The recipe that got away
Posted 09 October 2003 - 02:14 PM
Here's a fun story about "one that got away." For the past 20 or so years, I've traveled around Greece with my good friend, the terrific Athens-based food writer Aglaia Kremezi. On one trip through the Northern Zagora region (a beautiful area of gorges, forests, rivers, and mountains of layered rocks with a stunning monstery perched on a peak 3,200 feet above sea level) we stopped at a little restaurant in the tiny hamlet of Monodendri famous for its pittas or open faced fried pies -- thin, crisp, fragrant and warm slices of phyllo covered with a layer of shredded kasseri cheese and crumbled feta. The top had an unusual glossy sheen that seemed impossible if the pie was only fried.
No one beside the restaurant owner/cook, Kiki, knew how to make this pitta, and she adamantly refused to allow anyone near her when she prepared it. So when Agalai and I went there, we played "detective" while waiting for our pittas to come out. This took forty minutes, which, since we were the only customers, suggested a 40 minute cooking time. We also noticed that the menu included a few other items (pork chops, salad, feta, beer and wine), but nothing that would explain the huge crate of eggs we observed being carried into the kitchen. When Aglaia asked the waitress if eggs were on the menu, she told us 'no.' Eureka! Perhaps the glaze was somehow achieved with eggs!
When I got back to New York, I tried to reproduce the dish adding a thin egg batter to the top to duplicate the shine. After several trials, I came up with something that seemed fairly close to what we'd liked so much back in Monodendri. Meantime, Aglaia did her own experimentation, and presented her version in her next book. It was completely different from mine, and, I felt, equally delicious. A few years later a third Greek food writer also published what she said was Kiki's secret recipe. I tried that one too, it was very good, but not quite the same as the original. So there you are -- three serious food writers trying to reproduce a secret recipe, each coming up with a different excellent tasting "solution." Kiki, no doubt, will take her secret with her to the grave!
Posted 10 October 2003 - 09:56 AM