Old Rag Pie

Old Rag Pie is not the most glamorous name for something which, while being incredibly simple to make, will have you, and anyone who eats it, in raptures. The name is the English translation for the Greek Patsavouropita, created by bakeries as a way of using up old scraps of phyllo pastry: the "old rags" indicated by the title. They'd just go along their counters, collect up all the bits and turn them into this pie. For this reason, you don't need to worry about keeping your phyllo covered as you go, as is normally advised. It doesn't matter if it dries out a little as you make it, indeed this can even be desirable. In Greece, there are two variants, one sweet, one savory, but this version is the brainchild of my friend Alex Andreou (a bona fide--if it's not too rude to go into Latin here--Greek from Mykonos, and the source of other recipes, too) which merges the two, adding honey to salty feta, to create what I can best describe (in taste terms) as a Greek cheesecake. I have made this with a variety of phyllo pastries, and I have found that the more widely available brands are too damp and too heavily sprinkled with flour to do the job well. Luckily, those brands make a frozen phyllo, which doesn't seem to suffer from the same problems, which is why I stipulate this, below. (The other benefit of using frozen phyllo is that--given that feta has such a long shelf life--you can keep all the ingredients to make this in your freezer, fridge and cupboard without an extra visit to the shops.) However, should you be lucky enough to have access to good-quality, authentic phyllo, then please use fresh. And if you plan to freeze the pie before baking it, then you will definitely have to start with fresh, not frozen phyllo for sure. Since the packets of frozen phyllo come in 270-gram (9.5-ounce) weights, that is what I have used, but another 75 to 100 grams (3 to 4 ounces) or so wouldn't go amiss. So, if you can buy this in bigger packets, or are buying fresh by weight, go ahead, but don't break open a second packet for it. I'm afraid this Patsavouropita does make for an annoyingly difficult tin-washing-up later, but when you eat this, you'll know it's worth it.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 1 hr 30 min (includes standing time)
  • Active: 20 min
  • Yield: 9 generous slabs
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Ingredients

100 grams (3.5 ounces) soft unsalted butter

270-gram (9.5-ounce) packet frozen phyllo pastry, thawed

250 grams (9 ounces) feta cheese

2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 large eggs

150 milliliters (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) full-fat milk

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 jar good runny honey (such as Greek thyme honey or orange blossom honey)

Directions

Special equipment:
8-inch square cake tin
  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then take it off the heat.
  2. Line an 8-inch square cake tin with a layer of phyllo, making sure it comes up the sides; you will need to use more than one sheet. Then pour 1 tablespoon of melted butter over the pastry.
  3. Using one third of the remaining phyllo sheets, tear and scrunch the sheets up and drop them loosely in the tin. Then crumble in half the feta, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of Parmesan and just under 1/2 teaspoon of thyme leaves (or 1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme) and pour a third of the remaining melted butter over the top.
  4. Repeat, so that you use up all but a little of the butter and a small amount of thyme. For the last layer, you can use larger pieces of phyllo “rags" (as it's the lid), filling the tin a little more tightly, but still scrunching them.
  5. Fold the edges of overhanging phyllo over themselves, and pour the remaining butter on top. Using the sharp point of a knife, make 2 cuts down and 2 cuts across into the phyllo-packed tin, from edge to edge to create 9 sections. It's important that you don't use a blunt knife, as you don't want to drag the phyllo or press down on it.
  6. Beat the eggs with the milk, then pour over the contents of the tin. Sprinkle the last bit of thyme along with the sesame seeds on top. Let it stand for at least 30 minutes in a cool place before baking. If 2 hours is easier for your timetable, then put it in the fridge. And you can do this in advance.
  7. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F)/gas mark 6, and bake the pie for 30 minutes. When it's ready, the pastry will be golden and puffed up, and the inside set.
  8. Let it stand for 10 minutes, then spoon 1 tablespoon of the honey over the top.
  9. Cut into slices or slabs--using a serrated bread knife and sawing action to prevent squishing the phyllo on top too much, then pushing the knife down to cut through. Serve the pie directly from the tin and put the jar of honey, with a spoon in it (or you can pour it into a jug) on the table for people to add extra as they eat.

Cook’s Note

use bio washing powder for clothes, or a dishwasher powder, rather than washing-up liquid when you soak. Or you could eliminate the problem by using a good nonstick pan, which has entered my life rather late in the day. But in which case it's better to slip the pie out whole (it should be easy) and cut it on a wooden board instead.

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