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October 20, 2023

It's spinach puff season

In the Laurentians where I’ve lived for over 30 years, a sudden cold has reddened the edges of the mountains. Right now we are living in an art gallery as grand as the Louvre in Paris. But I know that at the end of October, massacred pumpkins will agonize in silence in front of almost every house, giant spiders will weave silk ladders to slide down from the gutters and golden snakes will escape from our porches, teeth chattering.

The weather will grow even colder, winter will cover the ground with its white blanket and, very shortly, I’ll be thinking of preparing for holiday feasts. I can already picture it: a large white apron worn over my immaculate chef’s white jacket, sleeves rolled up; a net covering my hair; comfortable shoes; baroque music in the background; and a thermos of coffee. I set up at the large kitchen table.

The time to bake my spinach puffs is finally here! I place an enormous bowl for mixing the phyllo dough ingredients on the table. I’ve been making this recipe for 50 years and, without measuring a single ingredient, I already know that the kneaded dough will give me 5 large round sheets 15 inches in diameter and 1½ inches high. This is enough for around 20 spinach puffs from each round baking sheet.

In the large bowl, I put white flour, Crisco all-vegetable shortening, beaten eggs, a small sprinkle of salt and Seven Up to bind the mixture as I knead the dough by hand. The more my expert hands get busy in the bowl, the more the dough becomes soft and yielding. I divide it in 25 small balls the size of an orange and, with the rolling pin, flatten them out to the size of a 9-inch plate. With a brush, I coat each small sheet of dough with a thick layer of melted butter and roll it back into a ball. I let them rest for a moment while I take out a pot and quickly blanch 25 bags of store-bought spinach. I then drain the water and carefully wring out the moisture from the greens. In a large saucepan, I brown the spinach with a little butter, green onions and a generous amount of dill. When the mixture has cooled, I add in lots of coarsely grated feta.

I’m already on my third coffee when it’s time for the most laborious part of the recipe. I have to take the 25 small buttered dough balls and roll each one out again to the size of the large baking sheets.

I place a thin round sheet of dough on a greased baking sheet and baste it with butter. Then I layer a second and third buttery sheet of dough. Next, I spread evenly one-fifth of the spinach-feta mixture over top. I then layer two more sheets, buttering in between. The last sheet, however, has to be drenched in butter. Since this is homemade phyllo dough, using lots of real butter is essential.

Before I place the baking sheets in the oven, I cut the dough into 2-inch squares. As soon as they come out of the oven, I cut them again to ensure they maintain their shape. I have always used round baking sheets, so some of the pieces end up uneven.

I still remember the days when my teenage kids would hang around in the kitchen, enticed by the intoxicating smell of the freshly baked puff pastries. Under the pretext of taking the uneven pieces, they would clear a third of the baking sheet before the puffs even had time to cool down.

The spinach pastry puffs can easily be frozen before or after baking once they cool. I have to quickly place them in the freezer if I want to have any left for the holidays! Bless my hard-working hands and spinach puffs because almost everyone loves them!