Sunday, April 11, 2010

serve warm

This will never be
the same simple pie

one gets
for about a thousand drachmas
in Kikitsa's little stone taverna
in Monodendri

up in the Zagohoria
the northwest reaches of Epirus

The flour is different;
the cheese, homemade,
certainly is different;

and the result here
is my humble attempt
to reproduce


Diane Kochilas, prefacing her recipe for Tiganopitta Epirou, or Skillet Pie from Epirus, in her cookbook: The Food and Wine of Greece.

I had a pie like the one Kochilas describes, but it was on Crete, not in Epirus, in a little hard-scrabble mountain town called Kato Afrata, a short drive from Chania, which is where it had been recommended to me and my traveling companions.

Or rather: where She had been recommended to us. "She" was Roxani, and she was reputed to make the best cheese pies on the island of Crete.

They were delicious, and fresh, and hot from the skillet. There were spinach pies too, but the cheese were exemplary.

But what I remember about the stop in that little out of the way place where it surprised me anyone could make a living at all running a restaurant, was her Alexander, who ran the restaurant with her. The kindness that coursed between them as they conducted their business and welcomed these American travelers (the only guests just then) and fed them well and smiled to be recommended by their friend in Chania.

The way they endearingly and enduringly (in a way that made me ache) loved one another.

Here's Kochilas' recipe for that cheese pie:

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup grated feta cheese

1. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour and salt. Make a well in center and add warm water and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix until a dough forms and knead in bowl for 5 to 7 minutes, or slightly longer, until dough is smooth and silky to the touch.

2. Divide dough into several balls, and roll out each on a lightly floured surface to a 1/2-inch-thick circle a little smaller than the base of the skillet. Dot with feta, fold into a crescent, and flatten with rolling pin or fingertips to a circle about as large as the base of the skillet. Heat remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Fry until golden brown, flipping to cook on both sides. Repeat with remaining dough.

3. Serve warm.

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