Cleveland, Ohio, stakes its claim as the phyllo dough capital of the world.
Athens Foods, which opened in Cleveland in 1958, makes more than 90 percent of the phyllo dough sold in the United States -- all told, more than five million pounds a year of the paper-thin, flaky dough called phyllo, phillo, filo or fillo.
Phyllo, the Greek word for "leaf", is made of wheat flour, water, and a small amount of oil. Filo and fillo are alternate spellings of the same word. In my local Middle Eastern market, I've heard people ask for FEE-LOH (the correct pronounciation) and FIE-LOH -- and, yes, for FILL-O.
In Turkish, phyllo dough is called yufka ... or youfka.
Though some Greek bakeries sell homemade fresh phyllo, most of us buy it frozen, in one-pound packages that have 24 or more sheets. The Athens brand is available in most supermarkets, including the one in my small town.
Here are a few tips for working with frozen phyllo, from the inimitable Silver Palate Cookbook:
- Let the dough defrost in its original wrapper in the refrigerator for at least two days. When well wrapped and still sealed in its original packaging, defrosted phyllo will keep in the fridge for up to a month, which is preferable to refreezing, which will make the dough tough.
- Be sure the phyllo is completely defrosted before beginning to work with it.
- Have a damp (not wet) towel handy. Unwrap the dough, unroll it, and cover it immediately with the towel.
- Let dough stand for 15 minutes; moisture makes the phyllo easier to handle.
Cheese phyllo triangles (tyropita)
When Greg offered to teach us how to make some of the Greek foods from his family tradition (including this recipe), I was thrilled. Time to get over my own fear of phyllo! Once you get the hang of this, you can make wonderful spanikopita (spinach pies), too. Serves 12 or more, as an appetizer.
8 ounces of good feta cheese, crumbled into small pieces
1 cup of grated graviera (or a gruyere-type cheese), grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp black pepper
3 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
12 +/- (17 x 12 inch) phyllo sheets (thawed if frozen). This is about half of one box.
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
Combine cheeses, egg, pepper and parsley in bowl with fork. The mixture will be lumpy.
Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
Place two sheets of phyllo on top of one another, keeping remaining sheets covered with wax paper and dampened dish towel, and cut in half lengthwise. Pile the sheets again on top of one another, and again cut in half lengthwise. This will give you 8 individual strips about 3 inches wide by 17 inches long.
Place one strip in front of you, again covering remaining phyllo with wax paper and dampened dish towel. Lightly brush pastry with melted butter. Put 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in lower corner of pastry, and fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape. Put triangle, seam side down, on large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Make more triangles in the same manner, using all the filling. (Here's a good illustration of the folding technique.)
Bake triangles in middle of oven until golden brown, 20–25 minutes, and then transfer to rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Teeny tiny lime tarts
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