As I mentioned in a previous post, I come from a Greek island called Milos. I don't literally "come from" it, as I was born and raised in Athens, and only spent 3.5 months there for holidays every year, but in Greece it's very weird... since almost everyone in Greece actually lives in Athens, when people ask you where you're from, you can't actually say "Athens", so you say you're from where your parents come from. And for me, it's both parents that come from Milos, so my "homeland status" is doubly reinforced!
As many places in Greece, Milos has a few local delicacies that can not be found (at least in exactly the same form) in any other place. I don't necessarily like them all, but the one I really love is these cheese pies that my mom and grandmother made me since I can remember myself, either for just the close family, or for big feasts in the garden where more than 30 people were invited. They are called Pitarakia in Greek, which actually means "little pies", and they are extremely simple, but extremely tasty at the same time. There is an unnamed local cheese that a few farmers in Milos produce (we call it "Milos cheese"), which is yellow, very dry and salty, and is rubbed with the olive sediment that remains after the olives are pressed to produce olive oil. The cheese is then matured in clay pots for 6-12 months and the rind removed before eating, and that is what is used as a filling for the Pitarakia, mixed with a lighter-flavoured cheese.
Since I can not always get relatives to send me some of this wonderful cheese (it lasts for quite a long time in the fridge, but disappears quickly in my house!), the best substitute I've found after trying lots and lots of cheeses is pecorino sardo, a Sardinian hard cheese which is not as well-known in the UK as the similarly named pecorino romano. I usually find this in the Borough Market, and although it's not cheap, it's definitely worth the money if you're making this recipe. Otherwise you can try pecorino romano, which is more commonly available, but reduce the amount of emmental by a few spoonfuls.
Pitarakia (Greek cheese pies from Milos)
Source: My mother's recipe, passed down to her by my grandmother
- 500g flour
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp vinegar
- ½ tsp salt
- 150g pecorino sardo (don't confuse this with pecorino romano, it has to be the really hard salty variety of pecorino, you can find a really good one in the Borough Market)
- 100g emmental (in Greece I use Regato, which is an Irish cheese that weirdly enough you can't find in Britain)
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- Sunflower oil for frying
In a big bowl make a well in the flour and pour the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Mix with a fork and gradually add between 1 and 1 ½ cups of lukewarm water, kneading the dough until it becomes soft and stops sticking (if you need more water, gradually add some more, as I do the recipe by eye I'm never sure about how much water exactly it might take). Leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Grate the cheeses and mix in a bowl with the dried mint. Roll out the dough to a 2mm thickness and cut circles out (I use an upside down small plate, the one that came with my espresso cup to be more specific, about 15cm in diameter). Fill one half of the circles with a heaped teaspoonful of the cheese mixture and fold into half-moon shapes, pressing down all around with the tip of a fork to make little lines and close in the filling securely.
Warm up the sunflower oil in a large frying pan over a high heat, and once hot add the little pies and reduce the heat to medium high. They will puff up very quickly, turn them when they get golden and as soon as the other side is cooked pick them out with a slotted spoon and put them in a plate lined with kitchen paper, so that the excess oil can be absorbed.