Kotopita from Epirus, as we call it, is my friend Stamatia Stylou’s delicious version. Stamatia comes from Livena, a Greek village in southern Albania, or ‘northern Epirus’ as the region was called in my father’s time.
Incidentally my paternal grandmother came from the broader area, but we have never seen her cooking or learned about any of the foods she used to prepare. She lived with my father’s sister and I don’t think I have ever seen her dressed with anything but her nightgown whenever we visited them.
On Kea we make this delicious chicken pie with local free-range rooster—about three times the price of the supermarket chicken!
For a 15-inch round pan (serving 8-10)
To cook the chicken
1 truly free range chicken or rooster (about 3 pounds) cut into 4 or 6 pieces
2 bay leaves
1 large onion, quartered
4-5 all spice berries, crushed with the back of a knife
For the pie filling
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound onions, finely chopped
3 cups medium grain rice (such as Arborio)
3 cups chicken broth
Boned and coarsely chopped cooked chicken (with or without skin, see NOTE)
1 pound feta cheese, diced
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Assembly and Topping
2-3 sheets homemade phyllo OR thick commercial phyllo at room temperature
1/4 cup olive oil, and more for brushing the phyllo and making the topping
The chicken: Place the chicken pieces, bay leaves, onion, salt and all spice in a pot, that holds them snuggly, and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, skim, lower the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes, until the meat falls from the bones. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and let cool a bit, then bone and cut the meat into bite-size pieces.
Pass the broth through a fine sieve and measure 6 cups. If you have less add a little water, if you have more, reserve it for other uses.
The filling: In a thick-bottomed sauté pan warm 1/4 cup olive oil and add the chopped onions. Sautee, stirring often with a spatula, until soft; don’t let them color. Add the rice and turn a few times to oil it, then pour in the chicken broth, lower the heat and cook the rice for about 12-15 minutes, until most liquid is evaporated. The rice won’t be fully cooked. Remove from the heat and set aside, uncovered.
Preheat the oven to 375 F (200 C).
As the rice cools line the pan with parchment paper and brush generously with olive oil. Lay 2 or 3 sheets ofphyllo –depending on their thickness–brushing each layer lightly with olive oil, and leaving plenty overhang, enough to make a generous border, half covering the filling.
Add the chopped chicken and feta to the rice, toss, sprinkle with plenty of black pepper and toss again. Pour the filling in the pan evening with a spatula and creating a 1/4 inch deep ‘pool’ in the center –the part that won’t be covered by phyllo— to hold the egg-olive oil topping.
Fold the phyllo to create the border, brushing the overhanging layers with olive oil, to half cover the filling.
Beat the eggs with 1/4 cup olive oil and brush the phyllo generously with some of the mixture, reserving the rest.
Place the pie in the lower part of the oven and bake for 6 minutes. Carefully open the oven door and pour the reserved egg mixture at the center of the pie.
Bake for about 40 minutes or more, until golden brown on top and bottom.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: The old recipes NEVER discarded the skin which adds flavor to the filling.