Sunday, 1 February 2009

Mizithropites - Sfakianes pites (Μυζηθρόπιτες - Σφακιανές Πίτες)

Making filo (phyllo) pastry has never been my forte. I don't really need to make it that often because I have my precious filo pastry maker working miracles for all my spanakopita, hortopita and kalitsounia needs:

But filo pastry doesn't work for marathopites, those sensually aromatic seamless fennel pies traditionally made in Hania with wild greens and a lot of fennel, my all-time favorite Greek pita. When I made some marathopites recently, I needed to make the pastry for them myself:

making cretan pastry making cretan pastry
Put some olive oil (no more than 1/3 of a cup) in a bowl, sprinkle a little salt, pour in a shot of tsikoudia, add a cup of water, and slowly mix in a kilo of all-purpose (or strong) flour to get a smooth ball of dough. This pastry can be used for all kinds of pies and pasties: spanakopita, hortopita, kalitsounia, marathopita, mizithropita, among others.
making cretan pastry
Let your pastry ball rest for about half an hour (at room temperature) before using it.

Meanwhile, I prepared the wild greens mixture. I love this sight:
wild greens for marathopites kalitsounia and cheese pasties.

I made a few marathopites, which I piled one by one on top of each other, each layer separated by a cloth. I even managed to roll them out without their popping open and spilling out the filling:
seamless marathopita
I used white flour to make the dough and wholegrain to spread it for the marathopites. Wholegrain flour suits this kind of pie, which contains wild greens and pungent fennel. This savoury pita is made and cooked in exactly the same way as the mizithropita below.

The wild greens mixture ran out before the pastry. Not wanting to waste it, I decided to make some sweet cheese and honey pies, mizithropites as we call them here, otherwise known as Sfakianes pites (meaning "pies from Sfakia") because they have their origins in this part of Hania. These pites are famous all over the island. They are the best pies in the world. I know I also said that about marathopites; maybe I shoud clarify things a little: the best SAVOURY pies in the world are marathopites, while the best SWEET pies in the world are mizithropites.

sfakianes pites sfakianes pites

The pastry method for making marathopites and mizithropites is exactly the same. Shape small balls of dough the size of a lemon. If you're making marathopites, you'll be using a ladle full of greens mixture; if you're making mizithropites, shape the mizithra (similar to ricotta cheese) into balls the same size as the pastry. The cheese must not be too damp or runny. Mix in some semolina or flour to make it firmer. Don't add any more salt than what it originally contains.
sfakianes pites sfakianes pites

Roll out the dough into a small round. Place the filling (mizithra for sfakianes pites, greens for marathopites) into the centre of the pastry round, wrap it up pouch-like and punch the top of the 'pouch' down. You will end up with fat little rounds of dough that will now be spread out and turned into flat pies, filled with cheese or greens, with a seamless look to them. Everyone will be intrigued as to how the mixtures ended up in the pie, a bit like the ship in the bottle...
sfakianes pites

Start spreading out the filled pastry. Use flour to keep the pastry from sticking to your work surface and roll them out VERY LIGHTLY (I can't stress this) with a rolling pin or spread them with your hands. I prefer the rolling pin - can you see where my pastry burst open at the rim?
sfakianes pites after pastry making

Now you know why I don't like making my own pastry - my whole kitchen ends up resembling Alaska. Try clearing up the flour with a cloth; whatever you touch with it will also get coated in flour if it wasn't in the first place. Maybe a damp cloth is better; that will end up looking like sludge. The vacuum cleaner is the most efficient tool here...
sfakianes pites sfakianes pites

Marathopites and mizithropites can be frozen, one on top of each other, with plastic wrap (I use clean supermarket bags) between each layer. My marathopites went into the deep freeze, but we couldn't resist the mizithropites. They last up to a week in the fridge; you can have them for supper any night of the week. I made a batch of eight (before I ran out of mizithra). Heat up your largest frying pan or a skillet (they were originally cooked on something called a 'satsi' in Greece). Cook them on a hot LIGHTLY OILED pan (too much oil will fry rather than cook them) on both sides till done. When they're ready, pour a HUGE spoonful of honey over them, cut them into quarters and serve.
sfakianes pites

These pites are also made and cooked using the same technique in other parts of the southeast Mediterranean: have a look at Nihal's spinach borek and potato borek. Borek is a kind of Turkish pie. The word 'borek' is also used in Greece, but as Nihal notes for Turkish cuisine, Greek cuisine is not homogeneous: 'boureki' in Crete is quite different to 'boureki' in Northern Greece, although they both refer to some kind of 'pie'.

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I STILL have some dough left (and no mizithra or greens to fill them with). I must find a way to use it up; I'll just have to make some xerotigana...

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