Greek Recipes – How to Prepare Leeks and Scallions for a Spanakopita Pie

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 31,058
    Chef Mike Isabella demonstrates how to prepare the leeks and scallions for your Spanakopita greek spinach pie.

    Mike Isabella

    In March 2007, Chef Mike Isabella was appointed as head chef of the popular Penn Quarter restaurant Zaytinya, located at 701 9th Street, NW. THINKfoodGROUP’s José Andrés and Rob Wilder were pleased to welcome Chef Isabella who came to Washington with an extensive list of restaurant experience. Mike earned an associates degree in culinary arts at the New York Restaurant School and has several years of industry experience including three years working for Stephen Starr's Philadelphia restaurants. He worked as executive sous chef with James Beard Award-winning Chef Marcus Samuelsson at Washington Square, and as a sous chef at El Vez and Alma de Cuba, the modern Latin restaurant which received accolades from Conde’ Nast Traveler as one of the “Top 50 Restaurants.” Most recently Mike was chef de cuisine at Kyma, the award-winning Greek seafood restaurant in the exclusive Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. Zaytinya serves an extensive array of various hot and cold mezze “little dishes” reflecting the rich regional diversity of classical and contemporary Greek, Turkish and Lebanese cuisine. Open seven days a week. Zaytinya is located at 701 9th St., NW, in the heart of the Penn Quarter. For additional information call (202) 638-0800.

    Mike Isabella: How youre doing? My name is Mike Isabella. I am the Chef at Zaytinya restaurant in Washington DC. Today, we will be preparing spanakopita, a traditional Greek, spinach and feta cheese pie, wrapped in Phyllo dough and baked. Today, I am going go show you how to prepare the leeks and scallions for the dish. Today, we have a whole leek for the recipe calls for one leek. This is a fairly large leek, its in the onion family. If you dont have a leek this big, you use two small ones. It tends to be a little bit dirty and gritty and have some sand in it because obviously it grows in the ground and when they pull it out of the ground, there is still some dirt stuck in here, so were going to show you how to clean it today and cut them up and get it ready.

    I discard the bottom of the leek, which is the roots, which is not needed. Then we have the top of the leek. Today, for this recipe were going to use the white part only. Its the softest and tenderest and sweetest part of the leek. I am just going to cut the top off and as you see there is going to be lot of dirt and crystal inside of the leek, so were going to discard that right now. Save that another recipe.

    Ive got a bowl of water here, cold water. Basically I am going to cut the leek halfway through, so it still stays intact, mainly by the core because the core is the cleanest part and I am going to just pretty much kind of just rub it around in the water and let it soak. We want to get as much dirt as possible out, so its not gritty in our spanakopita. Sometimes what Id like to do is, Id like to let this sit and float around and all the dirt crystals will fall to the bottom of the bowl and then we can just pull the leek out because all the dirt would be in the bottom and the leek would be on top.

    As were letting that sit and let the dirt fall out we have some scallions, so we go into the scallions as we are letting the leeks sit in the water, which should be probably for about a minute or two, not too long. So, were going to finish it off. The scallions are also in the onion family, they are called green onions. Today, were going to be using the opposite parts of scallions, as we do with the leeks. Today, we are going to use the top parts of the scallion, the green part and were going to leave the whites for another recipe.

    So, what I usually do is, I kind of just look through the scallions, make sure there is no like really wilted dead leaves on here. If there are, I will just yank them off and I kind of just line them up, so I have all the tops and I just snip off the top, a real thin layer at the top, just to get rid of all those dead ends, ends that dont have too much flavor. Then were going to prepare and look through this, and also I go to the stems up and see if there is any dirt or anything like that, but we are not going to using them today, so I am not too concern with that. So, then basically I want to cut everything in a similar size, so when I saut everything its going to cook evenly and were not going to have some pieces that are cooked consistent in some instance. So, I am pretty much just lined up with the knife next to my hand and I want to cut about a quarter inch thick with the scallions.

    Were just going through and obviously you want to keep your thumb in the back to hold the vegetable in place and we are moving with our fingers. As we continue to get down to the bottom of the scallion or the whites, you want to be careful because some whites are longer than others and some are shorter, so we just want to make sure were getting the green over here. Thats pretty good and well save these whites for another recipe. These are little bit stronger in flavor, but more a little bit stronger along the lines, which we are not going to use. We want to lie a little onion essence in the dish. So, we have our scallions over here, which we move over here, put aside. Then now our leek should be ready after sitting in the bowl of water, we could see we have some grit in the bottom of the bowl. Were going to open this up and as you see, kind of bloomed from the cold water, kind of make things curl out and open up and when it blooms, a lot of excess dirt seems to fall out. So were in a perfect position with this. We get rid of our dirty water.

    I am going to finish cutting this in half, so makes it easier for me cut, and then we have the whole leeks and you can see the nice and clean and white and there is no more dirt and crystal inside of it. To me, I call its like a half moon style of cutting because we have little round shapes and this is also -- we want to cut it just little bit thinner than the leek, tends to be little bit -- takes a little bit longer to cook, so we just want to cut a little bit thinner, Be very careful with your knife. Obviously, you see were using all the white over here. Move all the way through.

    Then now we have nice consisting cuts and well be ready to put these into the saut pan. Well have our leeks and our scallions cut up. We can also cut this one up, once we have everything cut, these will be the portions for everything. Now, were going to ready to saut this up. Basically, when I saut this, I want to pull as much flavor as I can from this. So what I am going to do is, I am going to cook it at a very low temperature, so the flames will be low to medium. On the burner, we want to get a saut pan around about eight inches wide. So, we can spread this out and I am going to put about a tablespoon of oil in here. Well place the leeks inside the saut pan and with a little bit of blended oil or olive oil whatever you prefer. Were going to sweat this down. It is probably take about six to eight minutes at a low to medium heat, until tender. Once it starts getting tended, its going to start getting very light and almost translucent, you can kind of see through the vegetables. Once we get to that point with the leeks, where they start to get nice and soft and they are mirroring the bottom of the pan, its at a lower heat then will just add the scallions right to it, and the scallions are very thin. Its a thin onion; its very little flavored, so we will add that right on top of it and these we just want to wilt and wilt it as its just going to pretty sweat it, until it gets soft. And at that point, we will be cooking the leeks for about eight minutes, combines with the two minute cooking time of the scallions. Once the scallions and leeks are done, we pretty are going to put them into a little bowl or a plate. Let them cool off, either at room temperature or in your refrigerator and then well wait to add it all and at the end with the spinach and all other ingredients to make the spanakopita.

    So, that is it on cleaning and cutting the scallions and leeks and also sauting. Next, we will be showing you how to clarify butter.