In Greek, the word "Pita" does not simply stand for the flatbreads most people are familiar with in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Instead, "Pita" is the Greek word for pie, a significant component of the classic Greek diet.
In the old days, a Greek housewife was quite frankly "judged" on her ability to roll out her own phyllo and as such her most prized kitchen tools included only a long, thin wooden rod used as a rolling pin and a large round wooden surface on which to stretch the phyllo.
Back then, pites (plural for pita) offered a way for housewives to make something a bit more substantial out of the little produce that was actually available. Fillings and techniques varied from region to region: savory or sweet; phyllo layered with a vegetable filling; coiled or S-shaped; some with cheese, others without; and many made with rice or semolina as opposed to dairy so as to abide by the dietary restrictions of Lent. The possibilities were and continue to be endless.
I love having some form of Greek savory pies on hand during summer months as they always make for a light meal and a quick bite before or after a day at the beach. A flavorful pie--be it spinach, cheese, squash, or any other combination of vegetables and herbs you like--can go a long way. Pair it with a fresh salad and a Greek dip such as melitzanosalata, tzatztiki or kopanisti and you've got a light lunch that won't weigh you down when you're out and about in the sizzling summer heat.
During Lent I made an "Agginaropita" that consisted of artichokes, herbs and a bit of semolina to bind it all as eggs and cheese were out of the question. It was quite good and extremely satisfying but the other day I put together this "Agginarotyropita" as I adore Greek pies featuring cheese, especially Feta. I served it during my daughter's birthday party and more than one guest commented that it was the best tyropita they'd ever eaten! I love how the artichokes provide an extra dimension of flavor. Try it, you won't be disappointed!
Agginarotyropita--Artichoke Cheese Pie
Makes a 13x9-inch pie
6 to 8 artichokes, cleaned and chopped
Handful of dill, finely chopped
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 pound good quality Feta, crumbled
1/3 cup grated Kefalotyri, Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
3 tablespoons olive oil (you will need more for brushing the phyllo)
Freshly ground black pepper
12 sheets of phyllo
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil the baking dish and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the artichokes, dill, parsley, Feta, grated cheese, pepper and eggs and stir until mixed thoroughly. Add the 3 tablespoons olive and stir (adding a little more if the mixture seems too dry).
Working quickly, take a sheet of phyllo and layer it in the baking dish. Brush the top with oil and repeat layering with 6 more sheets of phyllo (brushing each with oil before topping with the next). Spoon filling evenly over phyllo and then begin layering remaining 5 sheets of phyllo over top, brushing each with oil before topping with the next. Pinch edges of phyllo to form a crust around the pie and brush top layer well with olive oil. (Alternatively, you can roll sheets of phyllo filled with some of the mixture as I did here.)
With a sharp knife, score only the top layers of phyllo into servings (this will make cutting the pie later much easier). Bake the pie in the center of the oven until the phyllo is golden, about 45 minutes. Let it cool before serving.