Greek Recipes – How to Work with Phyllo Dough

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 47,035
    Chef Mike Isabella demonstrates how to work with fillo dough 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: Hello! My name is Mike Isabella; I am the Chef at Zaytinya restaurant in Washington DC. Today, we will be showing you how to make spanakopita, a traditional Greek spinach and feta cheese pie wrapped in Phyllo dough and now were going to show you how to work with phyllo dough.

    Phyllo dough is a pastry; its a flaky pastry crust. Today, were going to be using frozen phyllo dough that I defrosted overnight. You can use fresh if you would like. Its a little bit more intense and time consuming to make. We make it fresh at the restaurant Zaytinya. There are not many restaurants actually in the country that are making it. Its made with some flour and water, a little bit of oil, touch of sugar, and its a long process of getting the dough to the consistency that you want and rolling them out really, really thin, almost thinner than a paper, so itll be translucent.

    So, today were just going to go with the country style phyllo. I have a box of phyllo dough right here. Phyllo is traditionally used in Greek in Middle Eastern style of cooking, they make a lot of different types of pies and desserts and obviously here in the box, it has a picture of phyllo dough and stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. This is the Apollo brand. There are different types of brands that you can buy in a store. This is the country style. What I get is -- Im using the country style today because its a little bit thicker than the regular phyllo and I tend to use a thicker stuff for more of the savory dishes than to using a thinner pastry more for the dessert styles. So, here it is, its all wrapped up for us. Pretty much just going to open the bag and it will hold in the freezer forever and once it comes out of the freezer, it can hold for about basically up to like a week in the refrigerator. I dont like to refreeze it because sometimes from the moisture, from getting cold and warm and cold and warm, it tends to get a little bit sticky and hard to use and appliable. So, were going to roll this out, just discard this and then hold on to the box just in case and as you see, we defrosted it -- we have some nice thin sheets of phyllo dough. Were going to get to rid of this piece apart, paper right here and then now we have our country style phyllo. You always want to make sure though that you have a very, very light damped rag just in case were not going to use the phyllo dough right now, you can just keep it on it. If you dont put a wet rag, or some on top of it, or a damped rag or some towels, it will tend to pretty much dry out pretty quickly; crack and break and you wont be able to roll it up and get the type of consistency that we need out of it. So, we have our damped towel right here.

    We have our country styled phyllo and I mean you can just look at these thin sheets and as you see it, it does tend to stick a little bit and you want to be very careful while working with it and it is translucent, you can see the hand and also you can see how easy it rips. So, we want to be very careful with it. Im going to save this piece for later, for a couple of small pieces, made a little pies that we can use, but now like I said, you dont to work it too much; you want to get all laid out nice and evenly and pretty much you can cut it whatever size that you want. Like if you cut it small, and youre going to have little baby pies. If you cut it in fourths, youre going to have nice sized triangle spanakopita pie, which is perfect. So, people could share, you could have a couple of little pies.

    What were going to do is, Im going to start by basically just cutting it down the middle. So, basically we have it in half and it all depends on how many pieces you are using and I mean right here I have about six, seven pieces of phyllo dough right here. If I cut this in half one more time which I will, then were going to have 14. Now, this is basically 14 pieces of triangles and we feel thats enough for today. We could pretty much just roll this back up over here. We are going to wrap it in plastic wrap, we will put it back in the wrapper that we had it in, just to keep it moisture there and keep it at the temperature, put it away back into the box and then we have our strips. So, Id like to set them down, so we can have like three strips or so. Now, also like I said, if Im moving chips on, we dont feel like that even, or we want to clean it up a little bit, I mean were totally in control here, we could just cut the thin ends off, follow it down with a knife, so everything is pretty much exactly the way we want it. Then we have our three sets of phyllo dough. Then basically once it will be ready, we can prepare it now.

    As we are waiting for that, Im just going to cover this up and keep it nice and moist and thats how we get set up for the phyllo dough, which is pre-bought frozen phyllo dough and that is it on the Phyllo, now Im going to show you how to assemble the spanakopitas