Grilled Asparagus with Olive-oil-fried-eggs

Green are the only fresh asparagus we find here, on the island. They come usually from the Peloponnese and are succulent, and wonderful.

We like to briefly grill them on a stovetop griddle, on a non-stick pan, simply rubbed with olive oil and simply serve them sprinkled with some local, delicious finishing salt.

See also the  variation with Peppers and Zucchini slices. 

Recently we started combining the incredibly-tasting olive-oil-fried eggs from our neighbor’s hens with the grilled asparagus making a full dish. Elizabeth Minchilli calls this ‘Asparagus Bizmarck’ –probably an Italian term for the dish; she blanches her asparagus instead of grilling them. 

 

I fry the eggs separately, and only until the white is no longer transparent. If you like to see the correct, Spanish way of frying eggs in olive oil check Jose Andres’ method.  

We like to complement with feta cheese the asparagus and eggs, and of course serve slices of my latest homemade bread alongside.   

The much sought-after white asparagus are cultivated in the north of Greece, and as far as I know are mostly exported in Germany and other parts of Europe.  

 

To trim the green asparagus simply bend them until they snap. The top is the tender part you would like to grill and the bottom, somewhat tougher is ideal to flavor pasta, risotto, or any broth. Chop and keep in a the freezer until needed. 

 

My recipe loosely-based on Giada in Italy (episode 5) 

 

Serves 4 (more…)

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PASPALAS: The Rustic Pork Confit of Kea

Like many foods we grew up with and take for granted, I have somehow overlooked until now the humble fried bits of pork used on Kea as general flavoring for eggs, greens, and any vegetable or bean dish.

 

Kean women prepare it each winter with leftover scraps of pork and fat, after the traditional slaughtering and butchering of the family pig. In the old days, the bits were heavily salted so that they wouldn’t spoil as they were stored in clay jars to be used much like Maggi cubes –a common European food flavoring– throughout the year. Costas calls paspalasthe Kea bacon,’ but unlike bacon it is not smoked and it is already fried when you use it to flavor eggs and other dishes.

 

Read about Pig Slaughtering on Kea as I had described it at the Atlantic.  

 

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The importance of this rustic flavoring became apparent when I prepared it in the kitchen of Zaytinya—Jose Andres’ Greek and Middle Eastern restaurant, in Washington DC. During my annual January visit, a few years back, we were trying traditional winter dishes from Kea and other Cycladic islands for a pork and xinomavro wine feast, and Chef Michael Costa was immediately taken by paspalas’ intense and versatile flavor. We made several batches, using pieces of locally grown pork that the chef and his sous-chefs butchered in the kitchen. Besides the Kean scrambled eggs–also called ‘paspalas’ –we filled jars with the pork confit for future use. Bonnie Benwick, the former food editor of Washington Post got enamored with it, as well as with the eponymous scrambled eggs from Kea, and  made the dish famous in her column!

 

(more…)

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Comforting, Olive-oil-fried Potatoes, and Eggs

Slightly soggy, not particularly crunchy olive-oil-fried potatoes, accompanied by an olive-oil-fried egg, or just yogurt, or a piece of tangy feta, was the ultimate comfort dinner for my sister and me.

 

Many older Greeks share the experience; I guess now pizza –ordered out or microwaved– has replaced our beloved tiganites patates (fried potatoes) which need dedicated mothers to peel, cut, and fry the potatoes from scratch, since the frozen kind was never an option…

 

Shallow frying any kind of vegetables, meatballs, or fish in olive oil is the tradition for home cooks around the Mediterranean. My mother was re-using the frying olive oil 2-3 times, passing it through a fine sieve after frying the potatoes. She was keeping it in a separate bottle, to have it handy for the next time she had to fry potatoes, zucchini or meatballs. Of course, after frying meatballs or fish the oil had to be discarded. My mother sometimes added pieces of dried bread or leftover rice to soak up this frying oil and feed the semi-stray cats that roamed around our vast garden in the outskirts of the city, where I grew up.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I found this humble childhood comfort food served at the prestigious Paco Meralgo tapas restaurant in Barcelona. Called “ous de pages ferrats” (meaning ‘fried farm eggs’ in Catalan) the dish was exactly like our favorite childhood dinner; only it had two, instead of just one eggs with the fried potatoes. My friend, the renowned chef and humanitarian José Andrés has demonstrated on US television his special technique for frying each egg in olive oil so that the white is cooked and firm, but the yolk stays wonderfully soft and runny.

 

Apparently, Catalans as all Spaniards share our affinity for olive-oil-fried eggs, as it is obvious from the famous ‘Old Woman Frying Eggs,’ Diego Velázquez’ early 17th c. painting. Like the old lady in the painting, Stelios Trilyrakis at his Dounias tavern, fries his incredible potatoes in a clay pot over live fire. No wonder people from all over the world brave the long, winding, and often harrowing road to drive to the village Drakona, high in the mountains of western Crete, not just for the potatoes but for all the delicious age-old traditional dishes Stelios prepares.

 

Fried potatoes are always my favorite comfort food, and when, ten years ago, my dear friend, the famous chef and author Deborah Madison asked me to send her my favorite recipe for her book ‘What we Eat when we Eat Alone,’ I described my beloved olive-oil-fried potatoes which I often accompany with a simple sauce of yogurt with some spicy Dijon mustard these days; my deep-flavored fried eggs, usually from our neighbor’s hens, I prefer to enjoy with toasted slices of my home-made bread.

 

 

 

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