Time and effort are needed for this dish, but it's well worth it. If you want to save yourself about an hour, buy a rotisserie chicken and make both the chicken and spinach fillings in advance. Refrigerate them overnight and bring to room temperature before continuing the next day.
Phyllo is finicky: To prevent it from drying out and becoming difficult to work with, cover the sheets with damp paper towels until the second you begin using them. And if you don't have melted ghee to brush onto the phyllo, simply use melted butter. Ghee is preferred for its slightly fermented flavor and the pure golden crust it helps to produce (butter tends to brown and burn quickly).
To learn more, read "Phyllo Your Dreams."
Recipe adapted from 'Nopi,' by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (Ten Speed Press)
Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours
For the Chicken Filling:
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 bone-in chicken breasts
2 bone-in chicken legs
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
12 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 plum tomatoes, cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
2 dried chipotle chiles, seeds removed
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
½ cup brandy
2 cups white wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1½ ounces (about ½ cup) chopped dark chocolate
For the Catalan Spinach Filling:
7 tablespoons sherry vinegar
7 tablespoons brandy
¾ cup currants
1¼ cups toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 small shallots, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¾ cup heavy cream
10 ounces baby spinach
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Pastilla:
½ cup melted ghee, divided
8 ounces large (14-by-18-inch) phyllo pastry sheets
2½ tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1. Make the chicken filling: In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts and legs with 1½ teaspoons of salt and the pepper, and add to the hot oil, searing until deep golden brown on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, then transfer to a large plate and set aside.
2. Return the sauté pan to medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are dark brown and jammy, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir constantly toward the end of the cooking, adding a couple tablespoons of water to prevent burning. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, dried chiles, peppercorns and remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Increase the heat to medium high and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 4 to 5 minutes. Add the brandy and cook another 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan, add the wine and stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. When the chicken is done, remove it from the pan and set aside to cool. Return the pan to medium-high heat and continue to cook the liquid at a boil, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to a loose sauce, 35 to 40 minutes. Shred the chicken and set aside.
3. While the chicken is cooking, make the Catalan spinach filling: In a small saucepan, combine the sherry vinegar and brandy, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat, then stir in the currants and set aside to cool.
4. In a small bowl, combine the pine nuts with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and the paprika, and set aside. Pour the remaining olive oil into a separate large sauté pan and place over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, currant mixture and pine nuts, and cook for 2 to 4 minutes. Pour in the cream, increase the heat to medium high, and cook until reduced to a sauce, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, and set aside. Makes about 3 cups of spinach filling.
5. Return to the chicken filling. When the stock-wine liquid has reduced to a sauce, reduce the heat to low and discard the cinnamon stick and chiles. Stir in the chocolate and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the shredded chicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Makes about 4 cups of chicken filling.
6. Preheat the oven to 375°. Brush the bottom and sides of a deep, 10-inch ovenproof skillet with 1 tablespoon of melted ghee. Lay the phyllo dough in a stack on a rimless baking sheet and cut the stack in half, yielding 18 to 20 sheets, each about 7 by 9 inches. Working quickly, brush one phyllo sheet with melted ghee and line the bottom of the skillet. Brush a second sheet and lay it halfway inside the pan, with the other half hanging over the edge. Repeat this process, moving in a clockwise direction with the phyllo sheets fanning out and slightly overlapping each other, until 5 to 6 of the phyllo sheets remain.
7. Spoon the pine nut mixture into the pan and spread the chicken mixture over the top. Add the remaining phyllo sheets to cover the filling, brushing each with melted ghee. Fold the overhang of the bottom phyllo sheets over the top and brush with a final coating of melted ghee to seal. Transfer the pastilla to the preheated oven and bake until deep golden brown, rotating the pan halfway through, about 1 hour. Cover with foil for the final 10 to 15 minutes if the phyllo is dark brown to prevent it from burning.
8. Let the pastilla cool to room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before inverting onto a platter. Sift the confectioners' sugar over the top and serve.