinach-and-artichoke-hearts-in-pan

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Add 1/4 cup cooking water to homemade sauce. The starch in the water will help emulsify the sauce. In a colander, drain noodles well and rinse with cold water. Line up noodles flat on smooth kitchen towels. This will prevent them from sticking together.

Mix ricotta with beaten egg and parsley.

Spread marinara sauce on an 8 x 11 oiled baking pan.

Place lasagna noodles over sauce.

Spread ½ of the prepared ricotta over noodles

top with 1/3 the mozzarella and 1/3 the Parmesan.

Place half of the artichoke hearts, zucchini and spinach mixture over the cheeses.

Cover with sauce and noodles, then top with rest of ricotta, vegetables, and half the remaining sauce,  mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese.

Cover that with the rest of the sauce, noodles,  mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese.

Bake in 375’ over for 45 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and browning on top. Let cool before serving. Garnish with fresh basil. It’s even better the next day!

out-of-the-oven

Eggplant Marinara


Rich with eggplant, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes, spicy with Italian sausage,  garlic and pepper, and fragrant with fresh herbs, this marinara sauce is ideal for pasta or Lasagna. There are two ways to make this marinara: with eggplant purée or sliced Italian eggplant. You could even use both for an extra helping of vegetables. I roasted the mushrooms to bring out their earthy flavor.

I took a tip from The Breakaway Cook Eric Gower, and added ground dried mushrooms for umami, (Japanese for savory deliciousness), which wonderfully expands and rounds out flavors.

Along with my homegrown herbs, I add a fresh bay leaf. I pick them when I get the chance to hike in the hills around Berkeley and Palo Alto. Their aroma brings me memories of my youth hiking and biking those hills. Just be careful about leaving them in too long – the fresh ones are very strong and can overpower the sauce, making it bitter. Just leave it in about 15 minutes.

Serves 8 (with pasta)

3 links turkey Italian sausage or vegetarian sausage

1 Tb olive oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1 Tb  salt (to taste)

½ tsp. red chili flakes

5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

3 Tb minced fresh oregano OR  3 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary

1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp. minced fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp dried tarragon

several grinds black pepper

2 bell peppers and/or red bell peppers. (can substitute 3 cups frozen or 2 cups jarred roasted red peppers)

1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste

¼ cup red wine

2 lbs or 14 large soft Roma tomatoes (substitute 24 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 24 oz diced tomatoes

1 Tb sugar to taste

1 bay leaf

3 dried mushrooms

1 roasted globe eggplant  and/or  4 Italian eggplants, cut in rounds and quartered

1 cup quartered mushrooms

1  14-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered

I bunch (1/4 cup minced) fresh basil

Italian eggplant method: Roast or barbecue eggplant and peppers. Discarding ends, slice eggplant into rounds, then quarter the rounds.

Globe Eggplant Method: Pierce globe eggplant with a fork, and roast in a heavy oiled baking pan in 400’ oven for 1 hour until it collapses.  Roast red peppers and mushrooms for the last ½ hour alongside the eggplant. You can roast the vegetables a day ahead of time.

You can also barbecue the eggplant peppers and mushrooms.

While eggplant is roasting and cooling, make the rest of the sauce.

Slice, quarter and brown sausages and drain the fat.

Sauté onion and salt in olive oil until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes Add sausage, chopped fresh or frozen bell peppers (if not roasting them), chili flakes, garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme and black pepper. Sauté another couple of minutes until herbs release their fragrance.

Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can with water then stir in the tomato paste that has stuck to the can.

Halve Roma tomatoes and scoop out seeds and fibrous ribs.

Pulse tomatoes in food processor until desired consistency is reached. I did mine on the chunky side. (If you are using canned tomatoes, add them instead.) Stir into tomato paste and herb mixture. Add sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

If using chopped Italian eggplant, add it to sauce.

If using globe eggplant, scrape it out from the peel and mince it. Stir it into the sauce.

Quarter mushrooms and mix in sauce.

Grind the dried mushrooms until pulverized in a clean coffee grinder or spice grinder. Stir into sauce.

Add 1/4 cup wine and sip some on the side…

If using roasted bell peppers, stir them into the sauce.

Stir well and let simmer for an hour. You can make this in a crock pot and let it simmer for several hours.

Add quartered artichoke hearts and tarragon for last 10 minutes of cooking. Just before serving over pasta or making lasagna, stir in basil and cook a couple of minutes.

Basil-Meyer Lemon Salad Dressing and Marinade

I used the flowering parts of my basil plant.  They added a floral quality.

You can also make this just with leaves if your plant is not flowering.

Serves 3 salads:

2 Tb basil flowers and/or leaves

juice  of one large Meyer lemon: 2 Tb

1 Tb water

1 Tb garlic-infused olive oil and 2 Tb extra virgin olive oil

sprinkle of salt to taste, about 1/8 tsp.

Blend together and pour over green garden salad. I made my salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, and artichoke hearts canned in water.

I added sliced baked chicken breast, and the basil dressing worked well with that too.

Great on the grill! To use as a chicken marinade: Double the basil, lemon and oil to ¼ cup each. Increase the salt to 1 tsp. I added a ripe tomato to the blender and it made the chicken juicy and tender after a couple of hours marinade time. Remember to make several cuts on each side of the boneless breast to allow the marinade to penetrate. Reserve a few tablespoons of the marinade (that you don’t put the chicken in), and pour over cooked chicken for even more flavor.

I made this in a clay pot, cooking the chicken in the marinade. It came out very juicy and tender. Immerse clay pot in a sink-full of water for 15 minutes. Pour chicken with the marinade in the pot. Place in cold oven and set temperature for 400′ and bake for about 30 minutes until done.

Poached Salmon with yogurt dill and lemon sauce

My husband once took my son on a fishing trip and caught a salmon bigger than my 6-year-old daughter! What were we going to do with all that fish? We called all our friends to come over and gave each of them a chunk of salmon to take home!

Here’s an elegant, delicious and easy salmon fillet recipe that uses dill and lemon mixed in nonfat Greek yogurt as a sauce.

salmon topped with lemon and yogurt dill sauce
Ingredients:
dill plant
1 lb fillet of salmon to feed 3 people. A tail piece will not have bones.
1 shallot, peeled and thickly sliced
1 scallion, sliced diagonally into 2″ pieces (both white and green parts)
1/2  cup chicken broth

½ cup dry white wine such as Chardonnay

1 lemon (Meyer lemon is best.)

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt  or Greek yogurt

Several sprigs of dill

Cut a lemon in half.  Cut several slices from the middle and set aside for garnish. Use the rest for squeezing juice.

broth with scallions and shallots

Boil broth in frying pan with shallots and scallions. Add 1 Tb lemon juice, wine and place a sprig of dill in the broth and bring to a boil again.

salmon cooking in broth with lid

Salt the salmon and place in the boiling broth skin side down. Cover pan and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Turn off heat and let sit for another minute.

yogurt sauce ingredients

While salmon is cooking, mince 1 tsp. dill and 2 Tb cucumber. Mix in yogurt with 2 tsp of lemon juice and salt to taste.

salmon with yogurt dill sauce

Serve salmon with lemon slices and yogurt sauce.