A winter squash pita to rival any pumpkin pie
Fall in Canada brings so much wonder. Leaves change into the most beautiful colours, the air is brisk and fresh, and sweater season makes even the grumpiest of humans appear snuggle-worthy. But sometimes we think that all these wonderful things get usurped by pumpkin spice; we actually think that pumpkin spice might take over the world…and we are intrigued.
Growing up in a Greek home, we certainly ate our fair share of pumpkin and other great, big winter squash, all of which were grown in our parents’ garden. We were fascinated by the story of Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin, curious about the whole jack-o-lantern thing and wondering why the gang wasn’t discussing the type of pita they would make with their pumpkin patch find. Notice that we said pita, not pie.
In fact we first had pumpkin pie (like the kind that you can find gracing the table of many Thanksgiving gatherings) a few years ago. Yup! We know, crazy right! It came into our lives as a dessert contribution to a dinner party we were hosting which featured turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce, and all sorts of other non-Greek things. Pumpkin pie fit right in. Our parents were present and when we asked them if they wanted to try some of the pumpkin pie that Jane had brought over, they eagerly said yes. They were impressed that Jane, our Anglo-saxon friend, had learned to cook Greek food. How cute are they?! In any case, after their initial surprise at the slice of pie which was presented, they deemed it delicious. Not pita-delicious, but good just the same.
In our pictures you will note that the squash which was used to make this particular pita is not actually pumpkin, but a non-identifiable winter squash with orange flesh which was growing in our parents’ garden. You can definitely use pumpkin to make this pita, or butternut squash, or any other orange fleshed variety of winter gourd. Because this pita is meant to be slightly sweet (not dessert sweet, but slightly sweet), it is a good idea to taste it raw after you have grated it. Depending upon how naturally sweet your squash is, you may decide to adjust the amount of sugar you add to the mix. The 1/4 cup of sugar we add to this recipe is for a squash which is only mildly sweet in it’s raw state.
Because you have many choices of squash that you can use, everytime you make this pita, you may end up with a flavour and a colour which is slightly different. This is not a problem; remember that variety is the pumpkin spice of life.
The phyllo dough that our parents use to make this pita is different than the one they use for their spanakopita and tyropita. This particular recipe gives a phyllo which is slightly flaky, probably because of the way that it is rolled out.
Our parents use a rectangular baking tray that is about 2 inches deep and 13 x 17 inches large. We recognize that it is kind of a unit tray that you may not have in your kitchen. Our advice to you would be to use something of similar size (even if it’s round). Your pita will actually be about an inch thick after you prepare it and will then become less thick after baking because the filling will settle and decrease in volume.
We appreciated, only after reviewing this recipe that it is actually vegan. This is a happy coincidence if you happen to be vegan or for periods of Orthodox lent. Even if you are not vegan or Orthodox, this is a delicious pita to add to your repertoire of recipes :).
Looking for some more squash recipes, try these:
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Pumpkin or winter squash pita
- Rolling pin
- Baking tray
For the filling:
- 7 cups grated pumpkin or other orange fleshed squash
- 1/2 cup grated yellow onion
- 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
- 1/2 cup long-grain rice
- 1/4 cup Greek olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the dough:
- 700 grams all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (500 mL) hot water
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) + 2 tablespoons (30 mL) vegetable oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) Greek olive oil
- Place your grated squash in a large colander and allow it to drain and soften for at least one hour, or overnight. If you plan on letting it sit overnight, place in the refrigerator and then bring to room temperature before proceeding. If you will only let it sit for a minimal amount to time, you can massage your grated squash with your fingers, to soften it up.
- In the meantime, soak your uncooked rice in water, at room temperature, for at least 60 minutes. Your rice should be covered by at least one inch of water.
- Using a cheesecloth, a clean kitchen towel, or your hands, drain as much of the water out of the squash as possible.
- Next, using the same method, squeeze as much water out of the grated onion as possible. Combine the squash and onion in a large bowl.
- Drain the rice and add that to the bowl containing the squash.
- To this bowl add the 1/4 cup granulated sugar; 1/4 cup olive oil; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Set the filling aside.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 13 x 17 inch baking tray and set aside.
- Now, it is time to make the phyllo dough. Place your flour into a large bowl and add the 2 cups of boiling water to it. Next add the vegetable oil and salt.
- Carefully, so as to not burn yourself (remember, the water was hot), begin to mix together the dough with your hands. Mix and then knead for about 5 – 10 minutes until you get a soft and pliable phyllo dough.
- Divide the dough into two pieces, with one slightly larger than the other; this will be the bottom of your pita.
- Take this slightly larger half piece of dough and divide it into two. Lightly flour your counter top or table and using a rolling pin begin to roll out each dough half. When each piece is an oval shape, about 20 to 30 centimeters in length, use your fingers to spread about 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil onto the surface of each. Then, flip one oval shaped piece of dough on top of the other, oiled sides meeting together. Using your rolling pin continue to roll out the dough until it is large enough to cover the base of your baking tray and come up the sides. The dough should also be thin enough that you can almost see through it.
- Once your phyllo dough has lined the bottom of your baking tray, you can introduce the squash filling. Spread the mixture evenly and use a fork or the back of a spoon to gently press down on the filling to make sure you don’t have any void areas.
- Roll out the remaining dough by repeating the process above. When you have rolled it out enough, carefully transfer it to the baking pan and cover your filling. Crimp the lower and upper layers of dough together and cut off the excess.
- Using a very sharp knife, gently score the top layer of dough; this will enable you to mark out the pieces of pita that you will ultimately cut.
- Using a pastry brush, gently brush the top of the pita with olive oil.
- Place your pita in the middle rack of your pre-heated oven and bake for approximately one hour. Remove from oven when the top of your pita is nicely browned. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into serving pieces.
- Leftovers should be kept in the refrigerator.