I have always been afraid to work with phyllo pastry. All the recipes I read seemed very complicated when it came to proper handling the sheets of phyllo dough, which has the tendency to dry too fast. Also, a lot of butter was used in each recipe, which discouraged me even more.
I am not a big fan of phyllo's crispness and ready-made phyllo dishes, like spanakopitas, look appetizing enough, to avoid the hassle of dealing with phyllo at home. But I still remember a dish that my friend made years ago which I liked very much, based on phyllo pastry and cheese. She served it on a spring day lunch with green salad and chilled white wine. And I still remember how good it was.
Then another friend made a similar savory pie, which again tasted very good. It was another version of the same dish and I learned that the original recipe came from Balkans, and the pie was called Gibanica.
Some time ago, when I found myself with a big container of accidentally bought ricotta cheese, I decided it was time to take up the challenge and finally make something with phyllo pastry. I combined some elements from both recipes I got and made a delicious pie filled with a smooth mixture of three cheeses. And although the original Gibanica is a vegetarian dish made with one type of Balkan cottage cheese, when I made if for the second time I added a couple of slices of smoked ham to the filling. It tasted really good.
Also working with phyllo turned out not difficult at all. After opening an original package I put the whole roll into a large Ziploc bag, which prevented it from drying while I was working with sheets. I used butter generously for greasing the baking form, but I did not put it between the layers of the phyllo dough (the cheese is fat enough already), and just put some butter flakes on top of the pie. The whole crust came out nice and crispy, it was not too dry or too greasy, and therefore the delicate taste of the pastry was very detectable.
Three Cheese Savory Phyllo Pie
1 package phyllo pastry dough--you will need between 15-20 sheets,
3 cups ricotta cheese,
1 package--8 oz mascarpone cheese,
half a pound feta cheese, crumbled,
4 eggs, yolks separated from whites,
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg,
1/4 tsp salt,
freshly ground pepper.
1. Preheat oven to 370F.
2. Using stand or hand mixer with whisk attachments beat three cheeses together, and when they are already well combined add egg yolks one by one whisking continuously.
3. Beat whites until stiff and gently fold into the cheese mixture, season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
4. Grease the baking form (springform pan) with butter and spread about 10-15 sheets at the bottom and up the walls of the springform pan, with some overhang over the edges of the pan--see picture.
5. Fill the form with cheese filling and cover it with the remaining 5-10 phyllo sheets, gently wrinkling them and folding the overhang on the top (as if to package the cheese filling in phyllo dough).
6. Bake the pie for 50-60 minutes. When the upper phyllo becomes already dark gold but the pie does net yet rise, cover the top with a piece of aluminium foil.
Serve warm cut into triangles with green lettuce and tomato salad.