Variety is spice of savory Greek pies

March 26, 1997|By Diane Kochilas | Diane Kochilas,EATING WELL

For most of us, Greek pie equals spanakopita, the classic spinach pie that's on the menu of nearly every Greek diner and restaurant in America. But in Greece, there are countless incarnations of savory pies known as pita (not to be confused with the Middle Eastern pocket bread of the same name). Start with phyllo dough, factor in a variety of fresh fillings, multiply by different shapes and sizes, and the mathematical possibilities are, well, infinite.

In Greece, a pita can be any flat, stuffed pie or bread, and can take any shape from round to triangular or even coiled. These savory pies evolved as a means of making a substantial meal from a few ingredients layered between sheets of homemade phyllo. The only rule is that they be filling and hearty.

The one constant of savory Greek pies is phyllo, but you needn't master the arcane art of making phyllo at home to make your own stunning pita. Fresh phyllo dough can be found in Greek and Mediterranean markets, and frozen phyllo is available in most supermarkets.

Classic spinach pie

Makes 8 servings

2 pounds fresh spinach, trimmed, washed and chopped (32 ounces cooked, frozen leaf spinach may be substituted)

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups coarsely chopped onion

1 1/2 cups chopped fennel bulb

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

1 large egg

1 large egg white

14 sheets phyllo dough

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 12-inch tart pan or pizza pan.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add spinach with the water still clinging to its leaves and cook, stirring, just until wilted. Drain and cool in a colander.

Dry skillet. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat over medium-high heat; add onion and fennel and saute until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Squeeze out any excess water from cooled spinach. In a large bowl, stir together spinach, onion/fennel mixture, dill, feta, salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. Lightly beat egg and egg white together and stir into spinach mixture; set aside.

Lay a sheet of phyllo on a work surface; brush it lightly with some of the remaining oil. Lay a second sheet on top of the first at a 45 degree angle. Brush with oil. Repeat with 5 more sheets of phyllo to form a rough circle. Lift stack of phyllo and transfer it to the prepared pan, pressing it gently into the bottom and sides. Spread filling evenly over the top.

To make a top crust, lightly oil and stack the remaining 7 sheets of phyllo in the same manner as for the bottom crust, brushing the top sheet with oil. Set stack on top of the filling. With scissors, trim the edges, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Roll edges over to form a rim and brush lightly with oil. With a sharp knife, cut 4 short slits in the center of the pie as steam vents.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until crust is golden. (If pie is browning too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.) Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Per serving: 180 calories, 7 g protein, 9 g fat, 18 g carbohydrate; 530 mg sodium; 31 mg cholesterol; 4 g fiber.

Zucchini and cheese pie from Crete (boureki)

Makes 8 servings

4 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/4 -inch-thick slices

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon fresh black pepper

14 sheets phyllo dough

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 large egg whites

In a colander, toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon salt; let stand for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry; set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 12-inch tart pan or pizza pan. In a bowl, mix ricotta and feta thoroughly with a fork. Add yogurt, mint, pepper and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; mix well and set aside.

Lay a sheet of phyllo on a work surface; brush it lightly with some of the oil. Lay a second sheet on top of the first at a 45 degree angle. Brush with oil. Repeat with 5 more sheets of phyllo to form a rough circle. Lift stack of phyllo and transfer it to the prepared pan, pressing it gently into the bottom and sides.

Using a fine sieve, dust phyllo in pan with 1 tablespoon flour. Arrange one-third of the zucchini slices on top. Dust with another tablespoon of flour. Make 2 more layers with remaining zucchini, dusting each with flour.

In a clean bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form; immediately fold into reserved cheese mixture. Spread evenly over zucchini.

To make a top crust, lightly oil and stack the remaining 7 sheets of phyllo in the same manner as for the bottom crust, brushing the top sheet with oil. Set stack on top of the filling. With scissors, trim the edges, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Roll edges over to form a rim and brush lightly with oil. With a sharp knife, cut 4 short slits in the center of the pie as steam vents.

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