Marathopita is a Cretan rustic treat, inspired by tradition and the rich flora of the island. It uses seasonal wild greens (horta) and loads of feathery fennel leaves in a fragrant mix of herbs, stuffed in pastry dough and then fried in olive oil until golden.
Fennel is a perennial herb with a fragrance that tends to overpower other ingredients. Because the scent is so strong and many people prefer a more subtle aroma, marathopita is often prepared with a mix of seasonal greens and fennel fronds. The outstanding variety and diversity of the horta greens means that every time you eat a marathopita you will taste something different.
Fennel leaves make about 50% of the composition. For the rest you can use everything from spinach and parsley, to wild edible plants like ahartzikas, vizoradiko, korkolekanida, lagouto, petrokares, and stroufoulia. The consumption of wild greens on the island has been documented for hundreds of years.
“The same plants that our ancestors used to collect (there are reports by Theophrastus, by Dioskourides, in the Symposiaka of Plutarch, in the Georgika of Nican-der, and by Athineos) and use in separate dishes or to accompany other dishes are present today in meals,mostly in villages,” according Antonia Psaroudaki, Petros Dimitropoulakis, Theophanis Constantinidis, Andreas Katsiotis, and George N. Skaracis, authors of the “Ten Indigenous Edible Plants: Contemporary Usein Eastern Crete, Greece” study published in Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment (Vol. 34, No. 2 December 2012).
Marathopites (μαραθόπιτες) take little time to cook, although the prep time is longer because you need to wash the greens and the fennel thoroughly, and chop everything as finely as possible. Prepare the ingredients for the dough too and start working.
For the pastry:
- 500 grams all-purpose flour
- 40 milliliters olive oil
- 40 milliliters raki
- 200 milliliters lukewarm water to knead the dough
- 1 level teaspoon sea salt
Mix the flour and the sea salt into a large bowl.
Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly incorporate the olive oil and the raki, while pouring water slowly until everything mixes well. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to blend with your fork flour your hands and start kneading. If the dough is not firm enough, add more flour.
Keep kneading for about ten minutes then set aside in a lightly greased bowl covered with clingfilm to rest.
For the filling:
- A bunch of leafy horta greens. Alternatively, spinach, mint, and parsley.
- An equal quantity of fennel leaves. (The more fennel you use, the closer the taste to the traditional recipe.)
- 40 milliliters olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- spring onion (and, optionally, green garlic leaves)
Chop all the greens as finely as possible. Toss them into a bowl with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
To make the pies:
Make small dough balls and flatten them with your hands carefully: you don’t want them to be too thin or too thick. Place the green mixture in the middle and fold into a ball until all greens are covered by dough. Flatten the pies again, gently – you don’t want your pastry to break.
Cook the pies individually in olive oil, about a couple of minutes on each side, until golden. You can serve them hot or at room temperature.