Have a little adventure with dinner and make a classic Greek pie in honor of National Pi Day, celebrated on March 14. Pi, also known by the Greek letter “π,” is a constant value used in math that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter—and for all circles of any size, pi will always be the same: 3.14.
While many special days and food holidays have mysterious origins, this one has a more clear-cut beginning and is credited to physicist Larry Shaw with the Exploratorium in San Francisco. According to the National Today site, in 1988 Shaw linked March 14 with the first digits of pi (3.14) and organized a special day to bring the Exploratorium staff together. He served fruit pies and tea starting at 1:59 p.m., the following three digits of the value. Pi Day became an annual Exploratorium tradition, and on March 12, 2009, the U.S. Congress even declared it a national holiday.
You don’t have to be a math whiz to enjoy pie with an “e,” in honor of the day, though. Spanakopita is a classic Greek pie made with layers of crispy phyllo dough. This uses dill and mint, but you could add other herbs such as chervil or minced fennel, says Twin Cities chef and Saint Paul College Culinary Arts instructor Jason Ross, who created this recipe for Real Food. To make this a meal, serve it with almost any salad, especially a warm potato salad. Sure, it’s a rectangle rather than a circle, but it’s pie and it’s Greek.
Spinach and Feta Phyllo Pie
Makes 6 servings
½ cup (8 tablespoons) olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow or white onion, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
4 green onions, sliced thinly
1 pound spinach, chopped (fresh or thawed frozen)
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons finely minced dill
2 tablespoons finely minced mint
12 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- In a medium sized pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onion and sprinkle with salt. Sweat onions until soft and translucent, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and green onions and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add chopped spinach to the pan and cook until wilted and soft, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring until the pan is mostly dry. If using frozen spinach, cook a few minutes longer to avoid a wet filling. Turn off heat a few minutes then mix in feta, dill and mint.
- To assemble the pie, brush oil onto the bottom of a 9×13-inch casserole dish. Lay a sheet of phyllo onto the pan, brush it with oil and repeat until you have 3 layers of oiled phyllo.
- Spoon spinach mixture into the phyllo-lined pan and spread into an even layer a little less than 1-inch thick.
- Cover the spinach with another sheet of phyllo and brush with oil and repeat twice to make a top crust with 3 oiled layers of phyllo dough. Brush top of pie with more olive oil.
- Using a serrated knife, score the pie into 2-inch squares or diamonds, with slits just through the top layer of crust to help prevent steam from building up and for a crisp crust.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until crust is fully browned and spinach hot. Allow to cool slightly and serve. The filling can be made up to 7 days in advance, stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container.
• Thaw unopened phyllo in the refrigerator overnight. It’s important not to let it dry out when working with it; it becomes brittle quickly. Keep it under plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel as you work with it, and oil the layers promptly as you go.
• For warm potato salad, mix together 1 minced shallot, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ cup olive oil for the dressing. Toss that with 2 pounds warm cooked Yukon gold potatoes cut in ¼-inch slices.
Nutrition info (per serving): Spinach & Feta Phyllo Pie: CALORIES 415; FAT 27g (sat. 8g); CHOL 34mg; SODIUM 1033mg; CARB 34g; FIBER 3g; ADDED SUGARS 0g; PROTEIN 11g