Filo, Part Deux

February 20, 2009

I have written here before about working with filo dough. In my experience it is one of those things that sometimes goes well and sometimes does not. I would like to blame it on the condition of the filo but really, it has nothing to do with the dough and has everything to do with me. If I am in a hurry, things do not go well. I try to rush a process that should not be rushed or I get bored and just stop half way through. The best time to work with filo is when you have the time and want to take on a project. If you slow down and relax and enjoy the process, the rewards can be great.

I made Ina Garten’s Spanakopita recipe the other night for my clients and I was very happy with how they turned out, both in the looks and taste departments. The filling was very flavorful and not too tangy (using a really good feta cheese helps), plus they baked up incredibly crispy. I think this was due to a fine dusting of bread crumbs in between each of the four filo layers, and also due to my light hand with the olive oil when brushing the layers.

Ina suggests making very large triangles, but I couldn’t enclose the filling with her dimensions, so I changed that in the recipe below. You can, of course, make these much smaller and serve them as appetizers. You can also get them ready to the point of baking them, put them on a baking sheet and into the freezer. Once they are frozen, you can put them in a plastic bag (the initial freeze on the sheet insures they won’t stick together once in the bag), and store them in the freezer for next time.

Here are my filo tips from the previous post:

First, the day before you are going to use your filo dough, remove it from the freezer and put it in the fridge to let it thaw overnight. Then use it directly from the fridge.

Second, filo does dry out quickly but not that quickly, so try and relax as you are working with it. Once it does dry out, the corners start to crack and it can be a little hard to separate the layers. The best way to keep it moist is to just cover the portion you are not working with with a clean kitchen towel. Don’t bother with plastic wrap or a damp towel, just a clean dry towel.

Third, use olive oil to brush the layers. Your choices are usually butter or olive oil, but when I use butter I have to keep rewarming it to keep it liquid so I just stick with oil. This is true even for sweet things (like baklava) because the oil doesn’t really add much flavor, it’s just there to keep everything moist and to give you a nice crisp crust on the outside.

Fourth, if it does tear – don’t worry about it. Almost anything you make with filo will have many sheets of it layered on top of each other so any tear will be invisible and insignificant. If your top layer tears, just brush it with oil and add one more layer to the top.

Dinner Spanakopita
Adapted from
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Makes approximately 15 strudels

Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped

3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

2 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted

4 eggs, lightly beaten

3 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Plain dry bread crumbs

1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 cups small-diced feta cheese (12 oz.)

3 tbsp. toasted pine nuts

24 sheets frozen filo dough, defrosted

Flaked sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the scallions and cook for another 2 minutes until the scallions are wilted but still green. Meanwhile, gently squeeze most of the water out of the spinach and place it in a large bowl.

When the onion and scallions are done, add them to the spinach. Mix in the eggs, Parmesan cheese, 3 tbsp. bread crumbs, the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Gently fold in the feta and pine nuts.

Place on sheet of filo dough flat on a work surface with the long end in front of you. Brush the dough lightly with olive oil and sprinkle it with a teaspoon of bread crumbs. Working quickly, slide another sheet of filo dough on top of the first, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs. (Use just enough bread crumbs so the layers of filo don’t stick together.) Pile 4 layers on top of each other this way brushing each with olive oil and sprinkling each with bread crumbs.

Cut the sheets of filo in thirds lengthwise. Place 1/3 cup spinach filling on the shorter end and roll the filo up diagonally as if folding a flag. They fold the triangle of filo over straight and then diagonally again. Continue folding first diagonally and then straight until you reach the end of the sheet. The filling should be totally enclosed. Place each finished strudel, seam side down, on a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil.

Continue assembling filo layers and folding the filling until all of the filling or all of the sheets have been used. Sprinkle sea salt over the finished strudels and bake for 30-35 minutes until the filo is browned and crisp. Serve hot.

(DN: These can be made 6 hours ahead and reheated in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.)


  1. ooooooooh spanakopita! Looks yummy! I love your double phyllo post! you give some great tips here. I cover the phyllo sheets with a wet paper towel, and theyre fine. Also, I find it easier to put some olive oil in a spray bottle and spray it onto the phyllo. There is less tear this way compared to brushing the olive oil on :)

    Comment by veggie belly — February 21, 2009 @ 2:31 am

  2. I haven’t had much experience with phyllo dough, but your tips and incredible looking spanakopita have inspired me! Most versions I’ve had are soggy and only semi-flavorful, but my idea is a crunchy exterior and robust spinach filling. I can’t wait to try this with your pointers and Ina’s recipe :)

    Comment by Chris — February 21, 2009 @ 4:34 am

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  4. yours look lovely! I’ve been making these for years after my grandparents stopped cooking and someone needed to fill in the “greek family cook” shoes but haven’t ever used breadcrumbs in the process – I will definitely give it a try next time – thanks!

    Comment by Josie — October 30, 2009 @ 4:03 am

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