Tzulamas

Festive Pork, Currant and Pistachio Pie from Crete

IN MESARA, on the fertile plain of Crete, the three weeks before the 40-day period of Lent are days of mad parties, fancy dressing and meals rich in dairy products and meat, with public dances and carnival parades marking the end of winter. Hovering between sweet and savory, this festive pie, which is traditional during Carnival, is reminiscent of bisteya, the famous Moroccan pastry stuffed with pigeon (or chicken) and almonds. Though the name comes from the Turkish word çullama, meaning “pastry-covered food,” this pie is not Turkish, for it is made with pork, a meat that Muslim Turks are prohibited from eating. But Middle Eastern and Arab influences are present nonetheless, and the combination of ingredients—ground meat, nuts, currants and cinnamon—is certainly very old. In my version, I substitute a mixture of ground pork and chicken livers for the traditional pork liver. You can make your own pastry, but commercial puff pastry works equally well.

Serve as a main course, accompanied by a salad of wilted greens or a simple mixed green salad.

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Ingredients

Filling

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
  • ½ pound chicken livers, finely chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 cup sweet red wine, such as Mavrodaphne or sweet Marsala
  • 1 cup Zante currants
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup medium-grain rice, such as Arborio
  • 2 cups Chicken Stock
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped almonds
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped pistachios
  • 1–2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 17¼-ounce packages (3 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed according to the package instructions, or 1 recipe Cretan Phyllo
  • Olive oil or melted unsalted butter for brushing, if using phyllo dough
  • 2–3 tablespoons milk
  • Confectioners’ sugar and ground cinnamon

Method

Make the Filling

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil or butter and sauté the livers over medium heat until firm, about 4 minutes. Add the pork and sauté for 4 minutes more. Add the wine, currants, cinnamon sticks and Aleppo pepper or pepper flakes, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the pork is no longer pink. Remove from the heat and stir in the rice, 1 cup of the stock, the almonds, pistachios, sugar, cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste. Let cool. Remove the cinnamon sticks.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Oil or butter a 13-x-9-inch baking dish.

If using phyllo, divide the dough into 4 pieces and fit 2 sheets into the bottom and up the sides of the dish, brushing each sheet with oil or butter, and trim to a 1-inch overhang. Add the filling, smoothing it with a spatula, and pour the remaining 1 cup stock over it. Cover with the remaining 2 sheets phyllo, brushing each with oil or butter. Fold the overhanging bottom crust up over the top crust and pinch the top edges together to seal, crimping them to make a neat cord around the edge of the pie (see illustrations). Flatten the cord with the tines of a fork to prevent it from sticking up, or it will burn during baking. Brush the top generously with the milk.

If using puff pastry, divide into 3 portions. Cover 1 piece with plastic wrap. Briefly knead the other 2 pieces together, then roll out on a lightly floured surface. Fit 1 sheet of pastry into the dish, and trim to a 1-inch overhang. Add the filling, smoothing the top with a spatula, and pour the remaining 1 cup stock over it. Cover with the other sheet. Pinch the two edges together, turn them inward and press to seal. Brush the top generously with milk.

Bake for 15 minutes, sprinkling the top of the pie 8 to 10 times with water. Bake for 10 minutes more, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for 30 to 40 minutes more, or until golden brown. Check often, and if the pastry puffs up, prick it in several places with a knife. If the top browns too quickly, cover it loosely with aluminum foil. Turn off the oven, but leave the pie in the oven for 10 minutes more.

Let the pie cool on a rack for 15 minutes (see Note), then sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon and serve.

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