One of many dishes made in the village using touloumotiri, the cheese I described in my past two blog posts, is tiropita, or cheese pie. Since touloumotiri is difficult to find outside of Greece (and, indeed, authentic touloumotiri is difficult to find within Greece), feta makes for a good substitute. There are many varieties of pites (pies) in Greece, both savory and sweet, and many recipes for tiropites made with many different types of cheese. This recipe calls for several cheeses: feta as its base, ricotta or, preferably, the Greek cheese, anthotiro, and parmesan or kefalograviera to add sharpness and depth.
To make this pita, you may use store-bought phyllo dough. For a more rustic pie, try making your own phyllo. (This recipe, from an article I wrote for the magazine, AFAR, is delicious.)
The use of the other fat in this recipe—butter—may come as a surprise for anyone familiar with Greek cookery, for isn’t olive oil the predominant fat used in healthy Mediterranean cooking? Yes and no. Most of my neighbors in coastal Poulithra, where olive trees grow prolifically, use olive oil in their pies. But the shepherd families in the mountain villages above us use quite a lot of butter in their cooking because, for them, butter is more common than olive oil. Olive trees don’t generally grow well at high altitude and, of course, shepherds have access to quite a lot of milk, so butter tends to be one of their fats of choice. The cheesemaker I wrote about last week, Thomae, makes butter nearly every day using milk from her flocks of goats and sheep.
And so, a recipe for Tiropita:
- 1 (1 lb) package frozen phyllo dough or your own, handmade dough
- 6 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup flour
- 1⁄3 cup milk
- 6 eggs
- ¾ lb feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 cup grated parmesan or kefalograviera cheese
- 2 cups ricotta (or anthotiro)
- 8 ounces butter, melted
- Thaw phyllo dough completely. Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Melt the 6 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan.
- Whisk in the flour and cook slightly (1-2 minutes).
- Slowly whisk in the milk. Over medium heat, whisk constantly, until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
- Whisk the eggs into the sauce one at a time and stir in the cheeses.
- Grease a 13 by 9 inch baking dish.
- One sheet at a time, layer 6 sheets of phyllo dough in the baking dish and brush the top layer generously with butter.
- Add 1/2 of cheese filling.
- Layer 3 more sheets of phyllo (brushing each one with butter) and then top with remaining cheese filling.
- Finally, layer 6 sheets of phyllo on top (brushing each one with butter) and fold the edges decoratively.
- Brush the top with remaining butter.
- Score the pie’s top carefully with the point of a sharp knife, just cutting through the pastry into the size of pieces you will want to serve. (Only cut through the top layers of pastry; do not cut all the way down to the bottom layer.)
- Bake for about 45 minutes to one hour, or until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.