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Maia's Pita di Spinaku Recipe

by Caryn Balamaci

Note: This is reprinted as it appeared in the Global Feast Cookbook, published by Mystic Seaport Museum in 1994 and edited by Annice Estes.

We are members of a small Romance-speaking Balkan ethnic group known as Vlachs or Arumanians. Ours is an oral culture and so this pita recipe has been handed down through many generations.

Maia (which means "maternal grandmother") left Albania in 1916 and never returned. She passed away in February of this year at the age of 92. Three years ago, after 76 years of separation, Maia was visited by the "baby sister" she left behind in Albania. Though Maia and her sister disagreed on the finer points of making a good pita, they both agreed on one thing -- theirs is the best.

Maia had a few dos and don'ts about the art of pita making:

  1. Never cook a pita on a humid day.
  2. Always make pita first thing in the morning.
  3. Never let the dough get tough -- roll it until it is light and fluffy.
  4. Always remember Maia's special secret about pita dough.
  5. Never reveal Maia's special secret about pita dough.

Don't worry, a great pita can be made even without Maia's secret; and after a few tries, you'll discover your own secret ways to improve this pita. Following is Maia's recipe -- with a little editing from my mother and me:

Ingredients:

2 - 10 oz. pks. frozen spinach
4 eggs
1 pound cottage cheese, farmer cheese, or Greek feta cheese, crumbled
dash of salt
4 1/2 - 5 cups unbleached flour
2 tsp. salt
2-2 1/2 cups water
2 sticks butter melted

Filling:

Prepare spinach according to package. Strain and let cool.
Combine cheese, eggs, 1 tbs. of the melted butter and dash of salt. Set aside.

Crust:

  1. In a large bowl, sift 4 1/2 cups flour.
  2. Add 2 tsp. salt and mix with a fork.
  3. Slowly add the water and work dough with fingertips to form a soft, smooth, elastic ball.
  4. Knead for 10 minutes, adding more sifted flour or water if needed. Do not let the dough get tough.
  5. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes.
  6. Split dough in half to form 2 pieces.
  7. Roll one piece of dough until thin and the size of the shallow rectangular pan you will use for the pie (approx. 14"L x 12"W x 1"D).
  8. Spread the dough with some of the melted butter.
  9. With a knife, draw a small circle in the center and cut from the outside of the circle to form a "sun" pattern  with 8 cut sections. Diagram:

  1. Turn one piece over onto the circle and butter the top of that section. Repeat the same procedure with each section, layering them on top of each other, but leave the 8th section unbuttered. Refrigerate.
  2. Repeat the same procedure with the second piece of dough and refrigerate as well.
  3. Remove 1st chilled piece of dough. Sprinkle with flour and roll out until dough is one inch bigger than the pan.
  4. Place rolled out dough in buttered pan.
  5. Add spinach filling and spread.
  6. Roll out 2nd chilled piece of dough so that it overlaps at least one inch on all sides of the pan. Place over spinach filling and tuck edges into side of pan to form a thick crust. Brush top with remaining melted butter.
  7. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, lower heat to 400 and bake for 15 minutes longer, or until golden and crispy.
  8. Remove from oven, cut into squares. Yields about 18 pieces.