Sunday, 15 December 2013

Broccolopita (Μπροκολόπιτα)

Upon hearing the word 'pita', a Greek will immediately put a picture in their mind of filo pastry and some kind of cheese-based filling, with or without greens, or possibly containing grated squash. Broccoli won't commonly be one of the filling ingredients, but since I have run out of spinach and squash for the time being, and there is a lot of broccoli at the moment and not much else growing in the garden, I thought I'd try making a broccoli pie.

My first attempt picked up on a Betty Crocker recipe, which included chicken and was self-crusting. It was a very tasty pie, but nothing like a filo-pastry pita filled that I usually make. The pie was a self-crusting one, so it felt rather like eating a slice of bread rather than a pie (you could practically butter the slices).
Broccoli is not really so tasty on its own - it feels like you are eating grassy water. It needs fat, like oil or butter. If you add some egg and cheese to it, you get a more delicious taste. By adding some onion to this basic mixture, you get something that smells and tastes like a leek pie: prasopita (leek pie) is a very popular kind of Greek pita. Using this idea, I made a broccoli pita, in the same way that I make spanakopita: layers of pastry are spread with a thick filling dotted over the pastry sheet, then covered by more pastry, with another layer of filling, and finally topped with more pastry.
The pie was cooked in the oven compartment of our wood-fire heater, which made the pie even more tasty, as the pastry was well browned, both the top and the bottom. This is important because soggy pastry ruins pies. To ensure that the filling wasn't too moist (broccoli contains a lot of water), I added a small amount of dried breadcrumbs, just to ensure that any excess liquid would be absorbed. The broccoli was cooked for 5 minutes in boiling water, then drained and cut up into small pieces, which were mixed with some ricotta cheese (a novel imported product in Cretan supermarkets, which I had bought to try, as I have never had ricotta before - I usually use the local Cretan mizithra), some finely chopped onion, an egg, salt and pepper. This pie was made with some store-bought filo pastry which I wanted to use up, as it was showing signs of cracking due to dryness (you can see this in the photo). I normally make my own - it is so much tastier and has better texture.
I had a small bowlful of filling left over from the pie making session, so the next day, I made a rough dough and shaped it into seamless pies, similar to what is known as sfakiani pita in Crete. A ball of dough is rolled out thickly and a ball of filling is placed inside it. The dough is stretched to cover the filling, like a ball, and it is sealed on the top, rather like a pouch. This ball is pressed down lightly so that it doesn't break, and is rolled out into a flat pie which looks like a thick pancake. These flat pies are then pan-fried on each side in a shallow frying pan, in a little olive oil, until the pastry is golden-brown.
I regret not adding some parsely or mint to the filling - when I'm experimenting, I tend to use the bare basic ingredients and forget to add the touch of spice that often turns a basic meal into a taste experience. But each pita was also very good in its own way; the pastry pie was excellent and very similar to my regular pita recipes (it was creamier, and the pan-fried pies were also a success, especially when accompanied by a little sriracha sauce to add a little more flavour.

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