Back in the distant days of the mid-1980s, I was fortunate enough to spend a few years living on the Greek island of Kos – one of the Dodecanese group of islands, in the eastern Aegean. It is now known as a major ‘package holiday’ destination, but back then the original character of the island was still easy to see. The market building in the centre of the town still housed a real, working market, selling fantastic, seasonal fruit and vegetables. There was an elderly gentleman who still wore traditional clothes – baggy black trousers and a black waistcoat – when going about his daily business. I even remember a traveller came to town one day with, horror of horrors, a dancing bear. This definitely felt like ‘somewhere else’ – especially coming from industrial Sheffield.
We lived in the old part of Kos town, in one of the few buildings to survive the massive earthquake of 1936. Our neighbours were a baker on one side and, on the other, a tinsmith. who ran his business from a narrow, dark room, sandwiched between two buildings. He was a rather taciturn figure, arriving every morning on an ancient motorcycle, busied himself forging all sort of tin products until midday, and then left. He spoke little, barely exchanging a few words as he came and went every day. There was one time of the year when his little business came into its own and he did a roaring trade.
In the days before Easter week, it seemed that everyone that went to his workshop left with bags of handmade tins – little flan or tartlet tins. A few days later, it became obvious what the tins were for, as they made another appearance, this time lined with rich pastry and filled with creamy cheese. t seemed that every house in the neighbourhood was sending vast trays of these pies to the baker, our other neighbour, to be baked in his oven. Later that day the finished result would be carried away, shiny, golden and fragrant.
The pies, I found out, were called ‘Lambrópites’, a traditional recipe unique to Kos. In Greek the word ‘Lambri’ – brightness – is another word for Easter, so these are ‘Bright Pies’ and only made at Easter time. They are little tarts filled with a rich mixture of cheese, yoghourt, eggs and spices and baked to golden brightness. In older times, the skilled ladies of Kos formed the pies free-hand – raising the sides of the dough to retain the creamy filling. It is much easier to use tins to keep everything in place! They can be flavoured with nutmeg or cinnamon and sometimes sprinkled with sugar. On the island of Astypalea, they make something similar – their version is flavoured with saffron, with its distinctive fragrance and incredible colour.
I have to admit that this is a slightly easier version – the traditional dough is made with yeast. I use a buttery pastry – I don’t think it detracts too much. Personally, I like them with a more savoury note and I add some chopped dill to the mix. They have become for me the very essence of Easter.
I don’t have any of the tinsmith’s tins, mine were bought in England and, needless to say, I bake my lambrópites in my oven at home, the results though are just as delicious.
14 individual flan tins – or similar
250 gm feta
250 gm Greek yoghourt
250 gm ricotta – mizithra – or similar soft, unsalted whey cheese
150 gm gouda – or Greek graviéra – grated
4 eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt
A little ground black pepper
Either, 2 tablespoonfuls of chopped dill OR 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cinnamon OR a few saffron threads dissolved in a tablespoonful of warm milk.
300 gm plain flour
150 gm butter, chopped into small pieces
pinch of salt
2 tablespoon cold water
First make the pastry, Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.
Add the chopped butter, then rub into the flour with your fingers, until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the water an combine all the ingredients with a spatula, until you have a ball of soft dough.
Cover, so that it doesn’t dry out and leave it to rest in a cool place.
Now make the cheese filling.
Take a large bowl and in it put the feta and crumble it with a fork. Add the ricotta and do the same, then add the yoghourt, the grated gouda and the beaten eggs.
Mix all the ingredients together very well. It should have the appearance of thick cream but you should still be able to see small bits of feta and the grated cheese.
Add the flavouring of choice and mix it in well.
Take your flan tins and rub the insides with a piece of buttery paper. This stops the pastry from sticking.
Now take the ball of dough, cut it in half and roll out on a floured surface, until you have two thin sheets of pastry.
Cut out 14 circles of pastry with a pastry cutter.
Line the tart tins with the pastry and then fill each one with a couple of tablespoonfuls of the cheese mix .
Bake for about 35 – 40 minutes at around 185 degrees.
When cool enough to handle, remove from the tins and serve.