By Marilena Leavitt
PART OF THE CULINARY TRADITION
of northern Greece is the many varieties of filo pies. Filo pies or, “pites” in Greek, hold a special place in Greek cuisine because they are among the oldest and most beloved dishes in the region. Made with modest and mostly simple ingredients, it is believed that pites played a central role in keeping Greeks fed and nourished during the Italian and German occupation in World War II and when food was scarce.
Just a handful of ingredients, like flour, a bit of olive oil, some field greens, herbs from the mountains, and a small amount of cheese result in the most delicious, healthy and satisfying one-pan dish. The fillings and the shapes for these filo pies vary from region to region and it often depends on the season, the climate, and the region’s history. In northern Greece pies are generally considered heartier and more substantial, whereas in southern Greece, pies are lighter and mostly vegetarian.
Perhaps the simplest of all savory pies is “tiropita”, or cheese pie, made with a creamy filling of Feta cheese and some regional soft white cheese. Then there are “hortopites” or leafy greens pies, like “spanakopita”, or spinach pie, and “prasopita”, or leek pie. For special occasions, such as New Year’s or Easter, chicken or other meat is introduced, in the form of “kotopita”, or chicken pie, and “kreatopita”, or meat pie.
There are also delicious sweet pies, especially popular during the winter months, with “kolokithopita”, or pumpkin pie, being one of the more famous ones. Let’s also not forget the favorite delicacy from northern Greece called “bougatsa”, a pie made with a decadent milk custard and cinnamon filling, all enclosed in layer upon layer of crispy, buttery filo pastry. From appetizers, to main course, to decadent desserts, the filo pies of northern Greece are a big part of the region’s culinary tradition and a real triumph of simplicity and ingenuity.
About the Author
Marilena Leavitt was born and raised in northwestern Greece, in an environment where fresh, healthy, and seasonal food played a central role in cooking. She studied at the University of Athens, where she received her degree in Economics. She later moved with her husband and family to Rome and it was there that she started her professional culinary training, focusing on Italian regional cuisine. Upon returning to the United States Marilena continued her classic culinary training, which provided a solid foundation for her career as a chef and teaching instructor. In 2010, she joined the cooking team at the Culinaria Cooking School, outside Washington DC, where she teaches classes with a concentration on Mediterranean cooking, while promoting the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. She also works as a personal chef and private cooking instructor.