Sykopita: Fig ‘Pie’

Using up the surplus of figs, the over-ripe fruit is mashed and mixed with nuts, spices and liqueur or sweet wine, then shaped as a thin flat cake and dried in the sun, as it was done since antiquity. Now you can dry it in a low oven or in a food dehydrator.

 

 

Wrapped in fig leaves and stored in a dry, cool place it keeps well for months; not in our house, though, as it has become Costas’ beloved snack, along our lightly toasted almonds. Traditionally it is cut into small pieces and enjoyed in the winter accompanied by sweet wine and/or paximadia (twice-baked, savory biscotti).

Similar fig ‘pies’ are made in Cyprus, in southern Italy, Spain, Malta, and all around the Mediterranean with variations in the spicing and the various favorite liqueurs.

 

For a 30 cm (12-inch) about 2.5 cm (1 inch) ‘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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Sweet and Sour Eggplants with Nuts, Raisins, Basil and Mint

 

I love melanzane alle noci e mandorle, the sweet and sour Calabrian eggplants that are crunchy with nuts and fragrant with basil and mint. They are great as a side dish with any cold meat, with grilled lamb chops or chicken legs. Traditionally, though, they are an antipasto (appetizer) served on the sideboard.

 

They also make a wonderful bruschetta if spread on toasted bread with shavings of parmesan, thin slices of mozzarella, manouri or sprinkled with crumbled feta. I often add grilled peppers –either home made, or store-bought– with the eggplants, and in the winter diced roasted squash is another interesting companion. Adjust the spicing of the  sauce accordingly.

Adapted from my Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.

 

 

Makes 6-8 appetizer servings

 

(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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