Two years ago, Spyros and I booked a trip to Greek wine country in Naoussa, northern Greece. We had a three-day weekend for the October 28 Greek Independence day and took the opportunity to try Greek wines in their natural habitat and see Northern Greece’s fall foliage—something from PA that I missed.
By our last night in Naoussa, we weren’t hungry. We had spent the afternoon driving to one last winery and, afterwards, eating a very long lunch. The sky had darkened when we reached our hotel but it was still early enough for a walk in Naoussa’s town square. There, the restaurants and bars hummed with diners; a few had chalkboards listing local wines by the glass. At a wine bar we grabbed a high-top for two and planned to order a snack and one last glass of Xinomavro, the region’s main variety. The name translates as sour-black.
On the menu, I saw a starter of braised mushrooms, a dish that sounded light and wintery, exactly what I wanted with my last glass of Naoussan wine. A while later, the waitress returned with bowl of mushrooms in white wine sauce, flecked with thyme leaves. I took a forkful, then another. Spyros did the same. We looked at each other, delightfully surprised at the taste in our mouths; the flavor of Northern Greece’s woods wrapped in its most crisp wine. We ordered another round of mushrooms.
Prior to the trip I hadn’t really considered mushrooms part of Greek cuisine. They seemed more at home in boeuf bourguignon or stroganoff. But that dish in Naoussa seemed the natural habitat for a mushroom, as if all a mushroom ever wanted was to end up in a blanket of lemony wine sauce. It inspired me to find other Greek dishes that made good use of mushrooms. Now that the holidays are here and mushrooms are in season, it seems the perfect time.
So I present to you mushroom pie, inspired by Diana Kochilas’s recipe for a mushroom pie from Nymfiao, which is also in Northern Greece. It is a light vegetable pie, sweetened by onions and perfumed with thyme–like our braised mushrooms in Naoussa. With just a smattering of cheese, it’s lovely for sharing at holiday parties or as the first course in a larger meal.
Friends from the U.S. arrived at our house this week, bringing with them memories of Pittsburgh and school. With them we shared the last of our wine from Naoussa and this pie. With that, I wish you a happy start to the holiday season and that you are able to share it with the family and friends in your life.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 large onions, cut into large (about 3/4″) pieces
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 pounds mushrooms, washed and thickly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 package ready phyllo dough, thawed or homemade phyllo
1. Melt the butter in a wide pan over medium heat and cook the onions until they are soft and golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in the paprika into the pan and Add the sliced mushrooms and a big pinch of salt to the pan and cook until the mushrooms’ liquid has mostly evaporated.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the thyme leaves; cool slightly then stir in the cheese.
3. Brush a 9 x 11 glass baking dish with olive oil and line with 1-2 layers of homemade phyllo dough (or about 4-6 layers of packaged phyllo dough), brushing with olive oil in between the layers and allowing the ends to hang over the sides of the pan.
4. Spoon the mushroom mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Cover with 1-2 layers of homemade phyllo dough (4-6 layers of packaged phyllo dough), again brushing with olive oil between the layers and allowing excess dough to hang over the sides of the pan. Roll up the excess dough to form a crust and brush the entire top pastry with olive oil. Lightly score the pastry into pieces without cutting into the mushroom mixture. Bake in a 190oC (375oF) oven for 30-50 until the pie is golden and cooked through.