This spanakopita is based on the classic recipe I used to make with my grandmother and mother, but inspired by my time living in the South. It comes from my cookbook, Shaya: An Odyssey in Food, My Journey Back to Israel, which really gets into the emotions, the history, and the stories behind a lot of the food that I cook. The recipes really blossom from the stories, so I hope that people read Shaya as a storybook, and then are inspired to cook the recipes because the story evokes some type of emotion in them.
The filling in this spanakopita is a mixture of all different types of greens—collard and mustard greens—that are abundant at the farmer’s market during the winters there. To give it an extra pop of flavor, I added lemon juice and zest, plus jalapeño (it also happens to be a Southern tradition to serve jalapeño vinegar with your stewed greens). Those little kicks of flavor work together with the creaminess of the feta, while the soft greens are accompanied by the crunch of the nuts and the crispy pastry. If you’re going to make this spanakopita at home, remember this tip: Keep the phyllo dough nice and soft by placing a towel over it; this prevents it from drying out. — Alon Shaya —Alon Shaya
Stem, devein, and finely chop the greens. Add them a handful at a time to a pot with the water and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they’ve significantly reduced in size and any moisture has evaporated, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and allow the greens to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375° F with a rack in the center of the oven. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and cook onions, jalapeño, garlic, and pine nuts until the onions and pine nuts have started to brown.
Add the dill and mint to the cooked greens. Stir in the cooked nuts and vegetables, feta, lemon zest, juices, and spices and finally add the egg.
Gently unroll the phyllo dough. Put aside half of the sheets for the top crust, and cover them with a dish towel or a loose sheet of plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. Brush butter all over one of the remaining sheets; press it into the bottom and up the sides of an approximately 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Repeat with the rest of the phyllo that you’ve kept for the bottom crust, and spread the filling inside in an even layer.
Stack another sheet of phyllo over the filling; brush the top of this one with butter, and sprinkle 1 generous tablespoon of Pecorino Romano evenly over it. Repeat with the rest of the phyllo, but don’t sprinkle cheese over the very top of the pie. Don’t worry about ripping (it’s inevitable, and there are so many layers that no one will notice), but be sure that you save an intact piece for the top.
Depending on the dimensions of your phyllo dough’s sheets, there may be some overhanging crust; if there is, tuck the edge under itself. Use a sharp knife to score five diagonal slits through the top crust (but don’t push down past the filling).
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating about halfway through. It’s done when it’s deeply brown and crisp all over the top. Let cool for a few minutes. To serve: Cut it diagonally, perpendicular to the scores you made before baking.