This delicious traditional Greek pie can be served as an appetiser, main dish or even breakfast and it matches really well with a drop of Greek honey (trust me on this!). The recipe comes from my best friend, whom I have known since we were six years old. She was kind enough to share with us not only her recipe but also all her little secrets for making the best homemade filo pastry. You may variate the filling of this pie by adding other types of cheese, ham or sausage chunks and even make it a sweet treat, with apple or pumpkin and cinnamon or virtually anything you can imagine! Depending on the filling you choose, you can make a delicious vegetarian or even vegan dish.
Did you know that the name “filo” (sometimes spelt “phyllo”) comes from the Greek word “φύλλο“, which means “leaf” or “sheet”?
Ingredients for the traditional Greek pie
This recipe yields four pies (like the one shown in the photos) and are enough for 2-6 persons, depending if served as an appetiser or a main.
For the pie pastry
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
- approximately 3/4 cup of water
- 2 tbsp olive oil plus extra olive oil to brush on the pastry
- 1 tsp vinegar (e.g. red-wine vinegar)
- 1 pinch of salt
For the cheese pie filling
- 100 g of feta cheese
- 1 egg
- freshly-ground black pepper
How to prepare the dough for the filo pastry
Put the flour in a bowl and add the olive oil, vinegar and finally the water and a pinch of salt.Work the mixture first with a fork and then using your hands until you have a smooth, not sticky dough.Divide the dough in four parts and form into balls. Put back into the bowl, cover with a moist towel, so that it does not dry out, and set aside for at least 20 minutes (up to several hours) and until you have the filling ready. Alternatively you can wrap the dough in cling film. Both resting time and the addition of vinegar will contribute to a tender and easy to roll dough. Additionally, the drop of vinegar used in this recipe balances the taste of the resulting pastry, without heavily altering it. However, if one has good reason for not using vinegar, then it can be omitted from the ingredients.
Preparation of the filling for a feta cheese pie
For the filling, crumble the feta cheese in a bowl using a fork, then break the egg inside the bowl, sprinkle with black pepper and mix until uniform.You will want to leave some small bits of feta rather than completely mash it.
How to roll out the filo pastry
Now it is time to make the filo pastry. Place one dough ball on a floured surface, sprinkle with flour and push it down with your palm to flatten it.Using a rolling pin (like the one shown in the photos) start to form a thin pastry by rolling the dough towards one direction, then turn the pastry 90 degrees and roll again. Continue this way until you get a round and thin piece of pastry. You will occasionally need to sprinkle the pastry surface with flour to prevent sticking to the pin and your hands.When the filo pastry starts to get thinner, wrap it around the pin and roll away from you and back. Rotate the pastry by 90 degrees and roll again. Repeat until you have reached the desired thickness. Traditionally, filo tends to be as thin as possible for sweet treats and slightly thicker for savoury pies, but it is also a matter of taste, so you can experience with the thickness of your pastry, until you get the result that pleases you the most. It is important to note here, though, that a too thick pastry will not cook properly and you may end up with a lot of undercooked parts of pastry that are soft and taste doughy. You definitely do not want this to happen! Try to roll the dough as evenly and as much as possible to get a pastry thin enough so that it can be nicely and uniformly covered with olive oil, which will help it cook and will greatly enhance its flavour and taste. To achieve this, you will need to get yourself a rolling pin that is no more than 2-3 cm thick in diameter and up to 1 metre of length, but surely no less than 50 cm. A good place to look for one is probably a DIY shop; you will have to look for a wooden rod with these specifications, but make sure it is not painted with any type of paint or varnish and that it is not treated with any chemical, as this will not be safe for food preparation. If you cannot find an appropriate rod in the DIY shop or if you are still concerned about food safety, then this rolling pin here (or this one, if you are in Europe) will nicely do the job for you.
How to fill, roll and cook the filo pastry cheese pie
Brush well with olive oil the upper surface of the pastry, sprinkle randomly with the filling and fold from one end to the other to form a long roll. I tend to prefer silicone brushes to those wooden ones with the natural hair. This is because the latter tend to lose hairs with the time, and you usually cannot see and remove them easily, as they have very similar colour to the pastry.Twist the roll into the form of a snail, brush the top surface with olive oil and bake in a preheated oven at 180° C, until the pie starts to turn golden brown or simply place in a oiled frying pan and cook at a medium heat, turning over occasionally, until both sides turn golden brown.
Enjoy warm or cold and why not try it accompanied by a healthy and refreshing Greek salad!