From feta-filled spanakopita to sticky Middle Eastern sweets, every corner of the globe has embraced the magic of pairing pastry with a cheesy filling.
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1 Jul 2019 - 3:14 PM  UPDATED 1 Jul 2019 - 3:14 PM

Pies do it. Pasties do it. Sticky Middle Eastern and Mediterranean sweets do it. And so do some of SBS's favourite cooks: pair pastry with cheese in unbeatable ways. It's a diverse global family, taking in everything from superfine filo and strudel-style doughs wrapped around sweet and savoury fillings to hearty pies making the most of sturdy, flaky, buttery pastries. Some even put the cheese IN the pastry, to double up on deliciousness (we're looking at you - longingly! - cauliflower cheese pasties).   

If you, too, love the rich rewards of cheese-meets-pastry, here are some of our favourite recipes. 

It all starts with spanakopita ...

We're starting with this combo of greens, salty cheese and flaky filo because when it comes to savoury cheese and pastry recipes on SBS Food, this Greek classic has claimed the top spot for years. Leading the way is Dimitra Alfred's version from Food Safari, which combines spinach or silverbeet with three kinds of cheese and spring onions and layers it under buttery fresh filo.

Food Safari's spanakopita

If you'd like to try your hand at making your own filo, Peter Gergakoloulos, of popular blog Souvlaki For The Soul  has shared with us his mum's spanakopita recipe, which wraps her home-made filo around a filling that includes English spinach, feta, ricotta, dill and mint. 

These are far from our only spanakopita offerings of course: you can change things up with spanakopita pies with tomato, fennel and chilli sauce, from Greek Week in The Chefs' Line;  or this variation, which uses butter puff pastry.

Before we roam on to other corners of the globe, here's one more example of how well Greece does a spinach and feta pie. This hortopita - wild greens pie - from northern Greece combines spinach, silverbeet, nettles or other bitter greens and sorrel, with Greek sheep's feta. Six layers of home-made filo, brushed with a butter and olive oil mixture, go beneath the filling, another six above, creating an irresistibly golden, flaky pie.  

There's three sides to this story

In the world of cheese-filled pastries, there's a special corner (see what we did there!) for triangular parcels, such as these Albanian byrekMade with a simple olive oil and flour dough and filled with a mixture of salty cheese, milk and egg, these are easy to make and brilliant warm or cold. 

You might wonder why a whole host of Middle Eastern triangles, such as Lebanese fatayer or Cypriot flaounes, aren't claiming podium spots in this part of our list. That's because most of them are made with yeasted bread dough, so for the purposes of keeping this list somewhat contained (really, it could go on forever!), we've drawn a line between bready triangles and non-leavened pastry triangles. Equally delicious, just different. 

Is it a pizza, or is it a pie? 

This pizza rustica, from Made in Italy with Silvia Colloca, is a savoury pie - and made with pastry, not dough. Ricotta, pecorino, eggs and silverbeet or Swiss chard are baked inside two layers of pastry. This is a great recipe if you need to do part of the prep in advance, as the pastry can be made a day ahead. 

On a roll

Call it pita (like this three-cheese Serbian recipe) or börek (such as Shane Delia's village-style sausage and feta parcels) or a swathe of other local names, there's one thing this type of filled, rolled pastry has in common. When done properly, they're just so good. Some styles are made with a wonderfully chewy dough, others with a thin, light filo style. The fillings vary just as much. In this Turkish borek, the filling is simply cheese with parsley and feta, sharing the star billing with a glorious home-made golden pastry.

Borek - cheese and herb pastry.

Haloumi - a star of the cheese pantheon! - meets pastry in these haloumi, mint and preserved lemon cigars:

While we're on a roll, let's push the cheese-meets-pastry boundaries with this American cheeseburger meets Asian spring roll invention: crunchy spring rolls filled with a mixture of beef, mustard, mozzarella and onion.

