The lackluster versions served at unambitious Greek-American diners bear more resemblance to lukewarm lawn clippings encased in a wet paper bag than the crispy-pillowy pride of Hellenic home cooking.
We wanted to bring back the features that made spanakopita such a mealtime favorite in the first place-a casserole-style pie with a perfect balance of zesty spinach filling to shatteringly crisp phyllo crust-and we didn’t want it to require an all-day stint in the kitchen.
We wanted a weeknight meal, not a weeklong project, so we decided to go with frozen phyllo sheets, which we layered with butter and Pecorino Romano.
Next, we started with the filling’s two main ingredients: spinach and feta. Tasters favored the bold flavor of mature fresh spinach that had been microwaved, coarsely chopped, then rid of any excess moisture. As for the feta, we found that simply crumbling the rich, pungent cheese into fine pieces helped it spread evenly through the sea of green, ensuring a salty tang in every bite. To buffer the assertiveness of the feta and add textural contrast, we took a cue from some of our research recipes and incorporated some Greek yogurt into the filling.
Our final challenge was texture. The top crust was flaky and golden-brown, but no matter how we sliced it, the bottom crust ended up soggy. To solve this, we swapped the baking dish we had been using with a baking sheet. The thick, high walls of the baking dish trapped any moisture coming off the spanakopita, steaming the crust instead of crisping it, while the flat surface of the baking sheet allowed excess moisture to evaporate far more readily.