Phyllo pies and me
A bit of history
The story of pita (pie) begins in ancient Greece when people would bake thick porridge made with wheat, barley and other grains on hot stones, essentially creating a flatbread. They would later make pitas with more ingredients such as wine, garlic, olive oil, honey and cheese, and enjoy them at feasts.
As centuries passed and tools and techniques evolved, the art of lamination was born. Multiple layers of very thinly-rolled dough, made mainly with flour, fat (usually olive oil, but also butter & lard), salt and water would be stacked together to form a thicker dough on top of which would sit the pie’s filling.
Thanks to the fat in and between each phyllo, the layers would turn crisp and remain separate even after baking, creating the airy and crunchy texture we all love in a good pie.
Pitas with phyllo would be made as an everyday dish, with whatever greens and vegetables a family's garden would provide. This made them vegan or vegetarian by necessity. What is today’s a food trend, clean eating and a plant-based diet has been a way of life for Greeks for centuries.
There would be times when the need to celebrate special occasions, would introduce more lavish and rare -for the time- ingredients to pies, such as meat or fish, but that was rare and made eating those pies even more gratifying.
In recent years, the effort to mass-produce phyllo dough and thus democratise pie making brought along a deterioration in quality, due to the use of cheaper ingredients and preservatives in the dough.
My love for pies
As you may have read elsewhere on this website, I have been lucky to have spent most of my holidays at my Peloponnese village, as I was growing up. My brother and I were so lucky to enjoy the delicacies my grandmother would make in her wood-fired oven.
Phyllo pies with greens were one of her specialities and I can still remember that huge copper pan (it must have been 80cm in diameter) as it went in the oven, with mesmerising pitas coming out of it. The smell was incredible and we could barely wait for the necessary 15-20’ for the pie to cool down before we could have some.
Luckily my mother had learnt the craft early on (she baked her first pita at the age of 8!) so even back at home we would still enjoy tasty pies all-year-round.
When I moved to Manchester with my wife in 2018, I felt that waiting to have proper pie until we would go back to Greece on holidays was too long a time. Ready-made phyllo from the supermarket is made with refined sunflower oil (if not worse) and preservatives, so it was not an option for me.
I decided to make my first hand-rolled phyllo pie based on what I remembered by watching my grandmother and mother all those years. It was a twisted spanakopita (spinach pie), that tasted very nice, but lacked in looks.
Since then, my technique has evolved considerably, but what I am really proud of is my phyllo dough. In fact I'm so proud, I dedicated a whole page to it!