The Original 19c. Pasticcio from Syros

Greeks love pasticcio (or pastitsio), a dish of ground meat cooked with onions in a cinnamon-scented tomato sauce which is mixed with macaroni, cheese and béchamel, then baked topped with more béchamel. It is our version of Macaroni and Cheese, a comforting filling dish that mothers bake for their kids even when they are grownups… 

 

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Although its name is Italian (it means, literally, “a mess”), pasticcio as such does not exist in Italy, but its roots are in the elaborate old timbales—pastry-enrobed pasta, meat, vegetable and egg pies prepared there for special occasions. When I first visited Kythera, the island at the edge between the Aegean and the Ionian Sea, which divides Greece and Italy, I asked around about local dishes; the standard answer I received was “You must find the recipe for the Venetian Pasticcio”. Pasticcio, of course, is a dish prepared all over Greece and if you have visited the country, you have probably seen it listed on the menu of a tavern or restaurant.

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Cauliflower stories

I remember the huge cauliflowers –white and purple— as well as the oversized cabbages we used to get in the old days. Now the large cauliflowers have almost completely disappeared, although we occasionally find some here, on Kea, grown from heirloom seeds.

 

In Greece we traditionally boil cauliflower and broccoli in plenty of water, but the small tender ones we get today taste better steamed, I think. This saves us from the terrible stink that was pestering our kitchen in the winter whenever my mother boiled cauliflower to make father’s favorite salad. (more…)

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The Most Delicious, Lemony, and Frugal Pie

This for me is the epitome of lemon pie and the simplest one to make.

It all started with a reference to an old pie created by cooks who adored lemons but did not have plenty, so they considered them precious…

 

 

This fruit/condiment which for us is trivial and almost worthless, was truly precious for the Shakers, the early nineteenth-century religious group living in communities throughout New England. “Shaker lemon pie uses the entire lemon, from yellow peel through white pith […] This means slicing two whole lemons absolutely paper thin and macerating them for hours in sugar. If you can drape them over the knife blade like the watches in Salvador Dali’s surrealistic paintings, you’re on the right track. The resulting pie includes a subtle sharp flavor from the pith, and the texture tends toward the chewy side, but it all works for the aforementioned lemon-lovers like myself,” writes Nancy McDermott in her book Southern Pies.

 

Away from New England, Shakers also established “…a vibrant fellowship in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. Preserved as a living history museum, today’s Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill illuminates their traditions and creations […] Their restaurants serve this signature confection, Shaker Lemon Pie,” concludes McDermott in her introduction to the brilliant recipe that inspired me.

 

As soon as I came upon this incredibly simple, yet exquisite lemon cream, I felt compelled to try it. I had lemons, of course, and eggs from our neighbors’ hens. I wanted to make the pie fast, so I didn’t bother making a pie crust; just lined the pan and topped the cream with some leftover shredded phyllo (kunefe or kataifi) pastry that I happen to have in my freezer. Because it was not enough, I halved the recipe and after I baked the pie I didn’t even have the patience to wait for it to cool completely, and took a bite: it was even more delicious than I had imagined! And, strangely enough, the next days its flavor deepened and got even better.

Once I decided to definitely use the shredded phyllo, I followed the Serious Eats well described instruction for Kunefe, the traditional Middle Eastern sweet that basically uses it.

 

Knowing me and my affinity for substituting olive oil for butter –which I usually don’t have in my fridge– you probably have guessed that I rubbed the shredded phyllo well with olive oil before spreading it on the pan and topping the lemon cream. You can certainly choose butter if you like.

We have particularly sweet lemons, but the recipe works well with all kinds and, I assure you, it is foolproof.

 

Adapted from Nancy McDermott

 

Makes a 9-inch (23 cm.) pie (more…)

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Grape and Fig Harvest Tart

Six years ago, during our September 2014 Kea Artisanal Cooking vacation classes I made this pizza-like tart for the first time.

 

 

It was the day we devote to bread and the different, sweet and savory variation one can create with just one basic dough; I had just happened to see Cali Doxiadis’ recipe and decided to try it with some of our leftover dough, after we made loaves, the cheese-stuffed buns, and the tomato or pepper-topped lagana (flat breads) we usually make.

 

Cali recently shared the FaceBook photos had posted ‘6-years ago’ during my very first try on the Harvest Tart.

In her recipe Cali writes: “…the original inspiration for this sweet and somewhat savoury tart is an Italian recipe for Schiacciata con Grappoli d’Uva, but several adaptations later, it is nearly unrecognisable. It has become a sort of crisp but chewy round flatbread, or sweet peppery pizza…”  In that first harvest tart my bread crust –I did not use Cali’s recipe– was OK, but not ideal, as the fruits were not well-incorporated on top, while the bottom was somewhat soggy. But it accompanied ideally the aged cheeses we served it with, especially the particularly spicy Sifnos Manoura, which ages in wine sediment.

 

 

When I made the tart again I chose to use instead of bread or pizza dough, the olive-oil-and-orange pastry that is so wonderful in my vegan olive pies. (more…)

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Pasta with Raw Tomato, Garlic, and Basil Sauce: ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’

There is no better way to showcase the succulent, end-of-summer tomatoes than using them to flavor this simple, yet delicious dish.

 

 

Throughout Italy there are many versions of raw tomato sauces: a similar dish I had published in my Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.  It was more spicy, based in Crudaiola the name used for the sauce in Puglia –the heal of the Italian boot.

Similar sauces are whipped-up all over the Italian south and probably more famous is pesto Trapanese, from the eponymous Sicilian city, which combines almonds, tomatoes, and cheese. I recently came accross this other Sicilian peasant version in Serious Eats: ‘Spaghetti Alla Carrettiera’ which I consider by far the best of the raw tomato sauces; and also the simplest.

 

 

As we read in the recipe’s intro “In the olden days, wandering cart drivers would crisscross the Italian countryside, selling goods, wares, and basic cooking ingredients to the townspeople along the way. When they were hungry, they’d quickly whip up a sauce like this using just the basic ingredients they had on their cart.” One can add cheese, but I found that it is not really needed. I suggest you try it first without.

 

Following the Greek and Eastern Mediterranean tradition I do not blanch and skin, or seed the tomatoes, but simply cut in half and grate them to get their pulp. I always felt that the greenish jelly around the tomato’s seeds is especially delicious, so I don’t want to lose it. (more…)

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