“Spanikopeta is a traditional Greek food. It’s a spinach peta. It can be served as a vegetable side or an appetizer,” Charlene Papadopoulos said.
Papadopoulos, who grew up in Sandy Springs, is the youngest of five daughters. Although her parents were born in the U.S., she still has family in Greece. Both sets of her grandparents came to the U.S. in the early 1900s.
“They all came over here uneducated,” said Papadopoulos, a first-grade assistant teacher at the Walker School in Marietta. She and her husband, Pete, have two daughters: 18-year-old Yeoryia, who will attend University of Georgia in the fall and 17-year-old Marika, a rising senior at the Walker School.
Pete was born in Atlanta. His father was born in Tripoli, Greece, and came to the U.S. in 1957. He bought the Majestic in Atlanta’s Virginia Highlands, a 24-hour diner that he owned for about 40 years until he retired and sold it.
The Spanikopeta recipe came from Pete’s aunt, Sophia Paulatas.
“We call her Thia Sophia. ‘Thia’ means aunt in Greek. We love to bake together. She really taught me a bunch of small tricks,” Papadopoulos said.
Papadopoulos and Sophia looked at a Spanikopeta recipe in a cookbook, “Popular Greek Recipes,” and modified it to make it their own.
“We x-d out stuff and added a little flour, a little pinch of this and that kind of thing. (Sophia) puts a little cottage cheese in hers that most people don’t do. I guess I have my own Papadopoulos recipe,” she said.
Papadopoulos recommends placing the frozen fila dough, a paper-thin pastry that is found in the grocery freezer section, in the refrigerator overnight. (The Greek cookbooks use the term ‘fila’ but the pastry box reads “Apollo fillo, Phyllo pastry sheets.”) She said the trick is to bring the pastry to room temperature before making the Spanikopeta.
“You take the Fila out of the box and set it on your counter and keep it in the wax paper it comes in and let it get to room temperature. As you mix everything up, you open it when you’re ready. It’s just pretty. It comes out and you can work with it. But you have to be ready to roll,” she said.
The Fila is layered and each layer is brushed with clarified butter before adding the spinach mixture.
“Fila, butter. Fila, butter. Fila, butter and so on. You use way plenty of butter. Everything we do is full of butter,” she said.
“Spanikopeta a traditional dish. It’s rich with flavor. It’s something different you wouldn’t have at a normal dinner party. It’s really easy,” Papadopoulos said.
SPANIKOPETA (SPINACH PETA)
1 pound fila pastry sheets
½ pound melted butter (clarified)
6 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach
1 ½ pounds. feta cheese
½ pounds Romano cheese
3/4 pound cottage cheese, small curd (skim off the liquid)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 ½ tablespoons of fresh chopped dill
1 tablespoon of flour
2 teaspoons of pepper
Allow spinach to drain at room temperature, to defrost completely (do not soak in water). Squeeze spinach to remove all moisture. (This is a very important step in making a good filling.)
Combine spinach, feta cheese, onion, eggs, Romano cheese, olive oil, flour, cottage cheese, dill, and pepper. Mix well.
Brush bottom of 12-by-9-inch pan with butter. Layer pan with fila leaves (sheets) brushing each with butter. Continue until there are 12 layers of fila. Cover with spinach filling, and continue adding another 12 layers of fila leaves one at a time brushing each with butter. Seal edges of fila to retain filling. Brush top with melted butter. Chill until firm (10 minutes). Cut all the way through the Spanikopeta to mark pieces prior to baking.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes until top fila are golden brown.