14 October 2012

Butternut Squash Spanakopita

There is nothing quite like the crisp, airy crunch of phyllo dough.  Light, crispy....all around lovely.  It is always a phenom, be it wrapped around melty brie, shaped into cups or layered in baklava.  But my absolute favorite way to use it is in spanakopita.  This Greek recipe creates delicious savory pockets that you pick up and eat like a hand pie, and is traditionally filled with spinach and feta.  They make delightful little triangles and are very easy to eat.  In the words of the hubs, it's the finger football of the dinner table.  Who says you can't play with your food?

Come fall, it seems as though I've been waiting for squash for an eternity.  I can't get enough of the stuff, and am always trying to find different ways to use it.  Spaghetti, acorn and butternut are my favorites and have an uncanny ability to weasel their way into our dinner line-up, so far on a bi-weekly basis.  We tend to be fans of the savory squash rather than the sweet.  Ravioli and gnocchi are regularly infused with squash this time of year.  And finding a perfectly preserved half roll of phyllo dough in my refrigerator, I jumped for at the chance to try a fall inspired spanakopita.  

While I kept the spinach traditionally found in spanakopita, I decided to swap the feta for a more squash-friendly partnership.  Enter my old favorite meting cheese, taleggio.  It's like fontina's nuttier brother.  Soft, creamy and a wonderful melter, it pairs wonderfully with squash.  And speaking of squash, this was obviously the second big change to the dish.  Rather than ricotta, pureed butternut squash acts as a fabulous binder for the spinach and cheese.  Add just to make it really taste like fall, I added in lots of fresh sage.  I just cannot get enough of this fabulous herb this year!

As the hubs says, this food is super fun to eat.  But I must also add that it's super fun to make.  I mean, how many foods do you get to fold into triangles?  Not too many.  But do not let a lack of phyllo-folding intimidate you away from this dish.  The first time I tried, I was terrified.  But honestly, it's super easy.  If you've ever seen anybody fold a flag, you've got the technique down.  Basically you fold one corner over the filling, fold over the side, and just keep going until you run out of dough.  You don't even have to worry about coming out "even" as you just brush the end with butter and seal the pocket.  So be brave and give triangular food a try!

The end result here is amazing.  Handheld triangles are easy to eat, even for the smallest of hands.  Packed with spinach and squash, it's a great way to incorporate vegetables in a new and interesting way.  And the flavor....out of this world.  Hearty and earthy spinach, sweet and creamy butternut squash, and pungent sage make a a warm, creamy delightful filling.  When wrapped in light, crispy phyllo, you end up with something truly wonderful.  

This recipe makes larger spanakopita, and two are perfect dinner with a side of fresh spinach and protein.  But you could easily make a miniaturized version for an appetizer at a fall dinner party.  Just cut the phyllo into fourths lengthwise rather than half and use two tablespoons of filling per strip.  Taylor the size to your preference.  Heck, you could make giant ones if you wanted and not cut them at all!  Just listen to your heart, as Napoleon Dynamite says.  That's what I always do.

Butternut Squash Spanakopita (6 servings)

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 4 tbs fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 10-12 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained (1 package)
  • 1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 c taleggio or fontina, finely diced
  • black pepper, to taste (we used about 1/4 tbs for a half batch)
  • 30 sheets phyllo dough (about 1 1/4 rolls)
  • 6 tbs light butter, melted
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and dice the butternut squash.  Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick, then distribute the squash in an even layer over the pan.  Roast for 25-30 minutes until squash is tender when poked with a fork.  Remove the pan from the oven and set aside.

Place a small skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, until it just begins to become translucent.  Then add the garlic and fresh sage.  Cook for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant.  Transfer the onion sage mixture from the pan into a medium bowl and let cool slightly.  

Place the now cooled butternut squash in a food processor.  Pulse 8-10 times until squash is half pureed, half still in chunks.  Transfer into the bowl with the onion sage mixture.  Add the spinach, Parmesan, taleggio and pepper.  Mix until well combined.  

Lay a sheet of phyllo dough flat on a cutting board and brush lightly with melted butter.  Top with a second sheet of phyllo and brush again with butter.  Repeat until you have 5 layers of phyllo, omitting the last brushing with butter.  Cut the phyllo in half lengthwise.  Scoop 1/4 c of the butternut squash mixture onto one end of your dough.  Fold the top corner of the end over the filling to create a triangle. Fold triangle over as you would a flag down the length of the phyllo dough.  Brush the end lightly with butter to seal, then transfer to an ungreased baking sheet.  Repeat steps until you have used all the filling.

Brush the triangles lightly with butter.  Place in your 400 degree oven and bake for 12-18 minutes until golden and starting to brown at the corners.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.  

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