Pies (pites) are among the most characteristic and emblematic dishes in Greek traditional cuisine, because of the way they transform the simplest ingredients – flour, water, olive oil and salt – into the most delicious ‘packets’ that can feed many mouths.
In Greece the pie takes countless forms, whether their fillings are sweet or savoury, for feasting or fasting periods. They vary depending on the type of pastry used (from paper-thin to thicker phyllo to short-crust dough); shape (round, square, triangular, spirals, etc); size (large, family-size in Epirus, Thessaly, Macedonia, palm-sized almost everywhere, and even some bite-sized in Crete and the Aegean); filling (everything from cheese to meat to greens to vegetables); and method of preparation (oven-baked or fried in olive oil).
The little Amorgos cheese pies (tyropitakia in Greek) were demonstrated to us by Moscha Mendrinou-Despotidou, a veteran cook. All the interest lies in the small details that make the island’s pies particularly delicious and irresistible.
Recipe for cheese pies of Amorgos
For the pastry
Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the flour, pour in oil, rakomelo (honeyed raki), salt and tepid water. Knead the flour until it is smooth and pliable and set aside to ‘rest’ for an hour or so. Pinch off pieces of dough and with a pasta-making machine or wooden rolling pin, roll out until it is thin and with a pastry cutter, cut out round or squares.
For the filling
For cheese pies, we use feta and kefalotyri and for myzithropitakia (little pies with fresh cheese), we use myzithra (like ricotta), crumbled feta and grated kefalotyri (a hard, piquant cheese). To this mixture, we add eggs, pepper, grated nutmeg, cinnamon and of course mint – “you can’t do anything without mint”, says Kyria Moska.
Take a spoonful of filling and place it in the centre of the phyllo. Fold one edge of the pastry to cover the filling. With a fork, press down on the edges to close them firmly and make a pretty pattern.
Fry the cheese pies in hot oil until lightly browned on both sides.
For greens pies, you boil the greens – spinach, vlita (amaranth), chard, poppy leaves, and other wild greens depending on the season – drain and chop finely and then saute in oil with some finely chopped spring onions.
Thrown in chopped mint and fennel tips, and when cool form little balls of filling and place them in the centre of your phyllo sheets and proceed as for the cheese pies.