It's been almost twenty years since I've touched a sheet of fillo dough..years ago mom and I would make rolls and rolls of spinach pie, leek filled fillo, apple filled and meat filled. After she passed my then teenaged daughters and I made a few spinach filled rolls for the holidays. When my dad remarried, his wife took over the duties which made me very happy! But I decided that this was the perfect week to dive back in and see if I could still have some success at making these pies that the Bulgarians call banitsa. I decided to combine all my favorite flavors for this and so included scallions, leek and a little spinach. I really think my mom would be very happy with the results!
NOTE: I see these sheets of pastry spelled every which way - filo, phyllo, fillo...this time my package was marked fillo (I'm going with it!) —inpatskitchen
9 to 10 fourteen inch rolls and serves many as a side or main for breakfast, lunch or dinner
For the filling
fresh baby spinach leaves
finely diced leeks, white and pale green part only (I used 4 fat leeks)
thinly sliced scallions (3 large)
full fat small curd cottage cheese, drained in a colander to rid the moisture (or if you can find it dry cottage cheese)
crumbled feta cheese (preferably Bulgarian) or one heaping cup
Salt and white pepper to taste
lightly beaten eggs
For the banitsa
16 ounce package of commercial fillo pastry sheets ( use fresh if you can find it) otherwise thawed
fine dry unseasoned bread crumbs or cracker meal
Steam the spinach until it wilts. Cool and then squeeze as much of the liquid out as you possibly can. Roughly chop and then place the spinach in a large mixing bowl.
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven melt the butter, add the diced leek and begin to saute over medium heat. After about 5 minutes add the sliced scallions and continue to saute until everything is very soft.(this could take up to 20 minutes). Add this mixture to the mixing bowl and let cool for a few minutes.
Stir in the drained cottage cheese and feta. At this point taste the mixture. You definitely want to add a little white pepper ( I added 1/2 teaspoon) but the amount of salt you add depends on how salty your feta is. Use your judgement ( I added 1/2 teaspoon to mine).
Stir in the beaten eggs. Set the mixture aside while you prepare to roll...
For the banitsa
It's best to set up your station before starting to roll these. Line a few baking sheets with parchment, set your bowl of crumbs out, melt your butter and have a nice size work space cleared to make your rolls. Once you open the fillo, lie it out flat and keep it covered with a damp tea towel while you're rolling. The dough is very fragile and dries out easily.
Lay out 3 or 4 sheets of fillo on your work space and dot the top layer with the melted butter using a pastry brush. Grab a few pinches of the crumbs and scatter over. (The reason I say 3 or 4 sheets is because sometimes the sheets stick together and rather than tear them it's easier to use more)
Place about 6 coffee teaspoonfuls of the filling along the long edge of the sheet about one inch from the bottom. Leave a one inch border along the short sides. Starting with the bottom edge, roll the dough over the filling. When you get near the top, roll the top edge toward you. Brush the seam and ends with melted butter and fold over the edges. Place the roll seam side down on the prepped baking sheet. Brush the entire top with melted butter.
Continue to make more rolls until you run out of fillo or filling or both.
Bake the rolls in a preheated 325F oven for about 40 minutes until lightly browned. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: The baked rolls can be reheated in a 350F oven for about ten minutes. You can also freeze the unbaked rolls...just thaw a bit before baking.
I think I get my love for food and cooking from my mom, who was an amazing cook. She would start baking and freezing a month before Christmas in order to host our huge open house on Christmas afternoon. I watched and I learned...to this day I try not to procrastinate when it comes to entertaining.
My cooking style is pretty much all over the place, although I'm definitely partial to Greek and Italian cuisine. Oh yes, throw a little Cajun in there too!