Every cook has one favorite dish. This is the one you wheel out for employers, inlaws, visiting philanthropists and your wife's former flame. The requirements? It should look sensational when it's brought to the table; the first bite should melt in your mouth while jarring your tastebuds right out of their slumber; later, when everyone is loosening a belt, the dish should be the main topic of conversation.
In our house that dish is... spinach pie. But that sounds so mundane, so humdrum. Well, the Greeks have a word for it: "Spanakopita." And that word, translated accurately into contemporary English: "SuperDish."
Whenever it's served, you can almost Choreograph the reactions. There's the first bite: "Mmmmm, what's this?" The second bite: "Hey, what is this?" By the third bite, they should be making room for a second helping and by the fourth bite, they'll be begging for the recipe. Here it is.
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: eggs, salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, garlic, lemons, mustard, olive oil, sugar.
The Shopping List: Lamb chops (one per person); 2 pounds of feta cheese; 1 pound of filo dough (thin sheets, available in food specialty shops); 2 pounds spinach (fresh, if possible); 2 large onions; 1 pound butter, lettuce; cucumber; 1 pound cherry tomatoes; olives; 1 green pepper; Turkish or Greek coffee.
Since spinach pie is the most complicated dish we've undertaken so far, the rest of tomight's meal has been kept simple. Some preliminary warnings. You will absolutely need a pastry brush to spread butter over the thin sheets of dough. Secondly, a visit to a food specialty shop will be a must. There is no good substitute for feta cheese and both main dishes require it. And the ultra-thin sheets of filo dough are also a necessity; I have made the attempt and I can now report there is no known way for human beings to make filo dough from scratch.
4:15 P.M.: Melt a large chunk of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add an onion, chopped fine. And 1 clove of garlic, minced. Cook until onions are softened.
Now you'll turn your attention to the fresh spinach. (If you are using frozen spinach, thaw completely and drain.) Rinse the fresh spinach several times in a pot of cool water. Dry it with paper towels, chop it fine and add it to the onions. Then add salt, pepper, a large pinch of oregano and half that much rosemary.
4:50 P.M.: Separate 6 eggs, putting the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. Using a hand mixer, beat the egg yolks for a few minutes and then blend in 1 pound of feta cheese, crumbled. Stir in the spinach mixture. Finally, beat the egg whites until they are stiff and carefully fold them into the rest of the pie filling.
5:10 P.M.: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt a half-pound of butter in a small saucepan over low heat. (Danger! Take it away from heat before it turns brown.) Carefully unroll the filo dough -- carefully because the sheets are not much thicker than tracing paper.
Using the pastry brush, paint the bottom of a rectangular baking dish -- 9-by-13-inches would be fine -- with melted butter. Lay a single sheet of filo dough over the pan and brush butter on the dough. Lay another sheet over that. Butter it. And another. And so on. Until you have perhaps 10 sheets of dough. Then spoon in the spinach mixture and cover it with another sheet of dough. Butter that one. And repeat until you have used up the filo. Then butter the top. You'll bake the pie between 50 minutes and an hour, using your eye for judgment.
5:30 P.M.: Now for the Greek salad. Rinse and dry a head of lettuce and break it into small pieces. Cut the rest of the feta cheese into small chunks and add that. along with the cherry tomatoes, a sliced onion, a sliced cucumber, a sliced green pepper, a large handful of olives. Then make a simple salad dressing -- one quarter lemon juice, three quarters olive oil, a minced clove of garlic, a touch of mustard, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad just before serving.
6 P.M.: There are two reasons that the lamb chops are listed as optional. You might check the price -- okay, that's one reason. Secondly, the dinner doesn't really require them. Personally, I'd replace the chops with a Greek specialty, say a can of stuffed grape leaves, chilled and served with lemon wedges.
However, if you're going with the chops, rub each one with a peeled clove of garlic and some salt and pepper. Broil them about 4 inches from the flame. If the chops are reasonably thick, you should be able broil them in about 5 or 8 minutes a side.
6:30 P.M.: A dinner this rich doesn't really require dessert. Let 'em eat fruit! Moreover, Greek coffee is rich enough to satisfy most dessert tastes. To 2 cups of water, add 6 teaspoons of the highly pulverized Greek or Turkish coffee and an equal amount of sugar. Let the coffee come to a boil and pour the froth into demitasse cups. Put the coffee on for another quick boil and fill the cups with more froth. Do not stir.