Batsaria (Phyllo-less Spanakopita)
- For the spinach mixture
- 1 1/2 sticks butter (6 ounces)
- 2 bags fresh (not baby) spinach, approximately 1 pound each
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped finely
- 1 bunch scallions (or two, if the scallions are skinny), the white parts and some of the green, chopped
- 4 to 8 cloves garlic (depending on your love of garlic), peeled and chopped finely
- 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped finely
- 1/2 pound feta cheese (Greek or Bulgarian tastes best)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal brand)
- A few turns of freshly ground pepper
- 4 eggs
- For the batter
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 cup neutral oil (I use canola)
- 1 egg
- 2 cups water (from the cold side of your spigot)
Melt butter in a small pot, skimming off foam and discarding it. Set aside. Take out the largest bowl you have, or a soup kettle if you don't have a big bowl. Roughly chop the spinach, stems and all. Wash and dry the chopped spinach in a salad spinner. Dump the spinach into the big bowl or pot. Add the onion, scallions, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper to the spinach. Mix well.
Crumble in the feta and mix again, gently. Set aside while you make the batter. Note: I think proper salting is key to the outcome of this dish. If you aren't afraid of raw eggs, take a little taste, but with the saltiness of the feta, I have now found that 1 tablespoon of kosher salt is about right for this amount of spinach. Also, one time I forgot to put in the garlic and the result was flat and unsatisfying; the garlic really is the key flavor combo in this dish.
Measure the 3 cups of flour, salt, and baking powder into another bowl. (This one doesn't have to be so large.). Make a well in the center of the flour. Into the well, put the oil, the unbeaten egg, and the water. Mix together until smooth, but don't overmix. The batter should be the consistency of pancake batter. Spread some of the melted butter in the bottom of a roasting pan. I use my 11 x 14 All Clad lasagna pan. The size of the pan will determine the thickness of the finished batsaria. I like mine thick-ish, while my mother liked hers very thin, almost cracker-like. Spread some of the batter thinly on top of the butter.
Beat the 4 eggs until they're light and airy, then add them to the spinach mixture, stirring gently. My Aunt Elizabeth (she who was named Freedom in Greek) said that adding the well-beaten eggs at the last minute is one of the secrets to a good outcome for this dish. Spoon the spinach mixture into the baking pan, spreading it as evenly as you can. Now spoon the rest of the batter onto the top of the spinach. There will not be enough to cover the spinach, but you don't want it to. Glop it here and there, leaving areas of spinach exposed.
Sprinkle the rest of the butter over the top of the spinach and the batter. (Don't try doubling the batter to get more complete coverage -- I did it once and the end result was way too bready.) Bake at 350° F until golden brown, about 50 minutes to an hour.. The aroma as it bakes is heavenly! Let the batsaria cool a bit before you cut it into squares or rectangles to serve. It is delicious warm, but like so many Mediterranean foods, it is also good at room temperature. Leftovers are wonderful reheated or cold.