Sunday, 24 January 2010

Cheese pie - Tiropita (Τυρόπιτα)

Dina hates cooking. She readily admits that she isn't a good cook, and even I can vouch for that. A few Christmasses ago, she invited us to a party she was giving to her friends and relatives on Christmas Eve. There were more than 40 guests, and that number didn't include the children. There was plenty of good food for everyone, but none of it was cooked by Dina. Whoops, I tell a lie - in fact, Dina did cook one dish that night: macaroni and cheese. Two huge tins of it. For a Christmas Eve feast.

Dina's despicable cooking skills are not actually a sign of slovenly laziness on her part. She may hate cooking, but her house is clean, her teenage children are good students at school and have very polite manners, and Dina is a highly respected Greek literature high school teacher. She works in a busy lower secondary school with a large roll, and even though she has only 16 teaching hours a week, she is at school for more than 30 hours weekly, due to administrative duties. At the end of the working day, which never really finishes for a teacher, she comes home and prepares lunch for her family. (It might be a simple meal, but she does make the effort, apparently). The afternoon is taken up driving her kids to their after-school lessons around the town, waiting in the car until they finish their class so that she can take them to the next one, before they all finally go home. If she had to name a passion, it would be education - and she really does want the best for her children.

When the family finally gets home in the evening, there is really very little time left for Dina to prepare an evening meal. For a start, the children need help with their homework, the house needs a quick tidy-up, and there's her own students' homework and essays that need to be marked and class preparation to take care of before the next day begins. Most of the time, the evening meal is pre-prepared and store-bought. Unless she has some time to make something simple, like a self-crusting cheese pie.

I visited her one day when she was in the middle of making this tiropita, and it was cooked in time for my family to try it out. Yes, it's true, I did worry somewhat about how my digestive system would react to it, but I felt reassured as I watched my own children relishing Dina's tiropita that it must be edible, so I asked her for the recipe, because this tiropita really did look very easy to prepare, and I must admit that there are times when I get frazzled by the day's business, and I don't always have time to cook something that is easy, healthy, wholesome, tasty and nutritious all at the same time for my children.

To make the easiest, and at the same time, tastiest cheese pie in the world, even if you believe you are the worst cook in the world, you need:
1 litre of milk (if you have some leftover cream or yoghurt, you can also add that; it makes a smoother looking filling)
1 cup of fine semolina
200g melted butter or margarine (you can also use those novel butter-yoghurt spreads for a healthier version)
3 cups of a mixture of grated/crumbled cheeses, one of which should be feta (the others could be regato, gouda, emmental, etc - I added the local curd cheese, mizithra, for a creamier texture)
2 eggs, beaten

Grease a baking tin or pyrex dish well with olive oil. Pour the milk into a large saucepan and add the semolina. Stir well to smooth out any lumps, heat it till the milk is warmed up, then switch off the cooker. Add the melted butter (or add it to the cold milk and stir constantly while the milk heats up, melting the butter simultaneously), cheeses and eggs, mixing well to blend the ingredients. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, and let it cook for an hour in a moderate oven. The pie top will take on a golden brown colour, and you can test to see if it is ready by inserting a knife in the middle, bringing it towards the edge of the tin; if it feels like it has set and slices cleanly like a cake, then it's ready.

tiropita cheese pie
A square tin would probably be more appropriate if you want the perfect slice. But look at how cleanly the slice comes out of the tin; the pie was still warm when I cut it.
tiropita cheese pie

Working mothers really don't have it easy these days when it comes to cooking healthy meals for their family, so a pie like this, with its nose-punching aroma while it's cooking in the oven, is a good solution for a quick and easy evening meal. It slices well even when it is warm, comes out clean from the tin (no need to scrape it clean), stores well in the fridge, and can be heated up as a leftover meal the next day. For some variation, you can add thinly sliced mushrooms and/or roughly chopped ham or boiled eggs to the mixture without altering the recipe, which makes a more substantial pie, so you will need a larger baking tin.

tiropita cheese pie
And the same cheese pie mixture (minus the margarine) can be used as a filling in a crust pie. This crust was made with a simple flour-water mixture with a pinch of salt and a few drops of olive oil to make the pastry more elastic. The pyrex lining was cooked blind, then filled, topped with another sheet of pastry and sealed. The top was brushed with beaten egg.

You really don't have to be a spectacular cook to feed your growing family. If you care enough for them, you'll make sure, in whatever way you can, that your family will eat something healthy and filling to satisfy their hunger after a long working day. Your food will be prepared with love, and your kids will not forget that.

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