(Ed note: Lisa's father is very much with us this week so I thought I would bring back this post from 2009.-- sdh)
I met Lisa Vihos when David and I visited Lakeland College in Wisconsin last October. We were in a workshop together and I loved her poems. Later we talked about food and cooking and I was thrilled when she agreed to contribute a recipe. Lisa's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Free Verse, Lakefire, Wisconson People and Ideas, Seems, and Big Muddy. She loves to cook for family and friends (see how happy she is in the photo above, with her sister and dad?). Lisa maintains a weekly poetry blog here. And here's what she has to say about this week's recipe for spinach pie:
I learned how to make spinach pie from my paternal grandmother, Irene Vihos, who was born on the island of Melos and came to America in 1932 as a young woman with a small daughter and very limited English. My grandfather was already here, slinging hash in a Greek diner in Detroit. My father was not yet born. When I knew my Yaya, she lived on Avery Street in a dark house filled with old things. The bright spot in all this darkness was the kitchen, where she served nose-tickling Vernor’s ginger ale in colored metal tumblers and cooked up dandelion greens she had picked along the roadside, drizzled with olive oil and lemon. In the bright kitchen in the dark house, my Yaya taught me to make a puff pastry for spinach pie. She did not teach me to roll individual thin sheets of phyllo dough, though recipes for this can be found on the Internet. I am told there is one bakery in New York that still makes fresh phyllo. I switched to frozen phyllo in my twenties and never turned back. I like Athens brand, available in any grocery store.
Phyllo can be one of the most maddening substances on earth. After making many dozens of spinach pies in my life, here is what I have learned about it: Like a recalcitrant child, the phyllo dough will constantly be telling you, “you are not the boss of me!” And just as you would do with a child, you must lovingly push onward and let it know in the kindest of ways that in fact, you are the boss, and it is going to have to do your bidding.
It helps immensely to properly follow the thawing instructions as written on the box. Take it out of the freezer two hours before you will use it, just like it says. Do not try putting the phyllo in direct sunlight for a 20-minute speed thaw. Plan ahead!
Have all the ingredients mixed and ready before you open the phyllo package. Don’t be leaving your phyllo exposed to the air while you are melting butter or mixing spinach or anything like that. If you must leave your phyllo unattended to go to the bathroom, answer the phone, or help a child tie a shoe, make sure to cover the sheets with a clean, dry dish towel to protect them from the air.
Work quickly and stay calm. A few sheets may stick together. A few sheets may end up in shreds. No matter. If you keep your wits about you and just keep pushing on, you will end up with a spinach pie. I have made a whole pie from shreds and a few well-placed sheets that kept their shape! Remember, butter is your friend and can be used to glue everything together if need be.
In the making of spinach pie, as in life, there are no mistakes! Only reminders to pay closer attention to detail next time. Be quick, but not sloppy. Mend when mending is required. Do not skimp on butter. Stay calm. Be kind and gentle. Do not tear into fragile things. Share. Spinach pie tastes best when eaten with friends. Yasoo!
1 lb. package frozen phyllo dough
3 10 oz. packages frozen chopped spinach
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
24 oz.. container small curd cottage cheese (sometimes, I only use ¾ of it and I eat the rest for lunch)
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1.5 sticks of butter, melted (approximately - if anything you will need more)
3 Tbls chopped fresh dill (optional)
Remove phyllo from freezer at least two hours before you will be making your spinach pie and leave it on the kitchen counter to thaw. (Read the instructions on the box. They know what they are talking about! See “A Note About Phyllo” above.) Preheat the oven to 375. Melt 1.5 sticks of butter on low heat and keep it melted but watch so it doesn’t burn.