Cheeseburger spring rolls
 

Perfect pies

We have so many cheesy pies that picking just a few for this list is a real challenge. You can find more in our pie recipe collection, but here's a sample: There's Anneka Manning's little open egg and bacon pies, with a mustard-spike shortcrust pastry; these Jewish knishes, little square parcels filled with potato, onion, dill and two types of cheese; and this Italian torta pasqualina, which as the name suggests is traditional Easter fare, but equally good at any time of year. 

And here's another substantial bake that looks like a strong contender for this list: Paul Hollywood's bacon and egg pie (coming to SBS Food Channel 33 in Paul Hollywood's Pies and Puds, Tuesdays 8.30pm from 2 July), with two kinds of cheese in the filling. "Delicious hot or cold," Hollywood says. 

Terrific tarts

Our tart recipe collection is a particularly rich hunting ground for winning cheese-pastry combinations. One particularly popular choice is this gluten-free tomato, onion and goat's cheese tart by Rowie Dillon.

Other great options include broccoli, pea and cheddar tart (ring the changes with whatever green veg you have at hand); or an asparagus tart with mascarpone, walnuts and parmesan

Two final faves

These sweet potato and kale pastries were a farmers market stall success in Poh & Co and you can see why. As well as cheese in the filling, there's cheese in the pastry too. And while they used purple sweet potato, you can easily use different sweet potato varieties or pumpkin. Spinach will work well instead of kale, too. 

And no list of savoury pastries filled with cheese would be complete without gözleme! Try this lamb, silverbeet and feta version, from the Feast Magazine archives:


 

And then there's the sweet side of this perfect pairing... 

All those savoury pies and rolls are only half the story. Wonderful things happen when cheese meets pastry in the world of sweet baking too.

Let's start with these cocoa cannoli - yes, that's right, these Sicilian cannoli al cacao con ricotta have three claims on our hearts, with cheese, pasty AND chocolate.

Cocoa cannoli with ricotta (cannoli al cacao con ricotta).

Sticking with the same delicious trinity, here's an easy way to whip up a sweet pastry: these sweet cheese, tahini and chocolate flogeres are filled with a mix of cream cheese, ricotta, tahini, chopped chocolate and candied orange, but you can make a quick-fix version by using chocolate tahini. 

And finally, let us finish with a desert where it's all about the pastry and the cheese. You'll find versions of this sweet dessert, make with angel hair pastry, cheese and sweet syrup, from the Middle East to Greece. This version of Turkish künefe, below, uses mozzarella; or try this version, which can be made with young, unsalted cheddar and should be eaten hot, while the cheese is still warm and melted. 

Want more? Take a look at our pastry recipe collection, for temptations from deep-fried Sardinian pastries, filled with pecorino and drizzled with honey, to saffron and mascarpone cheesecake, plus of course classic quiche and other savoury stars. And tune in for more great cheesy pies in Paul Hollywood's Pies and Puds, Tuesdays 8.30pm from 2 July on SBS Food Channel 33.

Just a few more to tempt you...
Crab and haloumi tart with sour cream pastry

This tart is great hot or cold, which is why I can take it to the park or a friend’s house. It's easy and impressive!

Roasted pumpkin, tomato and oregano tart

This tart is an impressive one – the combination of roasted pumpkin and tomatoes, Persian feta and a parmesan shortcrust pastry base makes it a great one to serve when entertaining. The best thing, though, is that it's surprisingly simple to put together.

Sweet pastries with guava jam and cheese (pasteis de goiabada com queijo)

These deep-fried pastries can be filled with meat, hearts of palm or shrimp, while these sweet versions are filled with guava paste and oozy cheese. While queijo fresco would be used in Brazil, we’ve substituted mozzarella and cream cheese.

Nan's cherry cream cheese strudel

This dessert is a luscious mixture of cherries, ricotta and cream cheese encased in golden flaky pastry from a great cook, Janelle Bloom, via a recipe from her Hungarian grandmother. If time allows, drain the ricotta in the fridge for 1–2 hours before making the filling.