I cook and bake. I live in Greece. Therefore, I owe you a phyllo post. There is a certain degree of difficulty to this, but to reassure you: the first time I made this, it worked great and S, an actual Greek person, raved. So, don’t be scared.
Phyllo pies are among the favorite of all Greek foods. The most well-known outside Greece are tyropita (cheese pie), spanakopita (spinach pie), and their combination, spanakotyropita (spinach and cheese pie). But there are dozens of these phyllo-dough based pies in Greece. They vary a bit by geography but their basic concept is the same: a few sheets of phyllo dough on the bottom, some sort of filling, and a few more sheets of phyllo on top. Then there are the portion-sized versions, where the filling is wrapped up in phyllo dough.
Some other popular pies that are not as well-known outside Greece are kreatopita (meat pie), kremmydopita (onion pie), manitaropita (mushroom pie), melitzanopita (eggplant pie), patatopita (potato pie), prassopita (leek pie), and hortopita (wild greens pie). Greece also has her own milopita (apple pie) and kolokithopita (pumpkin pie), which are completely different from the American versions.
Most people, when they want to make one of these, go to the supermarket freezer and grab a box of phyllo dough. You can certainly do this too. The cheapest package of phyllo at my supermarket was €1.46, and you get quite a lot (I believe 450g). However, you don’t need a blog to tell you to buy a box of phyllo dough. Supermarket, shmoupermarket, I say!
We’ll make a standard homemade phyllo, thicker than the machine made kinds, but great for the more hearty pies. We’ll use it to make kremmydopita (onion pie), a frugal and delicious dish.
Making your own phyllo dough doesn’t take much in the way of equipment. You do need a rolling pin. If you want to make professional Greek Grandmother phyllo dough, you need a traditional Greek rolling pin, called a ‘verga’ (which means rod or switch), which is basically a very sturdy dowel about 1/2″ in diameter. I don’t have a verga; instead I use a long slender solid-state (i.e., doesn’t spin on itself) rolling pin made by my local knife maker here in town.
In the photo: I have the one on top. The one on the bottom is a proper verga. You can use either.
The best way to do this recipe is to start by making the dough; then, while it’s resting, make the filling; then roll out the dough; and finally bake the pie. The entire process, start to finish, takes about four hours.
If you’re not up for making the phyllo yourself, try this lesser-known pie with storebought phyllo!
Part 1: Make the Phyllo Dough
There are many recipes for phyllo out there. I chose the recipe and the technique from Tante Kiki’s blog.
There are no odd or exotic ingredients: all purpose flour, sugar, salt, white wine vinegar, olive oil, water, and cornstarch.
Sift the flour into a large bowl.
Make a well in the middle of the flour, the same as if you were making pasta. Put the sugar, salt, vinegar, oil, and half the water into the well, all together. (I know it’s tempting to reduce the olive oil, but don’t, at least the first time you try this. It makes it easier to roll out the dough so thinly. Once you divide the thing up into 8 pieces, you’re only getting about 1/2 tbsp per piece.)
Using your hand, incorporate the flour into the wet ingredients, until it’s all mixed together. It will stick to your hands; don’t worry, just keep working the dough with your hands, adding a few drops of water as needed to bring it all together. I used just a few drops less than the 2/3 cup in the recipe. I worked it directly in the mixing bowl.
The goal is a smooth but not sticky dough.
Flour the bowl, put the dough in it, and cover it with plastic wrap. Put it aside until the filling is ready (or half an hour, for general reference) to rest.
Part 2: Make the Kremmydopita Filling
You can use any kind of onion for this, except green onions (scallions). I used yellow onions. You could try a combination if you like. Cut them in half, and then slice them into half-moons.
Frugal tip: don’t throw away your onion skins. Collect them in a bag and sew them into a notebook! Haha just kidding. (You didn’t really think I was serious, did you?) Put your onion skins, along with garlic peels, ends of zucchini and eggplant, spinach ends, celery leaves, and all that kind of ‘trash’ in a big ziploc bag in your freezer. When it’s full, boil it all in water, strain through a fine strainer, and use as excellent sodium-free vegetable stock. It makes a fantastic soup base!
