Spicy Festive Bread with Orange, Squash, and Raisins

Greek festive, Christmas and/or Easter breads (tsoureki) are similar to Jewish challah but have less fat and more spices.  In this, my newest Vegan version, I began experimenting starting from the Raisin Bread from the island of Mykonos, a recipe that I had included in my very first book The Foods of Greece.

 

This much lighter festive bread is in fact an interesting variety of the traditional raisin bread (stafidopsomo).  It comes from Mykonos, the now cosmopolitan Cycladic island, and was given to me by Anna Sigala, my old neighborhood baker from the days I used to live under the Akropolis.

 

Anna had told me that she learned to make it from her grandmother. Now that Koukaki –the area around Acropolis– has become extremely popular with both locals and foreign visitors, Takis, Anna’s son, transformed the old bakeshop into a much-written about  bakery where tourists line up to get sandwiches, pies, and sweets.

My mother and father hated raisin bread because, for a period during the 1930s, the Greek government made it compulsory for everyone buying any kind of bread to buy some raisin bread, too.  The Ministry of Agriculture had bought all the raisins from Corinth to keep the growers satisfied, for political reasons, and then invented this method to get rid of the surplus.

Later, when this stupid regulation was no longer applied, raisin breads disappeared from the bakeries because no one would buy them.  Only recently, more than three generations later, raisin bread has again become popular.

Athenian bakeries often slice tsoureki and other flavored breads and bake them again, to make delicious, light biscotti; you can do the same with this one, if you have any leftover.

I love it with spicy cheese, like Rockford and Gorgonzola, or simply with coffee or tea; I also use as a base for English trifle or summer pudding, much like my older version of pumpkin and tangerine bread.

 

Makes 3 small loaves (more…)

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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… 

 

Pastitsio-CUT-full-Sw

Pastitsio-Bone-marrow-Ingre

 

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.

(more…)

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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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