Albanian Leek and Goat Cheese Pie

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    8 to 10

    as a main course

Appears in

My friend Helen talked about her mother’s leek pie so often that I had to learn how to make it, but when we tried the family recipe it didn’t seem right. When Helen’s mother came for a visit, she showed us how her family had made this pie in Albania. The truth was that it was a good pie but had the potential to be a great one. Over time, something had gotten lost in translation: When Helen’s mother first came to America, she had had to substitute cottage cheese for the tart Albanian fresh cheese curds, and in making the dough, Crisco had become the layering agent. I realized how lucky we were today. We can get fresh goat cheese. We can buy filo dough for a thin and flaky crust to replace the Albanian peda, sort of a rustic puff pastry. Olive oil or butter can be used in the filo layering process.

I have made this pie with leeks, spinach, and zucchini. All are excellent. Similar versions of this pie are prepared in Greece and Turkey. For a lovely meal, serve with a salad of endive, apple, and walnuts with a walnut vinaigrette. Or assorted bitter greens, fennel, and hazelnuts.

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Ingredients

  • 10 medium leeks, most of the green tops removed
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • pounds fresh goat cheese (not too sharp!)
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
  • freshly ground pepper
  • Nutmeg (optional)
  • ½ pound unsalted butter, melted, or 1 cup mild olive oil
  • 16 to 20 sheets filo dough

Method

Procedure

For the filling, cut the leeks in half lengthwise and thinly slice them. Wash well in a sink full of cold water to remove the sand. Drain. (You should have about 4 cups sliced leeks.) Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a large high sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. During the cooking you may add up to 4 tablespoons water as needed to help wilt the leeks. (If there is a lot of water clinging to the leeks, you may not need to add any extra water.) Break the goat cheese into small pieces with your fingers and add, along with the eggs, to the leeks. Season to taste with pepper and, if you like, a little ground nutmeg.

Lightly brush a 15-inch pizza pan with melted butter or olive oil. Working with 1 sheet at a time, brush 8 to 10 sheets of filo with the melted butter or oil and arrange them in the pan, in an overlapping circular fashion, letting the edges of the filo overhang the pan (butter or oil the overhang as well). Spread the filling over the dough. Fold up the overhanging filo. Again working with 1 filo sheet at a time and brushing each sheet with butter or oil, arrange 8 to 10 more sheets of filo over the filling in the same circular fashion. Tuck the overhanging pieces under the pie. At this point you may refrigerate the pie overnight, covered loosely with a foil tent.

Bring the pie to room temperature, if refrigerated. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the pie until pale golden in color, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully tilt the pan to drain the excess butter or oil. Place a second 15-inch pizza pan over the pie and invert, turning the pie into the second pan. Return to oven and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Invert again onto the original pan.

To serve, cut into wedges with a serrated knife and eat warm; the pastry gets soggy when cold.