the pie trio, part 1: leek and cheese pie

Now that we know how to make our own phyllo dough, we can go back to buying it out of the supermarket freezer (come on, who really has four hours every time they want to make a recipe?).  A package of phyllo dough is 450g (1 lb), and that’s a lot of dough.  So what I often do is make several different dishes with it.  However, once you defrost it, you really need to use it up the same day.  So I usually make several fillings for the phyllo and do them all at once.  You can triple the recipe (using all the phyllo) or use the given recipe for each of these three pies.  If you make your own phyllo, go with the tripled recipe.

This time, with my package of phyllo dough I made:  leek and cheese pie (prassotyropita), spinach and cheese pie (spanakotyropita), and pumpkin pie (kolokythopita).  The first two are savory; the third is sweet and savory at the same time (and makes a great breakfast).

This post will deal with the leek and cheese pie; we’ll do the others in the next two recipe posts.

If you’re using storebought phyllo dough, move it from your freezer to your refrigerator 24 hours before you’ll be using it.  Make the filling before you take the phyllo out of the fridge.

Leeks are great because when they’re available, they’re cheap as can be.  They’re easy and go into lots of recipes.  They pair well with white cheeses and have a sweeter, brighter flavor than regular green onions.

Start buy cutting them into rounds.

Leeks are among the dirtiest of vegetables.  I try to wash them before cutting them, but always wash them once they’re cut as well, because there is always dried mud hidden inside the fronds.

I wash sliced leeks the same way I wash spinach:  fill a large pot with cold water and a few tablespoons of vinegar.  Add the leeks, agitate them with my hands for a few minutes, and then lift them out of the water into a colander to drain.

Because I was only making filling for a third of the phyllo, I didn’t need to use all these leeks.  I put half of them in the freezer to use in other dishes later (leeks freeze well).

If you are only making leek pie, use a very full colander; otherwise, about half of a colander.

Start to sweat the leeks in your pan.  We want them to release some of their moisture and to take on a bit of a brown color in places, but still retain that bright green.

While the leeks are doing their thing, assemble the cheeses.  If you’re making this in the US or UK, you should use real Greek feta cheese (it’s easy to get anymore at any supermarket) with ricotta and parmesan.  If you’re in Greece, you can (as I did) use lefko tyri (feta-style cheese made with cow’s milk), anthotyro, and shredded myzithra.  I make these suggestions for Greek readers because these cheeses are much cheaper than the traditional Greek choices (real feta is now too expensive for many Greeks, including us – although I did make an exception and bought a box of real feta from our town just to remind us what it tastes like… oh, it was so good!).  The lefko tyri at my supermarket is about €3.80/kg.  The cheapest feta cheese is around €9.00/kg.  You can also leave the cheese out entirely.  Note that the eggs, traditionally used in this recipe, are omitted here, in an effort to reduce costs further.

Mash together the cheeses and pour in the milk.

Stir it all together to form a thick sauce.

At this point, get a clean bowl.  Combine in the bowl the leeks from the stove with one third of the cheese.  (If you’re making only leek pie, use all the cheese.)  Add dill to the bowl.

Stir everything together and set it aside while we prepare the phyllo dough.

To use storebought phyllo dough, if you’re not familiar with it, is easy but it needs a little kitchen preparation first.

First, turn on your oven.  Line a large baking sheet in wax paper and spray it liberally with olive oil.  Set aside.

You’ll need a fair amount of counter space.   You need space to lay out the phyllo and space to form the pies.  I cleared off the top of my washing machine in order to have space to lay out the phyllo.

First, cover your pie-forming space with plastic wrap completely.  Then, prepare your phyllo as follows:

Clockwise from top left:

1. Cover the space completely with plastic wrap.  Lay out the phyllo on the plastic wrap.
2. Cut the phyllo dough into strips with kitchen shears.  For this recipe, simply cut it in half the long way.  (Cut through all the layers of dough at once.)
3.  Cover the cut dough with plastic wrap completely.
4.  Moisten a kitchen towel in cold water, ring it out, and drape it over the top plastic wrap.

The plastic keeps the dough from drying out, and the wet towel keeps it cool.

To form each pie, first lay out one single sheet of cut phyllo on the counter.  Put some of the filling in a line along the long edge as in the photo.

Roll the phyllo uniformly up towards the top of the sheet.

When it’s all rolled up, spray the top with olive oil.  Turn it over and spray the bottom with oil too.

Then curl it around itself to form a spiral.  Put it on the baking sheet.  Continue until you run out of filling.

In Greece, a package of standard phyllo kroustas (the most common type of phyllo dough) usually has 12 sheets; since we cut these in half, we should get 24 pies.  I actually only made 21 pies (7 of each kind) but if you spread the filling out a little more, you can get 8 of each. I am pretty bad at guessing how much filling to put in each one to make it come out exactly the right number of pies.

When you’ve filled your baking sheet, put them in the oven for about 20 minutes or until a light golden brown and crispy.

Prassotyropitakia Strifta | Spiral leek-and-cheese pies
makes 8 small pies

4 leeks, sliced into rounds, and washed
1 tbsp dried dill, or 1/4 cup fresh dill
1/3 package phyllo dough
1/3 cheese for pies (see below)
olive oil in a sprayer

1. Spray a non-stick pan with olive oil. Over medium heat, sweat leek rounds for about 10 minutes until soft and brown in spots.

2. In a clean bowl, combine leeks, cheese, and dill.  Note:  if making other types of pies at the same time, make all fillings before moving on to step 3.

3. Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F. Cover a baking sheet in wax paper and spray with olive oil. Prepare phyllo: cover a large surface in plastic wrap. Lay out phyllo dough. Cut in half lengthwise with kitchen shears. Cover cut phyllo with plastic wrap and top with wet, wrung-out kitchen towel.

4. Lay a strip of phyllo dough on plastic wrap covered surface. Top with 1/8 of the filling, in a line along the bottom. Roll the phyllo up toward the top. Spray the top and bottom of the phyllo coil with olive oil, and twist into a spiral. Place on baking sheet.

5. When all the spirals are on the baking sheet, spray again with olive oil and bake at 180 C / 350 F for 20 minutes or until a light golden brown color, and crispy. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

If you are not also going to make other kinds of pies at the same time, use the whole package of phyllo, all the cheese, and triple the leeks and dill.

Cheese for pies
makes enough for 24 small pies

140g feta cheese or lefko tyri
160g anthotyro or ricotta cheese
40g shredded parmesan or myzithra cheese
1/4 cup milk (lowfat or skim is fine)

To make cheese sauce, combine all ingredients and mash together.

Nutritional Information
per pie, i.e., 1/8 of the recipe including the cheese

121 calories
3g fat (2g saturated, 1g unsaturated)
7g carbohydrate
3g protein
1g dietary fiber
9mg cholesterol (3% DV)
111mg sodium (5% DV)
110mg potassium (3% DV)
Contains significant amount (+10 DV) of the following:
calcium and manganese

You might also like:
Handmade onion pie
Baked spanakoryzo
Fennel-seed kebabs with yogurt sauce on pita