Thursday, September 20, 2018

Harvest Borek

One of the reasons I cook is because it takes me places. My spatula and my skillet fly me far and wide, across continents and oceans, like a magic carpet. I hop on it, and with every dash of seasoning and every pinch of herbs, with every beautiful piece of produce I get to hold, I discover new countries and new cultures. My carpet knows no boundaries -- real places, forgotten places, and imaginary kingdoms of salt and spice; the highlands and lowlands, the woodlands and farmlands -- they all stretch ahead of me, in a million exciting journeys.

Late September and early October -- when warm winds get trapped in the first droplets of rain and sun befriends the northern breeze; when summer spills into fall, and fall takes it wholeheartedly in and they coexist, drunk with each other -- is my favorite time to travel. A time like no other. The time of harvest. The market stalls are overflowing with gifts from before and after, because both past and future are ripe and giving. The last summer produce, fat with sunshine, commences a swan song of a waning season and the new fall produce joins in; shy and insecure at first, yet louder with every note, with every moment; until the voices unite and rise up high into the crispness of the autumn sky and the song becomes a symphony.

Harvest. The most precious time in all the societies of the world. The time when the earth gives back. I fill up my basket, close my eyes, and begin the journey. Late September sun, kind and giving, somewhere along the Mediterranean coast... Tomatoes. A vineyard in Tuscany when grapes are being reaped and crushed, and wine flows by the barrel. Vino. The mossy scent of a pumpkin field, and soil wet with knowledge and abundance, wet with forgiveness, with comfort. Squashes...

Yesterday at the market, I filled up my basket to the brim, so that it was overflowing, just like the stalls around it. I sat on the sidewalk and gave it a thought, pondering how best to honor the season and its gifts? How to put them all in one dish. A dish that tells stories and takes one places. A dish worth of all the harvests around the world.

I came up with a pie.

A pie like no other. It carries inside my recent travels to Serbia and Greece -- the two mighty empires of filo. It carries inside my daughter's delight as she enters a bakery next to the Kalenić market in Belgrade, my hometown, and her laughter as she digs her skinny fingers into a slice of hot meat borek. The place is small and crowded, a line of customers spilling onto a street, all waiting for their share of goodness; and they keep bringing one big round pan after another, and another, yet it's never enough, and the line is getting longer, but it's worth it. We all fight for a tiny piece of the counter to put a plate on, because the call of the crispy, razor sharp golden crust is impossible to resist.

My pie is rich with laughter and fat with memories, with all the pies my mother made, and the ones we made together. Cheese, spinach, squash, pumpkin, meat, ham, onion, sauerkraut, leeks, potatoes... Rolled, layered, crumpled... Dozens, hundreds, thousands, a lifetime of pies, perhaps more. Because a sheet of filo is like a blank canvas, like a backdrop, like a papyrus; you open it up and roll it out and close your eyes, and the story unravels.

My pie is like a trace on the world map; a line connecting all the places I've been to and all the places I would like to visit. It's stretching from Serbia and Greece, into Tuscany and Provence, and into the vine cellars of Rhone Valley. It's touching the shores of North Africa and the Middle East, pass the Spice Road, pass the Silk Route and beyond, into unknown and unexplored... Until there is nothing else left, but an empty plate, and a couple of golden flakes of filo.


Note: This post was sponsored by my friends from The Fillo Factory. It's more a collaboration really and a nod to a wonderful product that I trust and depend on. (Let me see, one pie a week, for over a decade -- OMG it's like one long bowling lane of filo). In this recipe I used Fillo Factory Organic Fillo Sheets, but #4, #7, even #10 (the thick ones) work well, because filo is a kind and forgiving creature and it's almost impossible to get it wrong. If you are looking for other innovative ways to use filo, check out Fillo Factory Instagram feed, it's a treasure trove of ideas (filo doughnut anyone?).

Harvest Borek

for the filling

* 1 1/2 lb ground beef  
* one large onion, about 6-8 oz, cut into fine dice 
* 20 oz carnival or butternut squash meat, cut into 1/2 to 3/4-inch dice 
* 1/2 cup red wine 
* 1/4 cup raisins 
* 2 tsp oregano 
* 2 tsp summer savory 
* 1/4 tsp nutmeg 
* 4 tbsp tomato concentrate 
* 6 tbsp sunflower oil, divided (3tbsp + 3 tbsp), plus more for brushing  
* salt and freshly ground pepper

to assemble

* 8 sheets of filo 
* 1/2 cup of sunflower oil (or other high heat oil), plus more for brushing  
* 1/4 cup hot water

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a bowl, drizzle the squash cubes with 3 tablespoons of oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Brush a baking sheet with oil and place the squash cubes on it in one layer. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cubes are roasted and gently charred, but not completely falling apart.

In a large sauté pan, warm up 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and sauté for a couple of minutes until the onions soften and become translucent. Add the meat and break it with a spatula. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the meat is cooked through. Add the raisins, oregano, savory, nutmeg, tomato paste and wine. Reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer for about 8 minutes, all the liquid is almost absorbed. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the squash cubes to the meat mixture and mix well. Divide the mixture into four piles.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Brush a 10-inch round baking pan generously with oil. In a small bowl mix the oil with hot water. Carefully unroll the filo pastry. Cover the filo with a damp kitchen cloth to prevent it from drying out. Take one sheet of filo and place it on the work surface. Brush the filo generously with the mixture of oil and water. Cover with another piece of filo. Spread the quarter of the meat mixture on top of the filo sheet, leave the last 3-4 inches (the third of the sheet) empty, and brush that section with the mixture of oil and water. Gently roll the filo into a roll. Place the rolled-up pie, seam side down, in the center of the baking pan, as if you are building a snail. Make three more rolls, and continue building the snail, until you have used all the filo and the filling.

Brush the top of the pie with oil. Place in the oven and bake for about an hour, until the top is deeply golden and crispy. Remove the pie from the oven. Serve warm.

Serves 6-8

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