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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Eggplant’s Myriad Disguises

As a child I remember eggplants’ taste being much stronger, often unpleasantly irritating; I sometimes developed a rush in my mouth after eating fried eggplants –a summer dish my mother often served for lunch, topped with fresh tomato sauce. I loved it but then I suffered for the rest of the day. The eggplants we get today are less assertive, and I at least will not lament for the lost pungency of this wonderfully versatile summer vegetable.

 

We have never been successful growing eggplants in our garden, but five years ago we managed to harvest a few small white ones (read more about our Eggplant Paradox). But there are other, more amusing eggplant paradoxes; some years ago I came across this confusion between the word ‘aubergine’ (the British term for eggplant) and Aborigin (!) If the words interest you, you will love it. (more…)

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The Seedy Grapes from our old Vines

Most of the grapes our vines produce hardly manage to ripen; wasps and all kinds of insects attack them as soon as they start to blush. Until this year, come harvest time, we just find a few bunches of rotten, half-eaten grapes which are sweet but filled with seeds and difficult to swallow.

 

Early this August, as we finished harvesting the almonds, we noticed quite a few nice bunches of grapes hanging from the old, robust vines that engulf the southern fence of our property, behind the lemon trees.  From these vines we mainly gather the tender grape leaves early in May, to stuff and make our trademark dolmades.

 

Usually the grapes our vines produce hardly manage to ripen; wasps and all kinds of insects attack them as soon as they start to blush. Come harvest time, we just find a few bunches of rotten, half-eaten grapes which are sweet but filled with seeds and difficult to swallow.

 

These vines are probably a remnant of the old vineyards our little valley was famous for; the dark grapes used to produce quite good wine in the old days, as I discovered researching the paper I wrote for the 2017 Oxford Symposium: (more…)

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Fish Just out of the Sea!

“The best fish is the freshest,” every fisherman will tell you, and by “fresh” they mean it has been out of the water for less than a day, usually less. Although on most islands there are lots of professional or amateur fishermen, here on Kea we seem to have only one, Nikolaras –Nikos Hatzimihalis—who’s family came from the island of Symi, on southern Aegean.

 

On Kea life is tied to the land –tending to sheep and goats, cultivating small gardens, and in the old days making wine, harvesting, and exporting acorn-cups, and almonds. As I remember from my grandfather, the sea didn’t attract them at all, it felt scary and they dreaded the short crossing to the mainland in the winter. The waters around the island are deep, with strong currents most of the year, especially in the northern parts where most fish is supposed to be found, so during the busy summers the seafood sold by Eleni, Nikolaras’ wife, at their shop on the port, has been fished by mainland fishermen and brought in by the ferry from Lavrion.

 

And just as the fruits and vegetables in this land of blazing sun and scarce rains are small but intensely flavorful, so the fish of the Aegean are neither large nor plentiful but exceptionally delicious. Freshness definitely plays an important role in the incredible taste of even the most simply prepared fish, as anyone who has tasted the grilled fish of the island tavernas can testify. (more…)

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A Glorious V-Symposium

From all over the globe and with no need to travel –confinement not permitting—people had the chance to share many of the marvelous Oxford Symposium experiences from their homes…

 

I was quite ambivalent when, early Mars, the organizers decided to make the Oxford Symposium virtual. Let us wait, I said, hopefully things will be better by July… As we all know, of course, I was foolishly optimistic and fortunately the wise Symposium team decided in time to undertake the huge task to make everything happen online. They worked tirelessly, until the day of the opening events, and the result was –and still is, as it officially ends August 2– fascinating!

I was so sorry to have to cancel my much-anticipated annual trip to Oxford to meet friends from all over the world, listen to stimulating papers, and share fabulous meals at St Katz College’s stylish dining room. I even had bought my BA ticket to London last January –now it is ‘floating’ and with any luck I will be able to use it next year(!).

 

It all begun with an emotional greeting by Claudia Roden, the Symposium’s president, who emerged radiant speaking from her garden in London.

 

Throughout the July 10-12 weekend the plethora of video paper presentations and the Zoom meetings followed the relentless full-day schedule of several parallel sessions, much like the actual concurrent presentations at St Katz’s. (more…)

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