During my recent trip to Crete, I took Jules Blum, another cook I've been working with in Melbourne, to meet Mariana Kavroulaki at her house just outside of Chania. Mariana's a food historian that I met last Summer when I got taken to a class of hers on Byzantine cooking that totally floored me. This time we met, our lesson was on doughs. Greece has a massive culture of eating pies because they're so easy to transport. They were and are integral to the diet of the shepherds of Greece, who migrate with their flock. They're also so popular because they're easy to fill with anything, including foraged ingredients, which has produced totally different pie traditions in each part of Greece.
We made a phyllo dough with Marianna, but rather than making a traditional spanakopia - a pie that's said to have originated around Epirus - we used the dough to make Kalatsounia.
Kalatsounia were originally eaten in Crete for celebrations but they're so delicious they're eaten all through the year now. Our filling was made of shredded Vlita, a wild green that is one of the only greens to grow at the end of Summer in Crete. It's called Amarath in English, and has a texture sort of like a more robust and fibrous spinach. We also used some diced white summer zucchini, native Cretan mint - a species that tasts more similar to spearmint - and of course mizethra, a Cretan cheese . Mizethra is made with goat or sheeps milk and is similar in texture ricotta but because of the milk used has a stronger taste and is more sour.
Our phyllo was was a traditional county style phyllo pastry - I've written a recipe for the same pasty under the blog post for Spanakopita, so I want bother to include it here - and used a ravioli cutter to shape the kalasounia before washing them with egg yolks and sprinkling them with sesame seeds.
My favourite plate of the day was called, 'The Lazy Woman's Pie.' The phyllo we used for this was store bought, but a grade thicker than the paper thin phyllo you would normally by from the supermarket. The pastry got scrunched into a small pie dish with lots of crumbled feta thrown in as well. Then Marianna beat and egg with milk and poured it over the pastry. It doesn't sound too appetising but after we baked this little white mass all of the egg had puffed up and browned and the pastry had absorbed all of the liquid so it's texture was almost like pasta. I guess a little bit of the credit has to go out to the quality of the cheese we used, but The Lazy Woman's Pie was so delicious.
Marianna's a food historian, she runs a Greek Gastronomy Symposium in Crete, this summer's theme that just past theme was on Ancient grains, you can find information about it here.