The success of a traditional Greek pie is in the paper-thin sheets of flour dough. Here’s a recipe for making the perfect filo at home!
My mum has inherited the flair for traditional cookery from my grandmother: a woman who farmed her own veggies and often baked her food in a wood-fired oven in the backyard of her house. One of our family’s staple recipes is a spinach pie, which comes with an amazing homemade filo pastry. While the stuffing is a matter of taste (one can add cheese, herbs, meat or wild greens) the real goodness of this dish is in the thick and crunchy pastry. For instance I like mine stuffed with Feta, fresh ricotta, oregano and chili flakes.
Last August Adrianna and I spent a weekend in the mountains, where my mother made this pie for us. I asked her to enlighten me with the secrets of her recipe:
A round wooden board
1 long thin wooden rolling pin
A powder sieve
Tips and tricks:
It is important to choose your flour with care.
Strong wheat flour works better for this recipe,
as the desired result is a bready,
crunchy filo of medium thickness (about 1 mm thick)
Kneading with warm water will give
a better texture to your dough.
Don’t be lazy!
Knead for at least 15 minutes
until you have a soft and elastic dough.
To prevent the dough from sticking or
drying while you’re finishing with the preps,
sieve some flour first on the plate
and then on the dough balls.
You can do the same with the filo sheets.
If you’re stuffing your pie with greens,
make sure that you have drained them well –
this will prevent your filo from getting drenched.
Recipe for my mum’s Greek spinach pie roll
For the filo:
Quality flour, water, some salt, some olive oil
For the stuffing:
2kg fresh greens such as spinach,
radicchio, lettuce, kale or dandelion,
washed drained and thinly sliced
5-6 spring onions, thinly chopped
1 teacup dill, thinly chopped
400gr Feta cheese
salt, pepper, olive oil
A large baking tray will fit 6-8 rolls of about 15cm diameter each. You will need 1 filo for each roll, 1 teacup flour for each filo. Use 1 teaspoon salt and 2 large spoons olive oil every 8 cups flour. The quantity of water needed depends on the hardness of the flour, but the average rule is 1 cup water every 6 cups flour. If needed, you can add extra water while kneading till you have an elastic, non-sticky mass.
1. Sieve the flour in a large bowl. Add the salt, olive oil, water and knead for about 15 minutes till you have a soft, elastic dough.
2. Put the dough on the work surface and shape it into a ball. Pull into pieces about 60g each. Shape each piece into a ball and place on a plate generously dusted with flour.
3. Dust a 60cm round wooden board with flour and place a ball of filo in the middle. Using the rolling pin, roll it into a 14-16cm disc. Press down with your hands on each end of the pole to stretch the pastry sideways. It is essential to keep dusting the top of the filo as you stretch it. As soon as the sheet of filo is the perfect thinness dust it with flour, fold it and set apart after having dusted the upper side in order to prevent it from drying.
4. Make another sheet of filo using another ball of dough. Dust the first sheet, then place the second sheet on top. Continue in this way until you’ve used all the pastry, covering the final sheet with the tea towel or cling film.
5. This type of filo has to be stuffed and cooked straight away. Stuff only half of the surface and roll. Shape a spiral and place in an oiled tray. Cook at 180 Celsius for about one hour until the crust is golden brown.
The first times you try to make this it might seem hard, but as soon as you get used to the process it will take a maximum of 30 minutes to prepare everything.