Heat up a pan over medium heat with olive oil and drop the onions into the oil. Gently stir the onions every thirty seconds for thirty minutes.
After about fifteen minutes, add the dark brown sugar to help caramelize the onions. (Authenticity note: traditional kremmydopita doesn’t use caramelized onions; it uses lightly boiled onions, which don’t taste anywhere near as good. Do as you will with that information.)
A few minutes before the onions are ready, add the rosemary. You can use dried. I have fresh so that’s what I used.
And then let them caramelize completely.
In order to reduce the cost sharply, I’m not using the traditional cheeses (feta and kefalotyri). You can certainly do that. If you do, use about 2/3 feta (or all feta if you don’t have kefalotyri) and 1/3 kefalotyri. I’m using a feta knock-off made with cow’s milk, anthotyro (the firm Greek ricotta), and shredded myzithra (which tastes like parmesan). These are pretty much the three cheapest cheeses in Greece. The strength of the myzithra partly makes up for what’s lacking in the fake feta and the anthotyro. I am admitting this because I don’t want anyone to think that this can’t be made frugally.
Break up the cheeses in a large bowl. Frugal note: most recipes call for six eggs. What the heck? I understand that most Greek grandmothers had hens in their yard once upon a time, but seriously, that is not acceptable in this economy. You do not need to use eggs at all!
Pour in the milk and mix it all up til it’s nice and incorporated. Stir in the caramelized onions with the rosemary. Set it aside.
Part 3: Roll out the Dough
The dough is now rested and ready to be made into phyllo. Cut your ball of dough in half. Put one half aside and cover again with the plastic.
Dust your surface with corn starch. Gently form the dough into a circle with your hands. Put it on the surface and, using the rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rough circle. You may, at some point, need more corn starch – I never do, but keep it handy.
Just go to town rolling the thing out, using a rocking forward and back motion with your palms. By rolling the dough onto the rolling pin and rocking back and forth, you should have an easier time of it.
Unroll the dough on your dusted surface. Hopefully you have a bigger surface than I do; I did the best I could with my tiny countertop!
We’re done with the rolling pin for the moment. Get a bowl about 6″ across and put it in the middle of the dough.
Using a butter knife (or whatever knife won’t mar the surface you’re using), cut ‘rays’ out from the bowl to the edges. Get rid of the bowl.
If you have an olive oil mister (like Misto), spray the whole thing with olive oil. If you don’t, using a pastry brush, paint the entire thing, especially the cut edges, with olive oil.
Take one of the cut sections and fold it up over the round bowl section in the middle.
Continue doing this going all the way around. You’ll end up with a thick multi-layered slab of dough.
Put it on a corn starch-dusted plate and cover with plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge while you do the same thing with the other half of the dough.
Put this second half in the fridge and get out the first one, which has now rested. Now get out your pan in which you want to make your pie. I used a round glass pie dish. Note how big it is, and, on a corn starch dusted surface, roll out your multi-layered dough slab into a (rough) circle the size of your pan plus its sides. I know, it sounds crazy, but this is how it’s done. Trust the process. It will turn into separate flaky layers in the end.
This time around, the dough is usually more difficult to roll out, and harder to control the shape. Don’t worry if it’s not a perfect circle. You just need it to cover the pan and its sides.
Roll the dough onto the rolling pin. Oil your pan (I just sprayed it really well with the mister). Place the dough in the pan by unrolling it over the top of the dish and pressing it in gently. If there are spots where the sides aren’t covered, cut from the ‘extra’ and press it where it’s needed.
Fill the pie with the onion filling. Fold the extra over the top, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside. Preheat your oven to 190 Celsius / 370 Fahrenheit.
Now roll out the other stack of dough. This top dough should be the same size as the bottom dough – yes, even though we have no sides to cover. I failed at circle time but that’s okay.
Get your pan. Put the dough on top, scrunching it up into ripples so that it all fits. You wanted tradition, right?
Part 4: Bake the Pie
This is the easy part. Put it in the oven on the center rack for fifty minutes, covered with aluminum foil with a few holes in it.
