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…)

Share

Read More

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…)

Share

Read More

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…)

Share

Read More

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…)

Share

Read More

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…)

Share

Read More