As kids, my sister and I used to love this sweet, creamy tyropita. I hadn’t found my mother’s recipe since I never made this particular pie until Costas and I happened upon the mention of Tyrini, the traditional cheese-eating day. It is the last non-vegan Sunday before Kathari Deftera, the colorful beginning of Lent that precedes Greek Easter (May 2).
As far as cheese pies are concerned, we often make the crunchy Lazy Woman’s Pie. This galette-like cheese treat is the epitome of the day we devote to phyllo making during our Kea Artisanal Cooking vacation; all participants learn how to roll phyllo and the crunchy pie we whip up is such a delight!
Since we roll our own phyllo and hardly ever make pies with commercial phyllo I had not kept up with the latest technique of spraying the sheets with seltzer or water, a very interesting suggestion that somehow prevents them from drying out completely and becoming like paper, as they usually do.
I make the creamy base using my basic olive-oil-yogurt béchamel. The olive-oil-egg wash that is brushed on the top layer is the same one we use for the delicious Chicken Pie and it makes a very big difference to the commercial phyllo.
Serves 6-8 as main course, and 10-13 as meze (11 X 15 inch –30 Χ 40 cm– pie)
Yogurt and olive oil béchamel:
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cups full- fat plain yogurt (not Greek, strained)
About 1 cup grated Pecorino or aged cheddar, or Gruyere cheese
Freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cups coarsely crumbled feta cheese
1 cup coarsely grated smoked cheddar, or smoked mozzarella
4 large eggs
1 packet frozen phyllo dough, preferably thick –take out of the freezer at least 2 hours to soften
About ½ cup olive oil
½ cup seltzer, club soda or water –better use a water spray bottle
1 small egg mixed with 3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons Nigella seeds, sesame or poppy seeds
Preheat the oven to 375 F (about 200C)
Make the béchamel, whisk together the olive oil and flour, over moderate heat until frothy, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, whisk a bit longer and add the cold milk and yogurt. Cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, and don’t worry if the mixture looks lumpy. It will become smooth as it cooks and thickens. When it starts to boil, remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and pepper. Taste, and add more cheese if you like.
Make the cheese filling: In a large bowl mix the feta and smoked cheese, add the eggs and toss to mix, then add the bechamel.
Assemble the pie: Look at the video that you can follow even if you don’t speak Greek.
Line a 11 X 15 inch (30 Χ 40 cm) pan with parchment paper and lightly brush with olive oil. Lay the first 2 phyllo sheets (or 4 if you use think sheets) leaving them to overhang all around the pan; brush with olive oil and spray with club soda or water, trhen lay another 4 sheets brushing with olive oil and spraying with water.
Lay half of the filling on the phyllo, spreading evenly, then add one or two phyllo sheets (if you are using the thin ones) and add the rest of the filling, spreading it evenly. Keep 2 sheets of phyllo, and cover the filling with the remaining sheets, brushing with olive oil and spraying with water.
With the 2 remaining sheets make pleats at the top of the pie (see the video), and turn the overhanging phyllo to enclose the pie. Spray with some water and brush liberally with the egg-olive-oil mixture. Sprinkle with nigella, sesame or poppy seeds and bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes or 1 hour, until golden brown. Lift carefully the parchment paper to check if the bottom is baked; if not, place the pie low in the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes.
Carefully lift the parchment paper and slide the pie on a rack to cool for 15-20 minuses, before transferring to a serving board to cut.