A Festive Winter Lunch

Since we do not celebrate Thanksgiving in our part of the world, and all over Europe, turkey, duck, occasionally goose, and on Kea usually rooster, is the central dish we serve for Christmas.  

 

 

I, too, cook poultry for our friends and us, and instead of potatoes I roast pieces of quince, carrots and maybe some yams and/or mushrooms. A very satisfying baked polenta –from David Tanis’ brilliant recipe— will accompany the bird, and I will probably begin with a salad of roasted butternut squash with a tangy tahini-garlic-lemon sauce, and/or braised red and white cabbage with cranberries. 

 

 

Preparing and Roasting the Bird: I start at least two days before the feast. I get the bird well in advance, as in most cases it has to be ordered since I like to get local meats and avoid the frozen turkeys. I ask my butcher to spatchcock the turkey or rooster I plan to roast. The technique looks much easier than it actually is, especially if you deal with a big bird and you have not particularly strong hands, as is my case. I reserve the backbone to boil along with the neck and the gizzards, to make the stock that I will use for basting and for the vegetables in the pan. 

I rub the bird inside-out with plenty of sea salt and a fair amount of coarsely ground black pepper, along with dried oregano, cumin, allspice, and ground coriander seeds.  Don’t be stringy, use at least 1/2 cup of this spice mix, or of my aromatic Aegean Herb & Spice Mix. Place the bird cut-side up in a pan lined with kitchen towels, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day turn the bird upside down on the pan, usually adding more spices, and store in the refrigerator again until the day you plan to roast it. On that day you need to take it out of the fridge 3-4 hours before you put it in the oven to bring it to room temperature. (more…)

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Cauliflower Gratin with Garlic and Feta

We are addicted to this comforting winter dish that uses all parts of the cauliflower, not just the florets, so I included it in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts. The first time I made it with anchovies to spice-up the cauliflower’s sweetness (see variation). I liked it a lot, but Costas definitely prefers the vegetarian, Feta version, so I begin there.

My recipe is loosely based on a broccoli and potato gratin from Provence, described by Guy Gedda in his classic book La Table d’un Provençal.

 

 

 

VEGETARIAN  

 

Serves 4-5   (I use a clay 9-by-8 inch  (23X20 cm) baking pan; a square, oval or round roughly 9 or 10-inch (23 or 20 cm) baking pan works just as well) 

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Eggplants Stuffed With Onions, Peppers, Cheese and Nuts

This is my tweak on a dish my mother used to make often in the summer. I usually bake the eggplants and make the sauce a day before, then sauté the onions and peppers and finish the dish the next day. It can also be baked 1-2 days before you plan to serve it; refrigerate it then gently reheat. I would say that it tastes better the next day.

 

 

Serves 4-8 (more…)

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Stuffed Summer Vegetables with Rice, Farro and Pine Nuts

The stuffing is simply a mixture of chopped vegetables, the bits and pieces removed to make room for the stuffing – this dish wastes nothing. Together they create an unexpectedly tasty combination. Eggplants, peppers, onions and tomatoes, with herbs, grains, pine nuts and raisins cook slowly in the oven inside the vegetables for an hour or more. Once cooled completely their flavors meld together and make the perfect summer lunch.

 

 

Some people think that the idea of stuffed vegetables came to Continental Europe from Sicily, where it was introduced by Arab Moors. But I have my doubts. Italian stuffed tomatoes and zucchini are quite different from those of the Near East. They are usually rich with parmesan and other cheeses, as well as with prosciutto.  In the Eastern Mediterranean cooks had to be frugal, making the most with the scraps from their hallowed and hollowed vegetables and rice or other grains.

 

 

 

Start by choosing a pan and that will hold, somewhat snugly, the vegetables you plan to stuff. The rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon rice for each vegetable you stuff, plus 3-4 tablespoons ‘for the pan’. But don’t worry; if you have leftover stuffing transfer to a saucepan, add some water and simmer, stirring every now and then, to make a delicious risotto.

 

 

This dish is time-consuming but worthwhile, and you can prepare it in stages. We often cook it together with our guest at Kea Artisanal. Tomatoes take longer to hollow than peppers or eggplant, so you can start them a day in advance. Once emptied, keep the tomatoes upside down over kitchen paper in the refrigerator and complete the preparation the next day.

 

Serves 6       (more…)

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