Hilopites, a Pantry Special (Recipe: leek moussaka)
Every now and then, when I'm very lucky, a super special ingredient finds its way to my pantry. Last week, Laurie from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska sent me a box filled with wonderful foods from Greece, including handmade cheeses, olives, thyme picked from a hillside overlooking the sea, and hilopites -- short, skinny egg noodles made by her cousin. (If you've been reading here for a while, you know I've never met a noodle I didn't love with all my heart.) The noodles resemble those used in Middle Eastern rice pilaf, or fideos, or small toasted strands of angel-hair pasta, all of which can substitute if you can't find hilopites or aren't lucky enough to have a Greek cousin who will make them for you. Hilopites (pronounced hee low PEE tes) -- which can be square, or wide, or long and flat like linguine -- are delicious in soup, in tomato sauce, as a thickener in stew, or on their own, tossed with a bit of butter and cheese. I've been having a great time experimenting with them.
According to Laurie, hilopites traditionally are made once a year, between July and September, when the weather is hot enough to dry the dough and there's an ample supply of fresh eggs and sheep's milk. Please visit Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska for photos that show the process of making these noodles by hand.
Is this Pantry Special new to you?
Where to buy:
Christos Marketplace (500g/$3.99)
Amazon.com (various packages and prices)
[Note: I haven't seen noodles quite like the ones Laurie sent me for sale from any online vendor. Most of the noodles sold as hilopites are square. If you find the thin ones, please let me know and I'll update here.)
As this was my first time cooking hilopites, I turned to Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska and found this recipe. My only prior experience with moussaka is more traditional, with a meat sauce made of ground lamb, and eggplant as the vegetable layer. I love this version; the meat sauce is seasoned with Aleppo pepper, one of my favorite spices, and mint, which I still have in abundance in the herb garden. The noodles form the base layer and also the crunchy crust on top. If you don't have hilopites, substitute pilaf noodles or angel-hair pasta broken into one-inch pieces. I made just a few changes to the original recipe, which you can find here, and sped things up by using the food processor to chop the onions, celery, garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. There are a lot of steps in the preparation, but assembly is quick, and the moussaka absolutely worth the work. Serves 8, with a green salad.
For the yogurt filling:
2 cups plain non-fat Greek yogurt
2 medium-sized garlic cloves
1/4 tsp kosher salt
For the meat sauce:
1 tsp olive oil
1 lb lean ground beef
Fresh black pepper
2 cups diced onion, 1/4-inch dice
1 cup diced celery, 1/4-inch dice (2-3 large stalks)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp Aleppo pepper (or 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper)
1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
For the noodles:
1/2 lb thin egg noodles: hilopites, vermicelli, broken-up angel hair pasta, or any other similarly-shaped pasta
For the leeks:
8 cups diced leeks, white and light green parts only, 1/2-inch dice (6 leeks)*
3 Tbsp olive oil
Fresh black pepper
For the topping:
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for coating the baking pan (I used olive oil spray)
1 cup freshly grated kefalotyri, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Romano cheese, divided (I used the food processor for this)
Make the yogurt filling: Place the yogurt in a mixing bowl. Purée garlic by mashing it into the salt with the flat of a knife or in a mortar and pestle. Mix the puréed garlic into the yogurt, and set aside.
Make the meat sauce: In a large sauce pan or small stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the meat, season lightly with salt and black pepper, and cook, stirring frequently and breaking up any clumps, until it is nicely browned. Add the onions and celery and sauté until the onions begin to brown. Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and white wine and bring to a boil. Cook rapidly for five minutes, stirring constantly. Turn the heat down to medium, and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until most of the liquid in the sauce has evaporated. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Stir in the mint and take the sauce off the burner.
Cook the noodles: Add the noodles to boiling salted water and cook until they’re half done. (Because the noodles are small, they cook quickly.) Drain and set aside.
Make the leeks: *Trim the root end off the leeks, and cut off the leaves just at the point where the white part of the leek begins. (Save the trimmed leaves for soup stock.) Cut the leeks lengthwise, and discard the outermost layer. Cut the rest into 1/2-inch dice and place in a very large mixing bowl. Fill the bowl with cold water, and swoosh the leeks around to loosen any dirt. Let sit for 5 minutes. In a nonstick frying pan, heat the oil. Gently scoop off the leeks, without disturbing the sediment that has settled to the bottom of the bowl, and add the leeks to the hot pan. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until the leeks are soft.
Make the topping: Whisk together the eggs, cream, a little salt, black pepper, and 1/3 cup of the grated cheese.
Assemble the moussaka: Preheat the oven to 400°F
Thoroughly oil a 10” x 10” baking pan (I used a 9x13 pan). Spread half the noodles over the bottom of the pan. Evenly sprinkle 1/3 cup grated cheese over the noodles. Evenly spread the leeks over the grated cheese, the yogurt filling over the leeks, the meat sauce over the yogurt, the remaining grated cheese over the meat sauce, the remaining noodles over the grated cheese, and the egg/cream topping over the noodles.
Bake for 50 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into pieces with a very sharp or serrated knife.
Serve with a crisp green salad, Kalamata olives, and crusty bread.
Other recipes that use hilopites:
Hilopites with mushrooms and mint, from Kalofagas
Makarounotes chilopites, from Kopiaste
Kotopoulo rapama me hilopites (chicken in tomato with noodles), from Mennonite Girls Can Cook
Beef with hilopites, from Elly Says Opa!
Quick and easy vegetarian hilopites, from Kouzina Melania