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Gyro going to love it

T-R PHOTO BY SHANNON RABOTSKI Yanni Coutsougeras, cook at the OPA! Grill in Marshalltown makes a meal for a hungry customer. Many of his customers’ favorites are pasta dishes such as pastitsio — a Greek lasagna.

When Yanni Coutsougeras was only 8 years old, he had already developed a love and passion for cooking that would eventually become a career for him.

In his childhood, Coutsougeras was constantly surrounded by the restaurant life, as his parents owned restaurants for much of his life.

Today, Coutsougeras and his parents co-own OPA! Grill, a Mediterranean-American restaurant in Marshalltown.

Having grown up between Greece and the United States, Coutsougeras developed a unique taste that is exhibited in his cooking. The OPA! menu features many traditional Greek dishes, such as the gyro (pronounced yee-roh) and pastitsio, a Greek lasagna, but it also includes more classic American dishes, like hamburgers and chicken wings.

Some of the favorites at OPA! are the pasta dishes, and not without reason. Coutsougeras’ favorite food to make is pasta, as it can be adapted into so many unique plates. All of the pasta at OPA is made fresh every morning and cooked to order, a source of pride for Coutsougeras.

Baklava

“When you can do something fresh for the customer, I think it’s better than buying that pre-frozen substance, so to speak,” he said.

Using his fresh homemade pasta, Coutsougeras enjoys creating new and unexpected dishes for his customers to enjoy.

“Cooking to me is like an art form,” he said. “You know how painters paint and they create something from just, you know, a blank canvas. That’s kind of what cooking is for me.”

One of Coutsougeras’ unique dishes offered at OPA! is the chorizo and shrimp pasta special, an idea suggested by his wife, Jessica Coutsougeras.

The life of a restaurant owner includes many long days and late nights prepping for opening and cleaning after closing, but Coutsougeras wouldn’t trade his life regardless.

A greek gyro with fries.

“It doesn’t bother me working long hours. Being able to create something for people to eat is what I like to do, it’s satisfying to me.”

One look into the kitchen of OPA!, and you can see Coutsougeras’ love for cooking as well as his family. Hanging in the kitchen are two clips, reminding him why he loves what he does: one a collection of photos of his daughters to bring him comfort during long, busy nights, and the other a portion of a receipt left by a customer saying “Best gyro I’ve ever had by far.”

Shrimp Scampi

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

Spaghetti with Greek meatballs

2 tablespoons garlic

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Splash of wine

Pinch of salt & pepper

1 cup chicken broth

Start off by adding butter and oil to pan, and let it heat up. Add mushrooms and peppers. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add shrimp sauté and for 1 minute. Add garlic, salt and pepper and toss well. Add lemon juice, wine and chicken broth. Let simmer until broth is about half gone. Add a splash or two of thickener. Let thicken and toss with fettuccini. Serve in bowl. Top with parmesan cheese and garlic bread. OPA!

Spanakopita (Spinach pies)

16 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained

2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, stems trimmed, finely chopped

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 eggs

10.5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

2 teaspoons dried dill weed

Freshly-ground black pepper

Crust

1 16-ounce packaged phyllo dough

1 cup extra virgin olive oil, more if needed

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Before mixing the filling, be sure the spinach is very well drained, and squeeze out any excess liquid by hand. To make the filling: In a mixing bowl, add the spinach and the remaining filling ingredients. Stir until all is well-combined. Unroll the phyllo sheets and place them between two slightly damp kitchen cloths. Prepare a 9.5×13-inch baking dish. Brush the bottom and sides of the dish with olive oil. To assemble the spanakopita: Line the baking dish with two sheets of phyllo letting them cover the sides of the dish. Brush with olive oil. Add two more sheets in the same manner and brush them with olive oil. Repeat until two-thirds of the phyllo is used. Now, evenly spread the spinach and feta filling over the phyllo crust. Top with two more sheets, and brush with olive oil. Continue to layer the phyllo sheets, two-at-a-time, brushing with olive oil, until you have used up all the sheets. Brush the very top layer with olive oil, and sprinkle with just a few drops of water. Fold the flaps or excess from the sides. You can crumble them a little. Brush the folded sides well with olive oil. Cut Spanakopita ONLY PART-WAY through into squares. Bake in the 325 degrees heated oven for 1 hour, or until the phyllo crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven. Finish cutting into squares and serve. OPA!

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Contact Shannon Rabotski at srabotski@timesrepublican.com or 641-753-6611