Tempting Greek Cheese Pie!
It’s often said here in Greece that during some of the country’s historically tough times, pies have helped sustain its population through the harshest of conditions. They are normally made in large baking pans with simple ingredients found in most households such as flour, olive oil, milk, cheese and herbs . . . and very importantly, they can feed scores of people.
When you are on your own however, many would think twice of making a whole pie with at least 12- 16 good sized individual portions. I, on the other hand, think it’s a lovely and practical solution as nothing makes food prep easier than whipping up a meal that is totally freezer friendly; like most of the Greek pies.
Moreover, during the present winter Covid-19 lockdown, nothing sounds better to me than cozying up inside with a warm meal . . . like a delish piece of Tiropita (cheese pie) with a bowl of warm pumpkin-carrot soup; both out of my freezer that only need some quick defrosting and re-heating.
Having said this, I have to admit I make pies all year round and every time I’m in Iceland I treat my family and friends to some traditional Greek pie. This year I made a large Tiropita and three smaller individual ones for a family gathering and lots of Tiropitakia (individual sized Feta cheese triangles) that went directly into the freezer for later use (see photo below recipe).
In the past, when in Iceland, I would have to make the phyllo from scratch as none was available in local stores. Nowadays, especially if time is of essence, creating delicious tasting pies is easy as good quality store bought phyllo pastry and Feta cheese are readily obtainable.
Below is my basic cheese pie recipe that I’ve been making for years with béchamel sauce that makes the filling a lot creamier and combines beautifully with the flaky pastry crust. The recipe is easily adaptable. Just increase or decrease the filling and adapt it to the size of pan using, the occasion and the number of mouths to feed . . . and perhaps a few extra pieces for the freezer!
Last but not least, my thanks go to my close friend and sister-in-law, Anna Juliana, for taking all the photos while I was cooking!
Tiropita (Traditional Greek Cheese Pie) for 12
1 packet Phyllo Pastry dough (450g) for pies and sweets
Extra virgin olive oil (or melted butter)
For Béchamel sauce:
40 g butter
4 tblsp all-purpose flour
4 dl (2 cups) milk
400 g Feta cheese, crumbled
4 large eggs
¼ - ½ cup fresh Parsley, finely chopped
Ground pepper, to taste
Start of by making the Béchamel* sauce and set aside to cool a bit. Then add the crumbled Feta and freshly chopped parsley.
Beat whole eggs in mixer until light and fluffy and add to béchamel/cheese mixture. Mix well and set aside while preparing pan with first layers of the phyllo pastry sheets.
Take out a large rectangular or round tin (Pyrex or other ovenproof dish) and brush it liberally with olive oil. Then proceed to line the pan with 6 phyllo pastry sheets, making sure the pastry sheets come up or flip over the sides of the pan as well as brushing each pastry sheet individually with olive oil.
Now, pour the béchamel/cheese/egg mixture into the pan. Even it out with a spatula, fold over the sides with phyllo pastry sheets and then top with another 5 – 6 pastry sheets, always brushing each one with some olive oil.
With a sharp knife, score the top 2 sheets into squares. At this point, make sure you have made up your mind about the portion sizes you desire as it’s always harder to cut the phyllo after baking if not scored correctly.
Place in the lower part of a pre-heated oven (175 ̊ C/350 ̊ F) for about one hour or until the top is golden brown and the sides have shrunk a bit from tin. Once baked, take out of oven and cool slightly and then proceed to cut the pie, following the pattern of scoring.
Phyllo pastry dries quickly and ones it does it crack and can't be used. Thus to keep it moist, always keep it covered with aluminum foil, even between preparation steps!
If you like, you can easily add ½ kg of steamed spinach (drained of all excess water) with herbs of choice to the béchamel/cheese/egg mixture. This will give you a Greek Spanakotiropita (Spinach cheese pie) that is another favorite of mine. It can be served warm or at room temperature, on its own or accompanied by thick and luscious Greek yoghurt.
The list of Greek pie variations is literally endless but often include, apart from spinach, leeks, tomatoes, leafy greens, pumpkin, peppers, mushrooms, pulses, chicken, lamb, pork and pasta.
*To make the Make the béchamel sauce: In pot, over medium heat, melt the butter and add flour to make a roux. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent it from forming any lumps. Cook until it thickens.
The Tiropitakia recipe is on the blog and you can either tap on photo (on photo left of this text) or on the link in text above.
You can also always check out the COOK heading on home page and go to recipes via links.
By the way, the tiropitakia filling is even easier to make as it doesn't have the béchamel sauce.
Hope you attempt to make either a big pie or the small tiropitakia triangles!
Take care and until soon again!