I love Greek food. Love. Love. Love. In fact I’m fairly sure there was a period in college where I tried to convince people I was Greek. Let’s be serious, what’s not to love? After all Greek people are some of the healthiest people on earth. About 10 years ago a dear friend of my mother’s spent a day in the kitchen with me teaching me some secrets of Lebanese food; I am forever indebted for the things I learned that day. It was the beginning of an essential education to Greek and Mediterranean flavors. I learned to have an entirely different respect for things like parsley- which is in fact not just a plate garnish. I also fell in love with orange blossom water, but that’s a whole different post.
One of the many Greek things I love is spanakopita. Today I had a craving for it, but I’m trying to watch what I eat, and anyone who has worked with filo dough before knows that it involves a LOT of butter (and is delicious, but that is beside the point). So I had the fantastic idea of making a Spanakopita style lasagna. I also had the idea of doing a spanakopita quesadilla, which I think I’m going to have to try later as well. Anyway, this turned out fabulously. Some people who might be reading this blog might remember the veggie lasagna at Becky and Nick’s wedding- this is maybe as good as that.
I started by making a classic spanakopita filling and then added ricotta, a couple eggs, and a little bit of mozzarella cheese. I layered the filling in between layers of lasagna noodles, and it turned out beautifully. Some may call this spinach lasagna, but it’s so much better than that.
2 Lbs fresh baby spinach
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 green onion stalks, white and light green parts sliced
2 Tbs butter or olive oil
12 oz feta (fresh, block, non seasoned)
2 Tbs fresh dill (or 2 tsp dry)
2 cups ricotta cheese (low fat is fine)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
Fresh ground pepper (at least 3 to 4 grinds, but it’s up to your taste)
2 lemons, 1 juiced, one sliced
1 package lasagna noodles
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Preheat oven to 375. Cook noodles while you prepare the filling.
Dice the onions and garlic, and sauté with olive oil (or butter) in a large dutch oven or medium stock pot until softened and fragrant. Add the spinach by the handful, you will probably have to cook some down, and then add more. It will take at least a few rounds depending on what size pot you use.
In the last round add the sliced green onions. While the spinach wilts, crumble the block of feta, this does not have to be precise. Once all the spinach is wilted, stir in the feta, dill, salt, pepper, nutmeg and the juice of 1 lemon. Taste at this point to be sure it doesn’t need any additional spices to fit your taste.
Cook for about 5 minutes on low heat to let the flavors marry. Remove from heat and stir in ricotta and egg mixture.
In a greased 9X13 pan, lay down four lasagna noodles, overlapping if necessary, spoon 1/3 of the mixture over the noodles. Repeat 2 more times ending with the filling and having 3 total layers of noodles.
Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle ½ cup of mozzarella on top, bake uncovered for 15 more minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Let cool for about 10 minutes and serve. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice over each slice, if desired.
A few notes:
I made this in a 8X8 version- since this was a bit of an experiment I didn’t want tons of leftovers if it didn’t turn out…fortunately it did. Point is, this recipe is easy to cut in half, but plan to trim the noodles or have them fold up the side (like I did).
I love lemon a lot, I’m sure I have mentioned that before. I think the squeeze of lemon right before serving brightens the flavor, but feel free to omit this.
Please use fresh spinach, it’s really no more expensive, and SO much better. Fresh block feta is also better. If you buy it packed in water, let it drain and pat it dry before crumbling.
One of the secrets to really delicious spanakopita is butter, and it does add flavor to sautéed onions and garlic, but the olive oil is delicious and better for you. I’ll leave it up to your discretion.