Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spinach Parmesan Burek

Certain food items are hard to come by outside Paris and prepared sheets of filo pastry are one of them. Though it can be made at home, I have neither a dowel rolling pin or a pasta maker to get the dough rolled out thin enough. However, I found out that in the Balkans the dough is stretched by hand instead of rolling it out. In order to accomplish this feat, it needs to be soaked in oil and a large enough surface is required for its expansion, not to mention the necessity of well clipped fingernails.

Spinach burek and hot, sweet mint tea

My focusing on sowing indoors and getting the early potatoes and peas into the ground--though the weather has different ideas like turning our potager into a mud flat--is balanced with my identifying what remains in our freezer from last season's harvest. A solitary bag of spinach skulking way in the back behind homemade soups and pizzas said hello, use me please! So I did as it became the filling for my first burek.

Thrilled as I was with not having to roll out super-thin pastry sheets, I was not at all excited about using oceans of oil. Instead, I subbed clarified butter which worked out very well. Cut two-hundred-fifty grams/nine dry ounces of unsalted butter into small cubes and melt over a low flame. After about five minutes, the butter will splutter and white foam will form. After another five minutes, it will go quiet and the foam will stop rising to the surface.

Remove pot from heat and skim off as much of the foam as you can.

Pour the clear, buttery-yellow liquid into a jar, being careful to let any sediment remain on the bottom of the pot.

Makes a 12 inch/30 cm diameter burek, that is, 4 large or 6 smaller servings

Flour, white, plain, 250 grams/16 fluid ounces
Salt, 1/2 tsp
Water, 150 ml/5 fluid ounces
Clarified butter (see above for recipe)
Spinach, sauteed in olive oil with a bit of garlic, well drained, 200 grams/10 fluid ounces
Egg, 1 (I used medium, but large would be OK also)
Cream cheese, 4 T
Parmesan, freshly grated, 2 T
Nutmeg, freshly grated, 1/8 rounded tsp
Paprika for dusting

Mix salt and flour together in a large bowl. Add the water, while stirring.

Tip contents of the mixing bowl onto a floured work surface. Knead for about ten minutes or until very smooth and elastic. Test by pulling on one end--it should stretch out easily for several inches.

Weigh out two equal balls of dough. Flatten them out to about an inch/two and a half centimeters thick. Spoon a little of the clarified butter into the bottom of a bowl. It will now look cloudy and thicker than when first made. Put one ball in the bowl, spoon some more clarified butter on it, top with the second ball, and pour enough liquid butter until the balls are nearly covered. Cover the bowl with another bowl and set aside while the filling is made.

To drain the spinach, I grabbed a bunch that fit in my hand and squeezed the liquid into a small bow. I repeated with the rest and then did yet another round of squeezing.

Excess liquid from the spinach is in smaller bowl.

Stir together the spinach, cream cheese, Parmesan, beaten egg, and nutmeg. Salt to taste. Set the mixture aside while stretching out the dough.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C/390 degrees F. Remove any rings and make sure your nails are clipped. Place one of the balls on a marbled or laminated surface. Most likely there will be enough lubrication coming from the soaked-in-clarified-butter dough that no additional greasing will be needed. Press from the center towards the edge with your finger tips--the dough circle will easily and quickly spread out as on ball bearings. Be careful not to thin out the center too much. The circle will be about thirty centimeters/twelve inches in diameter.

Working with the dough is like gently flapping out billowing silk sheets. A few punctures here and there won't matter, but you don't want it to be a tattered mess either.

When the dough is about two feet/sixty centimeters in diameter, bring the edges towards the center in about five separate folds. 

It will resemble roughly a pentagon.

Gently shift it away from the main work surface.  Put the second ball on the work surface and stretch/flap it out to about two feet/sixty centimeters in diameter. Place the folded dough onto the pastry sheet.

Spread the filling onto the folded dough. The thicker, outer edges of the second dough sheet could be trimmed. I didn't trim, and the result was fine.

Wrap the spinach-laden pentagon with the underlying sheet of dough via five separate folds. Lifting the dough packet with your fingers (ease/slide them underneath it), transfer it onto a baking sheet. I used a round pizza pan.

Bake around a half hour, until it is a medium golden brown. Dust with paprika.

Burek which is served traditionally with cold buttermilk is an amazing melange of flaky, delicate filo, wafer-thin crackers, spring-roll wrapper, and strudel all wrapped in one! It tasted good hot, tepid, or cold. It also froze well.

À la prochaine!


Basic ingredients in pastry depending on technique gives different results