25 September 2006

Filo pastry

Filo pastry is a big thing in Bulgaria, very versatile and so there are lots of traditional dishes made with it. Generally it's filo pastry with stuffing - either sweet or savory - baked in the oven. And the common name for these dishes is баница (banitza). But some of them have their own name, like спаначник (spanatchnik) which is better known under it's Greek name spanakopita and тиквеник (tikvenik) made with pumpkin. Of course if apples are used, it's called strudel, which is a German dish. But the principle is the same for all.

Today I made tikvenik and instead of using syrup or honey, I put in the leftover honeycomb I did the other week. Since I didn't manage to get it out of the glass dish, I left it on top of the fridge in the kitchen and it absorbed moisture and went sticky:

1 large butternut squash
2 dl coarsely chopped walnuts
about 1 dl maple syrup or aromatic honey
2-3 tsp ground cinnamon
3-4 tbsp grape seed oil
100-150 g filo pastry

  1. Cut the butternut squash in two - the narrow bit and the round bit. Then cut the round bit in half and scoop out the seeds. Proceed to cut the whole squash into smallish chunks, then take a small vegetable knife and peel the bits. This is the easiest way to do it, the skin is far too hard for a potato peeler and when you peel small bits, you don't loose as much of the beautiful orange flesh.
  2. Put the peeled chunks in a pot , fill to the middle with water and boil until they just go soft. Better yet is to steam, if you have a steam inset, that preserves the flavour better. However, after a brief chat with my Mum, apparently she grates the pumpkin and fries it lightly in oil and butter. I'd recommend this if you are using a different variety of pumpkin, e g a jack-o-lantern, that might not have as much flavour.
  3. Remove the water and the steam inset, then mash up with a fork, but not too thoroughly, it should be a bit chunky.
  4. Stir in walnuts, syrup or honey and cinnamon until well mixed. It's OK if it's still warm.
  5. Pour the oil in a small bowl, use some of it to grease a deep (5 cm) baking tin with a brush.
  6. Open the filo pastry and spread onto a greaseproof piece of paper. The filo I normally buy is about 35-40 cm by 15-20 cm and that's too narrow, so I divide the filo sheets in two and place them next to each other, so that I can get the double width. Take the top one of the filo sheets pf one of the piles and move it to overlap with the top sheet of the other pile, about 2-3 cm.
  7. Brush lightly the combined sheet with oil, then put some of the pumpkin mix about 2 cm inside one of the edges. I usually put it across the overlap, but this doesn't matter much. I put enough of the mix to get up to 1 cm thick coating, 10-15 cm wide.
  8. Preheat the oven at 220 degrees C/gas mark 7.
  9. Then starting from the 2 cm edge left clear, fold it in, then roll over the spread and onwards until you have a roll. Place the roll with it's outer edge down into the baking tin.
  10. Repeat until all the pumpkin mix has been used up.
  11. When you are done, brush the rolls with oil, then place in the middle and bake until the filo gets a nice golden brown colour.
  12. Take out and let rest for a few minutes, then cut across the rolls at 10 cm intervals.
  13. When serving, dust with icing sugar.
The tikvenik, like most banitza is supposed to be eaten with your fingers, so it can be a bit messy. Freshly out of the oven, the filo pastry is very crispy and breaks and bits can fly everywhere. But it's just as nice cold, however then it goes soft. It can be warmed up, but won't regain it's crispiness as the filo soaks up the liquid from the filling.

The proportions above are approximate, but if there's any filo pastry or filling left over (e. g. when the baking tin is full), they can be frozen for another time.

If you feel that someone needs punishment, skip the boiling of the pumpkin, just get that person to grate it by hand.



As mentioned at the top, there is traditional banitza which is made with eggs and feta cheese:

3 eggs
300 g feta cheese

With a fork, mash up the cheese into fine crumbles and mix well with the eggs. Otherwise the procedure is the same as for the tikvenik above. If you can get hold of the feta cheese that's been in brine, even better.


Just swap the pumpkin for apple in the tikvenik recipe and add some sultanas.


Here, I'm really not sure of the amounts, I'll make sure to measure next time I make it.

0.5 dl grape seed oil
15 g butter
1 leek, peeled and coarsely chopped
400 g chopped frozen spinach (thawed for cooking)
0.5 dl chopped parsley
1 dl chopped dill
500 ml creme fraiche
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oil and fry the leek.
  2. When it's going soft, add the butter, spinach and parsley. Stir around until the butter has melted and the spinach is heated through.
  3. Take off the heat and let cool a bit.
  4. Stir in creme fraiche, dill and season.
  5. Roll away, just like the tikvenik above.
If you don't have leeks, regular onion will do, but leek tastes best. Fresh spinach can also be used, I normally take 200 g fresh babyleaf spinach and 300 g blanched tips from stinging nettles. There's plenty of them in the garden, pick, wash thoroughly, then steam for a few minutes and freeze in boxes. Sorrel is also very nice, but don't use only that, it'll be a bit too sour. Also lovage is rather tasty, it should go in with the parsley.
The creme fraiche can be substituted with cottage cheese.

This and the traditional banitza are perfect finger food or to take along cold on picnics.

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