Her hands are white. The sound of fingers rubbing flour makes all the hair on your skin rise, in a wave. This is the worst feeling you’ve ever had, in your uneventful life of five years. “Come help me, so that you can learn how to make a pita to your kids one day”, she says every time. “Your mother never wanted to learn, that’s why she buys all these horrible things from the bakery”, follows after. Sometimes not, if mama and her didn’t have an argument that week.
You balance from one feet to another, on the cold marble floor. You tell her, again, and again, in a soft complaining voice, that you can’t touch flour. She gives up every time. She hands you a brush and you put oil on each small phyllo, before she rolls them up in two bigger ones. One at the bottom of the greased pan, the filling, one at the top. “I was telling her always, career and studies and ambitions: what’s the use of it for a woman? You have to raise your kids, you have to feed them, you have to keep your house together, your man close to you. Here we are now, she is at work all day, her husband is gone and two kids spending their summer with an old woman, a gria”.
By now you know that she’s talking to herself and that if you reply she’s gonna look at you surprised, bewildered that you are standing next to her. Her cheeks will get red, she’ll stay silent for some time. Mama says it’s because gramma has been living for years alone. After grandpa died, she got used to being all alone in her small apartment. In the afternoon, she makes a Greek coffee, takes the framed picture of grandpa from the self and talks to him for half an hour, or more. She tells him mum’s news or stories from the past. You sit at a corner, half-hidden behind the curtains and listen. Names of people you’ll never meet, lives that seem like fairy tales. Poverty, hunger, starry nights, skinny-dipping in rivers, walking in dusty streets from one village to the next, kids playing in the summer night, marriage at 16, fathers killed at the war. The good old times are dusty and bloody and shed with moonlight in your mind. And so they will stay, when years later you make your first phyllo, miles away from gramma.
Feta phyllo pie (tiropita)
makes one small pie (31 cm diameter, 8 pieces)
The epitomy of Greek breakfast: a tiropita with homemade crunchy phyllo, filled with warm melting feta and eggs!
- 2 and 1/2 cups white flour (+1 or 2 teaspoons of flour if dough sticky)
- 1/2 tea spoon salt
- 1 table spoon vinegar
- 1 cup water (250 ml)
- 2 table spoons semolina flour (for dusting the working surface)
- 1/3 cup olive oil, mixed with 1 table spoon of melted butter (for rolling the phyllo – see instructions)
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted (to pour on the pie before baking)
- 250 grams feta, crumbled
- 2 large eggs
- freshly-trimmed pepper (optional)
- a rolling pin
- a brush
- a round pan (31 cm diameter)
1. In a big bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt. Add the vinegar to the water and pour the wet ingredients in the flour bowl. Mix with a spoon and when a dough starts coming together, knead with your hands until you have an elastic ball of dough that does not stick to your hands. If it does, add some more flour and knead a bit longer (it should take around 7-8′). Set it aside and allow it to rest as you make the filling.
2. In a bowl, crumble the feta with your hands. Beat lightly the 2 eggs and add them to the feta. Trim a bit of pepper on it. Mix gently with a fork so that the filling comes together.
3. Divide the dough into 12 or 14 smaller balls and dust lightly a working surface with semolina flour. With a rolling pin, roll each ball into a small phyllo (around 12 cm diameter, like a small tortilla). Take one phyllo and brush it lightly with the olive oil-butter mixture. Put another phyllo on it (stacking them like pancakes) and brush it gently too. Repeat, until you have used half the phylla (e.g. 6 out of 12). Do not grease the top phyllo. Repeat with the remaining phylla, brushing and stacking them like pancakes on one another and do not grease the top phyllo. In the end you have two stacks of phylla, the top phylla not greased.
4. Grease lightly the pan with olive oil and preheat the oven at 220 Celsius/ 428 Fahrenheit. Sprinkle lightly the 2 stacks and the working surface with semolina. With the rolling pin, carefully roll both stacks into 2 big phylla. The smaller ones are greased and slippery, so be patient. For better results, press the rolling pin on different parts of the stack near its centre, so that the phyllo spreads more, before rolling it out. The bottom phyllo should be a bit bigger, so that the filling does not leak.
5. Place the bigger phyllo on the bottom of the pan. Pour in the filling and spread it evenly using a fork. Top with the other phyllo, not stretching it to much, and press their ends together, rolling them in, so that the pie looks pretty. With a knife, gently carve the pieces’ lines on the pie – be careful not to cut the phyllo, or the filling will spill out during baking! With a fork, make some holes on the pie, to allow some of the air to come out during baking.
6. Pour the melted butter on the pie, to make it crispy and golden. Bake for around 45-50′. The bottom phyllo will rise a bit, but will come back to place once cooled. Enjoy the tiropita warm with a Greek coffee, or with cold chocolate milk (childhood all-time favourite). Send me a piece too, cause mine is already gone! 😉