Monday, 11 February 2008

Fried sweet and savoury pasties (Καλιτσούνια τηγανιτά)

After my last few posts on pies (tiropitakia, kalitsounia and hortopites), you might wonder if I have exhausted the topic, but that's impossible to do when talking about traditional peasant-style village pastries. As I've said before, you either run out of mixture, or out of filo (phyllo) pastry, and for me it was pastry. The local supermarket sells long-life pastry, a convenience for all pie-makers; however, we must not fail to admit that it isn't top quality pastry. It reminds me of mass-produced BLUE DRAGON spring rolls wrappers. But beggars can't be choosers and with sick children in the house, a grandmother in hospital and teaching English in the evenings, I can't always make a trip into town to my favorite pastry-maker. As for making some myself, just look at all the hassle Peter went through to revive filo-pastry making. I had to forfeit quality for convenience.

These pastries use exactly the same mixture as for tiropitakia or hortopita (the same one I use to make spanakopita and kalitsounia), and you can choose to bake them (as for kalitsounia and hortopita) or fry them (as for tiropitakia). The supermarket sells pastry in various shapes: round, like a saucer; small squares; and large sheets to be cut into the shape you want. Square pastry is usually used for baking pasties. The main reason you would use round pastry is to fry the finished product; it seals more securely than a square pasty. For this reason, the round pasties are easier to fry. I'm more of a practical person, so I don't make round pasties so often, but they do remind me of my mum's kalitsounia. She made a lenten half-moon fried kalitsouni (we never baked the lenten ones for some reason, which I will discover once I try making them myself) during fasting periods in the Greek Orthodox Church such as pre-Christmas, pre-Easter and pre-Dormition of the Virgin.

Both spinach-and-cheese and mizithra cheese pasties can be fried. I usually bake my pasties, simply because it's healthier. Today I'm going to be naughty and fry them. The difference in the taste between fried and baked kalitsounia is really obvious; the more oil a food contains, the more tasty it is, and if the oil is extra-virgin olive oil, then you won't feel too bad about frying these pasties. The olive oil we use is locally produced from the village of Fournes in Hania. It is the only oil known to need no heat treatment in the pressing process, thereby protecting its anti-oxidant properties.

Place the cheese mixture just below the middle of the pastry round. Turn over the empty half of the pastry to close the pasty. To seal a round piece of pastry, Cretan women have been using the tines of a fork for many centuries. Press the fork tines right along the edges of the pastry. The tines will now have left an attractive scalloped design on the pastry edge. They are now ready to be cooked or frozen.

Heat a light layer of olive oil in a frying pan. The oil should just cover the pan so that, when the pasty is placed in the oil, it should not be swimming in it. Only the bottom layer of the pasty will be touching the oil. Never place the pastry in the pan before the oil is hot; the pastry will simply soak up the oil and become soggy. Cook both sides of the pasty till golden brown, taking care when turning the pasty over to cook, and watching out for spitting oil. Depending on the size of the pan, you can fit 6-7 pasties without burning them as they cook, and they do cook quite quickly; it's not the mixture that needs cooking, it is the pastry.

Lift them out onto a plate. Savour the taste of oily kalitsounia. Naughty, but very very nice indeed.

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Kalitsounia in the oven
Easter kalitsounia
Leek spiral pie
Hortopita (spanakopita)
Filo-pastry making
Sfakianes pites
Summer kalitsounia