About half way through its cook-time, take it out and slice it into as many pieces as you want. I did four because, well, we were hungry. Something this size really ought to be eight pieces. Put it back in the oven uncovered for the rest of its baking time. (If you’re wondering why mine is brown before I cut it, it’s because I forgot the aluminum foil and put it on for the second half.)
And there you have it: the reason why Greece has so many bakeries! Ha ha, just kidding: it’s worth it, I promise.
And now, the recipes!
Handmade Horiatiko (Village Style) Phyllo
makes enough for one regular pie dish
2.5 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp white wine vinegar (or other vinegar)
4 tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup lukewarm water
cornstarch for dusting
1. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Form a well. Add the salt, sugar, vinegar, olive oil, and half the water into the well.
2. Incorporate the flour into the wet ingredients, using your hands. Add more of the water as needed, and always in very small amounts. Work the dough with your hands to incorporate all the flour and to form a ball.
3. Work the dough in the mixing bowl with your hands until it forms a smooth, not sticky dough. Flour the bowl, put the dough in, and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to rest for 30 minutes. Use this time to make the filling.
4. After 30 minutes, cut the dough in half. Dust a large surface with corn starch. Leave one half in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap. Form the dough into a circle with your hands. Place it on the surface and roll it into a large circle. Continue to enlarge the circle by rolling the dough onto the rolling pin and rocking back and forth.
5. Put a bowl approximately 6″ across face-down on the dough. Cut the dough outward from the bowl to the edges in quarters. Remove the bowl. Spray or brush the dough with olive oil. Fold each of the quarters over the circle in the center. Dust a plate with corn starch, put the dough stack on it, dust the top with corn starch, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the refrigerator.
6. Follow steps 4 and 5 for the second half of the dough. Put it in the refrigerator and remove the first plate.
7. Dust the surface with corn starch again. Roll out the dough stack into a large circle as you can. Spray or brush your pie dish with olive oil. Roll your dough onto your rolling pin and unroll it over the top of the pie dish. Press it gently into the dish.
8. Fill the phyllo with the filling. Fold the extra phyllo over the top of the pie. Cover with plastic wrap and preheat the oven to 190 Celsius or 370 Fahrenheit.
9. Take out the second dough stack, and roll it out on your dusted surface. Uncover the pie dish. Roll the dough onto your rolling pin, and unroll over the top of the pie. Press the edges around the pie, and form the interior into graceful folds. Spray or drizzle the top of the pie with olive oil.
10. Cover with aluminum foil, with a few holes. Place in the oven on the center rack and bake for 25 minutes. Take it out, cut into pieces with a sharp knife, and put back into the oven uncovered. Bake another 25 minutes.
11. Remove from oven. Allow to rest uncovered for 45 minutes. Recut and serve.
Kremmydopita (Greek Onion Pie)
makes one pie in a standard pie dish
1,000g onions (2.2 lbs)
1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp dark brown sugar, light brown sugar, or raw sugar
3 sprigs rosemary (or 1 tbsp dried)
100g feta cheese or acceptable equivalent
100g anthotyro cheese or ricotta
30g shredded myzithra or parmesan or equivalent
1/3 cup milk (lowfat or skim is fine)
1 recipe of Handmade Horiatiko Phyllo (above)
1. Clean and halve the onions; slice into half moons. Freeze the skins and ends in your stock bag.
2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick pan. Put in the onions and stir every thirty seconds for about 20 minutes. Add in sugar. Continue stirring the onions every thirty seconds. After a few more minutes, cut the rosemary into small pieces into the onions and stir. When the onions have caramelized (usually about 35-45 minutes cooktime), remove from heat.
3. Combine the three cheeses in a large bowl. Crumble the feta and anthotyro. Add the milk and the onions. Stir to combine.
4. Set aside until phyllo is ready. Use as filling for phyllo.
per serving, i.e., 1/8 of entire recipe of phyllo + filling
317 calories (204 from phyllo, 113 from filling)
12g fat (4g saturated, 8g unsaturated)
3g dietary fiber
17mg cholesterol (6% DV)
453mg sodium (19% DV)
281mg potassium (8% DV)
Contains significant amounts (+10% DV) of the following:
calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, folic acid, food folate, and manganese.