Life in a Northern Town

A Greek Hotdish- It's What For Dinner

This recipe goes way back in the Dougherty dinner history book, back to 2078 St Clair Ave with a temperamental electric oven and the neighbor who liked to eat dinner in his underwear (we had a front row seat because our houses were about 3 feet apart). Those were the days before I had much cooking experience and a package of phyllo was enough to give me hives. I remember reading the directions and almost jumping ship when I read, 'keep the phyllo covered with a damp towel to keep it from drying out'. I quickly figured out there is a distinct and important difference between 'damp' and 'wet'— a dripping towel and phyllo sheets resulted in a sticky mess. Since I already had the feta and spinach, I wasn't about to let my lack of attention to details ruin my Greek hot dish. I loaded Sadie and Will in the stroller, hiked down to Widmer's, bought more phyllo and with my 'damp' towel, started assembling my masterpiece.

I honestly don't remember how it turned out, that oven was troublesome and had more hotspots than a Labrador with food allergies, and I can't imagine what it would have done to phyllo. Of course, back in those days with three kids under 6, it's no wonder my memory is a little foggy. I'm sure it was a hit because it made the regular dinner rotation. I had some phyllo in danger of major freezer burn and some Sassy Nanny Feta in the fridge— it was time for a trip down memory lane with a Greek hot dish (without the neighbor in his undies).

Beef, Spinach & Feta Casserole

Beef Filling
1 tbsp. canola oil
1/2yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground beef
One 28 can of chopped tomatoes, in purée
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Spinach & Feta Filling
Two 10 ounce packages of frozen spinach, thawed
1 package of cream cheese, softened
1 cup feta, crumbled
1/2 cup Parmesan, shredded
1/4 cup dill, chopped
1/4 cup green onions, sliced
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup butter, melted
12 sheets phyllo dough

Beef Preparation
Heat oil in 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, pepper, celery and garlic, cook until soft, about 6 minutes. Add beef and cook until browned, stirring so that the meat breaks up into small pieces, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes. oregano, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced and thick, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Spinach & Feta Preparation And Casserole Assembly
Squeeze as much moisture from the thawed spinach. Mix the spinach, cream cheese, feta, Parmesan, dill, green onions, eggs, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Brush the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with olive oil or cooking spray. Add the beef mixture to the pan and then place the spinach mixture on top. Spread the spinach mixture as evenly as possible over the beef mixture.

Keep the phyllo covered with a damp towel. Brush the top of a sheet of phyllo dough with butter and place it in the pan. (You may have to cut the phyllo dough to fit the pan.) Repeat until you have 6 layers. Take the remaining 6 pieces of phyllo, butter them and then fold them up 'accordion style' and place them next to each other on top the phyllo.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until golden brown on top, about 30-50 minutes. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then serve immediately.