Neni showed me how to make these wonderful little cheese pies right before she left New York for Greece. She told me she likes to make them before she goes on a trip because the recipe uses up the bits and ends of hard cheese in her fridge. She uses dried mint, but fresh works well, too.
Called tyropittes in Greek, these little cheese pies are divine: delicate and crispy on the outside; soft, salty and minty on the inside. Cut in half to make bite sized pieces, they are perfect for the cocktail hour. Left whole and served with a salad, they make a lovely light lunch or dinner.
The pastries freeze well. Freeze the pastries before frying on a cookie sheet until frozen, and then pack into freezer bags. Defrost thoroughly before frying.
Makes 21 pieces
4 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup grated salty hard cheese like Parmesan or Asiago
2 ½ cups grated feta and/or ricotta salata (but mostly feta)
½ cup chopped fresh mint or 3 tablespoons dried mint
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
21 sheets filo pastry, defrosted if frozen
¼ cup olive oil
Neutral oil like grape seed for frying
In a large bowl combine the eggs and cheeses, the mint and pepper to taste—be generous with the pepper! The consistency should be similar to cottage cheese. If it is a bit dryer, it’s okay.
Filo pastry is rectangular. Lay the short end of the filo toward you. Brush a bit of olive oil over the top to moisten the top sheet. Place 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture about 3 inches from the bottom of the short end of the pastry. Coax the cheese mixture into a log shape. Roll the filo from the end closest to you up and over the cheese filling, and then continue to roll up the pastry, like a fat cigar. When you are 4 inches from the top of the filo sheet, turn the sides of the pastry in and fold over the pastry. Continue rolling up the rest of the way and place the pastry on a cookie sheet seam side down. Continue for the remaining filo sheets and filling.
Pour ¼ inch of grape seed or other neutral oil in a large nonstick skillet and heat over high heat until the oil pops when a bit of flour is thrown in. Add the pastries seam side down and fry until browned and the filo blisters and cracks. The pastries cook very quickly–in seconds even. Place the fried pastries on a paper towel or paper bag to drain. Continue with the remaining pastries.
Keep the pastries warm until you are ready to serve.