Rather than act as an accent, herbs are the star of this flaky, phyllo-y Middle Eastern Pie.
By Sara Clevering
This tart is right up my alley. I love savory Middle Eastern pies – bureks from Bosnia and the Balkans, Greek spanakopita and variations thereon, you get the idea. So what makes this one special? The generous handfuls of parsley, cilantro, arugula, and chard. Herbs are the heart and soul of the tart, not just an accent. That’s for the cheese to do. Olive oil binds the phyllo together rather than butter (which is easier to work with, as you don’t have to guesstimate at how much butter to melt, leaving your leaves of phyllo to dry out while you melt more butter). And the magic of lemon zest. All this makes for a lighter, fresher finished product that disappears quickly.
As you scan the ingredients, you’ll note that the recipe calls for anari cheese, which is not even carried by the fancy-schmancy Whole Foods cheese department. Ricotta can be used as a substitute (and like anari is a cheese made from whey, so it is a very close substitute from what I can tell). The second time, I tried ricotta salata, and both attempts were delicious.
When assembling the pie, you are instructed to layer the oiled leaves of phyllo together and then place them all at once in the pan: once for the bottom crust, once from the top. Maybe it’s nothing revelatory in the grand scheme of things, but for me it certainly was – I’ve always made spanakopita by buttering each phyllo leaf and then haphazardly transferring the delicate sheet to a pan. So much easier to build up the layer on the countertop and then place it the baking dish.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pastry
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 lbs. Swiss chard, stems and leaves finely shredded but kept separate
- 3-4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 4 scallions (green onion), chopped
- 1¾ ounces of arugula
- 1 ounce flat-leaf parsley, chopped (about ½-3/4 cup)
- 1 ounce fresh mint, chopped (about ½-3/4 cup)
- ? ounce dill, chopped (about ½ cup)
- 4 ounces of anari or ricotta cheese, crumbled
- 3½ ounces aged cheddar, grated (about ¾ cup)
- 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 2 medium eggs
- ? teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 9 ounces filo pastry
- Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Pour the olive oil into a deep frying-pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 8 minutes without browning. Add the chard stems and the celery and continue cooking for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chard leaves, increase the heat to medium-high and stir as you cook for 4 minutes, until the leaves wilt. Add the scallion/green onion, arugula and herbs and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat and transfer to a colander to cool.
- Once the mixture is cool, squeeze out as much water as you can and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the three cheeses, lemon zest, eggs, salt, pepper and sugar and mix well.
- Lay out a sheet of filo pastry and brush it with some olive oil. Cover with another sheet and continue in the same manner until you have 5 layers of filo brushed with oil, all covering an area large enough to line the sides and bottom of a 8½-inch pie dish, plus extra to hang over the rim. Line the pie dish with the pastry, fill with the herb mix and fold the excess pastry over the edge of the filling, trimming the pastry as necessary to create a ¾ inch border.
- Make another set of 5 layers of filo brushed with oil and place them over the pie. Scrunch the pastry a little to create a wavy, uneven top and trim the edges so it just covers the pie. Brush generously with olive oil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the filo turns a nice golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature.
Sara sees cooking and baking as a delicious way to connect with the past and travel the world from her kitchen. She is commited to preparing homemade, unprocessed meals for her family and is always looking for tricks to fit this into a busy schedule. Sara is currently in the Boston area after several years living in London, Spain, and the Czech Republic, and travelling extensively in Eastern and Western Europe, always making sure to experience local culture through food. She also blogs with her sisters at www.threecleversisters.com