Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tyropita! (No, I'm not Greek, I'm just here for the food.)

I haven’t written much, if anything, about one of my favorite things: cooking. I am actually the primary cook at our house and have been since the mid-80’s. There are a number of reasons for this, including, as we joke around here, the primal need to stave off starvation. But, really, my wife has never really enjoyed cooking, didn’t do much of it in her formative years, and is not particularly interested in doing so now. There are a handful of things she enjoys making and can do very well…like microwave popcorn, macaroni & cheese, and toast. And she makes great coffee, which is perfect since around here, that is a primary food group. Early in our marriage, we tried cooking together and that worked about as well as two people trying to drive the same car at the same time. Early on, we did learn to make our now legendary Walnut Chicken with Rice together, and we still enjoy it now, nearly a score of years later. But generally speaking, two cooks in the same kitchen sounds like a recipe for divorce (heh).

Anyway, I didn’t marry her for her cooking – what’s that mean, anyway?

My brother, an excellent cook, and I learned the basics of cooking from our mother. As my father tells it, Mom wasn’t always a great cook, though. Evidently her Tuna Noodle Casserole nearly killed him in their early years. But by the time I came along, she seemed to have gotten it down pretty good because I still like that dish…once a year or so. Anyway, he didn’t marry her for her cooking either, evidently. Besides, she became a master cook and certainly still is. In addition to hosting the headquarters for most of our traditional holiday family gatherings, she is still learning to cook new things all the time and teaching her grandkids to cook, as well as continuing to make the staples that we all enjoy.

Seasonal holiday fare is really not my thing, so, unless your family is pretty peculiar, what follows is really not much like a traditional Christmas treat at all. I enjoy a lot of diverse kinds of food, but one of my favorites is Mediterranean cuisine. So here is a really easy recipe for what, to most Americans, will be an exotic dish but is, in fact, a staple in Greece. This recipe is a functional amalgam of several others, none original. It is slightly Americanized, but it works, its very easy, and its really, really, good.

It is called Tyropita, which means “cheese pie” in Greek. Here is the recipe:

---1 roll of phyllo dough (I use Athens Foods. 1 box comes with 2 rolls – freeze the remainder)
---1 lb of feta cheese
---1 ¼” cup of cottage cheese
---1 stick of butter or the margarine equivalent.
---Pam or some other cooking oil spray
---6 eggs
---fresh ground black pepper (to taste)

Phyllo dough is found in the frozen foods aisle at your grocery. It is that paper-thin, multi-layered dough that is used to make baklava and other tasty treats.

Defrost the phyllo dough as instructed on the package. When it is thawed, you are ready to start. First, carefully unroll the dough. The only tricky part about this recipe is the fragility of the sheets of dough. Try not to tear them.

In a large bowl crumble the feta cheese, add the cottage cheese and the eggs and mix it well. Melt the butter in either a saucepan on the stove, or with a microwave in a bowl.

Spray the Pam liberally on the bottom and sides of a 9x13” casserole pan. Glass may work fine, who knows? Mine is metal…I don’t know why. Now is the time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Carefully lay the first sheet of dough on the bottom of the pan. With a soft bristled cooking brush, apply some of the clarified butter to the sheet. Lay a second sheet on top of the first and then brush on more butter. It doesn’t have to be too thick, but you should be sure it is spread across most of the sheet. Do this until you have a total of 8 layers of buttered phyllo sheets, which should be about half of your roll.

Spoon the cheese mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly across the phyllo dough. Then add the rest of the dough sheets and more butter until you are out of dough, probably 8 or 9 more sheets.

It is difficult to slice this dish into portions after its done baking without destroying it, so let it bake in the oven for about 10 minutes or so, then remove. With a very sharp knife, cut through the top layers of dough down to the filling…you can cut it in squares (easy), triangles (traditional), or diamonds (fancy). Return to the oven and cook for another 50 minutes or so, or until the top is a beautiful crispy, golden brown color. Upon removal, finish slicing to the bottom of the pan and then serve.

These are great hot or cold and are perfect with soup or stew. The feta cheese brings the attitude, but really, it’s just a cheese sandwich with a kick.


Anonymous said...

Merry (Day After) Christmas to you, too! Hope you are enjoying that awesome gift you got... and the Spirit of the Season!

Blessings to you and your family,

Anonymous said...

tyropita rocks!