Forty years ago, a typical woman from Greek rural area spent all day cleaning the house, preparing meals, baking, sewing, milking, making butter and cheese, raising poultry, rabbits, sheeps, goats, pigs, gathering olives, harvesting greens and fruits, cultivating small vegetable gardens, preserving food for year- round consumption…. being wife, mother, guardian of her children’s health and moral purity. In the beginning of 20th century the situation was even worse. Food preparation was labor intensive and time consuming as based on cooking over an open fire or on wood stove or in wood fire oven. Since few houses had indoor plumbing, water for cooking and cleaning was carried in from outside.
In this world where hard work and tireless dedication were almost routine, the making of a pie seemed like a good idea. A pie is a simple way of enclosing a filling in a dough or pastry or flour crust and cooking it in various ways even if the making of some pies involves a great deal of work. On the other hand, a large pie feeds a family for a couple of days, as a meal or as a snack and a good pie becomes a source of pleasure.
Pispilita’s name derives from the Greek word paspalizo = sprinkle and is a wild green pie with cornmeal layer instead of phyllo sheets.
Pies with cornmeal layers have long tradition in Western, Central and Norhtern Greek corn producing areas. They are rough, ‘poor’ pies with a combination of seasonal wild greens gathered from the fields and home made dairy products. Moreover, they are unbelievable tasty and can be prepared very quickly. Pispilita is made in Epirus, however is found throughout corn producing areas under various names.
A basic ingredient for a pispilita ‘made in Epirus’ is the nettle. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), the most common nettle species, has a flavour similar to spinach when cooked. A thick soup made from the young nettles is considered a delicacy in Rhodes island and in Pontos while nettles pies are common in Central Greece, Western Macedonia and Epirus.
½ k. nettles
250 gr. wild sorrels
250 gr. white beet leaves
2 large onions, finely chopped
6 scallions, white and tender green parts, finely chopped
1 medium leek, white and tender green part, finely chopped
½ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
200 gr. feta cheese, crumbled
3 tbs sour trahanas or bulgur or rice
salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
2 cups olive oil
2 cups water
olive oil to brush the baking pan
Wearing gloves wash the greens thorougly, drain and chop. Transfer to a colander, add salt, rub the mixture and let it aside for 1 hour. Press with your fingers to extract most of the liquid and transfer to a bowl. Add leeks, onions, cheese, mint, pepper, trahanas (or bulgur or rice) and ½ cup olive oil. Mix all together. In a bowl mix 2 ½ cups flour with some salt, 1 cup olive oil and 1 cup water. Make a pulp. Brush a baking dish with olive oil, pour in the cornmeal pulp and spread the greens mixture evenly. Sprinkle the remaining cornmeal over the surface, drizzle the remaining ½ cup olive oil and 1 cup water. Bake for one hour or until the pie is dense and golden. Let the pispilita cool for 10 minutes before cutting to serve. It can be served warm or at room temperature the next day.