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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Moustalevria: Grape Must Jelly

The two baskets of ripe grapes we gathered from our old vines were too few for wine and too seedy to eat; so Costas and I decided to press them and take the juice to drink, freeze some to make granita, and certainly make moustalevria, the traditional grape must jelly our mothers used to make each year. 

 

The old recipes ask for a lengthy process of simmering and clarifying the grape must with wood ash, which I always skip. I much prefer a fruity-tasting moustalevria, so I briefly boil the juice with the cornstarch, just until it thickens, much like I do when I make my orange ‘cream’ in the winter. You can use any nice grapes you like to make the juice, but I wouldn’t use the canned concord grape juice available everywhere in the US as I am not fond of its taste and aroma.

 

Serves 8-10 (more…)

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The Marvelous Sicilian Cassata from Palermo

Ricotta-based sweets are very popular both in Greece, in southern Italy, and in Sicily, especially around Easter time. But we cannot compare the various, often rustic treats with the glorious  Sicilian Cassata which is the cheese-cake par excellence!

 

 

In the spring sheep produce plenty of wonderfully rich, creamy milk which is used for various regional, fresh and aged cheeses, all around the Mediterranean. “Documents show the cake was made by both nuns for Easter and Sicilian Jews for Purim,” wrote in Eater, quoting various authors, among them our dear friend, historian, and author Mary Simeti who said that cassata was the “invention of a pastry chef from Palermo in the 1870s who had made an excessive amount of candied fruit and used it to decorate a ricotta cake, which was and still is a common cake in Sicily.”  Some authors quoted in the article link the elaborate cake with the Arab occupation of Sicily, claiming that it was the result of the introduction of sugar by the Arabs, a theory Simeti dismisses, and I totally agree with her. In ancient Greek and Roman texts we find descriptions of cakes made with fresh cheese which are sweetened with honey. We can assume that later, when sugar became available and affordable, it replaced honey in the popular seasonal sweets.

Delicious myzithropites from Tinos island, baked and sent to us be by the brilliant Nikoletta Foskolou

 

Simple Easter myzithropites (ricotta pies) are still baked in Greece, and on Santorini and other Cycladic islands melopita (honey-ricotta pie) scented with mastic, lemon zest and/or cinnamon is the traditional festive sweet, as I wrote in my Foods of the Greek Islands. But we cannot compare these delicious, yet rustic treats with the glorious  Sicilian cassata which is the cheese-cake par excellence!

 

Unfortunately, the numerous current American versions of cheesecake use packaged, tasteless ‘cream cheese’ and that version has been adopted by bakers all around the world, as well as in Greece. These American-inspired cheesecakes, are far from the delicious, if less refined, traditional fresh-ricotta desserts of the Mediterranean. I insist on making my cheesecake with real cheese, and you can see my version of myzithra (ricotta) and feta cheesecake.

 

The following recipe for a somewhat simpler cassata is adapted from the one I found in the Discover Italy website of Alitalia. For me the harder part was the glaze, because I have never made it before. But I know most people are used to making it, as it is the same used to decorate cookies and gingerbread ornaments…

Scroll down to see how the cake is prepared in the old, renowned Pasticeria Caffe Spinnato, in Palermo.

 

 

For TWO 8-inch cakes (more…)

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