I’ve made this pita a few times last month and I am now sharing this festive recipe for a pita containing Pastourma, an air-cured beef with its origins in Caesaria (Cappadocia), Turkey. Greeks have a long history in this area and St. Basil the Great was born here. Yesterday was St. Basil’s day and many many Greeks names after him (Vasillios and Vasilliki) celebrated their nameday.
St. Basil was known to care for the poor and underprivileged and in the Orthodox Christian faith, he is our Father Christmas (St. Nicholas is another dude). Greeks settled in lands far and beyond the borders of today’s Greece and the area of Cappadocia (Caesaria) was one of those regions with many Hellenes and…a food culture.
Pastourma was made and enjoyed by Greeks in Caesaria and those that still make this air-cured meat use old recipes from Cappadocia or from Armenians). Today’s pita contains Pastourma and although it can be made anytime of the year, I think it has more meaning when enjoyed during Christmas, in honour of St. Basil the Great from Caesaria.
You could make Pastourma or you can buy it from some Greek delis, Middle Eastern and Turkish shops have it and some Egyptian stores. The rind on the outside of the meat contains lots of garlic, paprika, cumin, allspice, fenugreek, salt and pepper. The pie I make also contains slices of tomato, a layer of Bechamel sauce and slices of Kefalogravieria cheese. If you can’t find this cheese, the more common Kasseri works wonderfully too!
The final and best component of this pie is the phyllo. I make the Pastourmadopita (Pastourma Pie) using handmade phyllo. Coming from northern Greece, a part of the country with a long and well-known knack for making phyllo pies, I stress that you should use quality melted butter to brush your phyllo sheets with. Phyllo loves butter and when I was given some Stirling Butter to cook with, I knew I had to try it with some homemade phyllo pastry.
Stirling used to only sell their Churn 84 European style (unsalted butter) to restaurants and bakeries but word is out…consumers want Churn 84 and now you can have it!
The inclusion of Bechamel in the filling uses the same cooking philosophy as when making macaroni & cheese. The Bechamel allows the melted cheese to cling onto something. Without it the cheese would melt but also may separate. Bechamel and cheese offer wonderful creaminess to the filling.
(makes about 24 pieces)
approx. 1 cup of melted butter
32-35 slices of Pastourma,
3-4 tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 cups bechamel (3 tbsp. flour, butter, 3 cups warm milk, pinch of salt, fresh grated nutmeg)
1 lb. sliced kefalograviera cheese (or Kasseri cheese)
a 16″ X 11″ greased baking tray (about 2 inches deep)
- Make your Bechamel by adding your butter into a medium sized pot over medium heat. Once melted add the flour and stir with whisk for minute or so. Now add the warm milk one ladle at a time…whisking each time until the milk has been absorbed by the flour. Keep adding the milk, whisk in and stir until thick. Take off the heat and add a pinch of salt and some fresh grated nutmeg. Place a plastic film over the Bechamel and allow to cool uncovered.
- Lay your bottom layers of phyllo into the tray, buttering each sheet using a pastry brush then roughly tear the pastourma slices with your hand and spread evenly over the area.
- Now cover the pastourma with thin slices of tomato then evenly spread the Bechamel over the tomatoes. Finally cover with slices of cheese and cover with the remaining sheets of phyllo (again brush each sheet with butter).
- Brush the top of your pie with melted butter/oil and score the top layer of the pie into your desired size/shape portion. Pre-heat your oven to 350F and place the pita on the middle rack for 50 -60 minutes or until the top is golden and crisp.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before cutting into and serving.
*You could cut the recipe in half and use a box of commercial phyllo or a couple of packages of puff pastry.
** I also sell ready to bake Pastourmadopita
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