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Monday, 1 November 2010

Leek and mizithra pasties (Καλιτσούνια με πράσα και μυζήθρα)

I recently bought some leeks and hadn't got round to using them. I had been hoping to make a favorite of my own, leek and onion pie, but could never find the appropriate time to make a rich crust, chop up all the vegetables and pre-cook the filling, so the leeks just lay in the fridge getting old, their dark green tops withering away. The idea of the recipe being too avant garde for my family also niggled away at me, which is probably what really stopped me from making the pie. When I finally decided to use the leeks, it was in a recipe I had never made before, devised on the spot and adapted to suit the culinary preferences of my family.
 
I also found some leftover pastry in the fridge from a recent stint of making kalitsounia, a favorite snack in Cretan cooking. Basic flour-and-water pastry (with a pinch of salt and a few tablespoons of olive oil added) keeps for a few days in the fridge as a ball, in a plastic bag with some flour added to keep the pastry from drying out. I decided to make some more kalitsounia, with a leek-based filling, supplemented with some cheese for extra taste.

Then there are the odd-shaped, outgrown, and by now, rather fibrous zucchini, the last of this season's summer garden, which don't look very appetising. There was one sad-looking one in the fridge that was showing signs of neglect (the outer skin begins to brown, although the interior may still be fleshy white). After peeling and grating it, I left it to strain in a colander, and added some of the shreds to my new kalitsounia filling. 

You need:
3 leeks, including the green parts
1 onion
1 cup of grated zucchini, strained of its juices (by salting it, letting it stand in a colander and squeezing the liquids out of it)
150g mizithra (Cretan soft white curd cheese - you can substitute ricotta for this)
a fistful of semolina
salt, pepper, oregano
a few teaspoons/tablespoons of olive oil (depending on where you are from, I suppose)
some pastry - my pastry was home-made, but you can use shop-bought pastry rounds; in Greece, the best substitute would be what is called 'filo kourou', while in Crete, we can buy fresh thick filo pastry for making regional varieties of little pies known here as kalitsounia
olive oil for frying (or an egg and some sesame seed if you prefer to bake them)

Prepare the leeks by trimming them: discard the topmost fibrous parts that have discoloured, but keep anything that still looks fresh. Then cut the leeks lengthwise. Check to see if they are dirty (leeks very often have dirt clinging in their inner leaves). Then start to chop them as small as possible. Heat some oil in a shallow frying pan and cook the onion and leeks till translucent. Add the grated zucchini and cook a few more minutes, continuing to stir the mixture until everything is well combined. Turn off the heat, add the seasonings and cheese, and mix well to combine. Finally, add the semolina - this is to ensure that the filling won't be too runny, so that the filling won't create holes in the pastry and leak out.

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You may be wondering what the lemon squeezer was doing while I was making pastry; it was closer at hand than the demi-tasse saucer...

Depending on whether you are using ready-cut pastry or not, cut the pastry into rounds (or squares, if you intend to bake instead of fry them). I make them no larger than a demi-tasse saucer. Fill the pastry accordingly: For pastry rounds, place a tablespoon of mixture on one half and close the pie by folding the empty part over the filled, sealing the edges with the tines of a fork.  For square pasties, place a small amount of filling in the middle of the square and fold the corners over the filling, pressing all four corners together in the middle to seal them.

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If you are baking the kalitsounia, grease a baking tray well, place the kalitsounia on it so that they don't touch each other, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seed. Cook them in a moderate oven until they turn golden brown.

If you prefer to fry them like I did, heat some olive oil in a small pan. When it is smoky hot, add a few kalitsounia at a time (if there are too many pasties in the pan at once, the heat of the oil will drop considerably and they will stew away in the oil rather than fry, thereby soaking up too much oil). Let them cook on high heat till golden brown on the cooking side, then turn them over and cook the other side in the same way. Be careful: they cook quickly! When they are ready, lift them out and place on absorbent paper to soak up excess olive oil.

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This leek-based filling makes a tasty alternative to the traditional specialty of spinach-and-cheese kalitsounia that are made in Hania.

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