Roasted New Potatoes…without Recipe!

I often feel that the side dishes are more interesting than the meat or poultry that is traditionally served these days. A few years back when we dug out the second crop of potatoes from the garden I couldn’t wait to serve them simply roasted, rubbed with olive oil!

 

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Besides olive oil I sprinkled the new, scrubbed potatoes with salt and pepper—I love to use Maras or Urfa pepper flakes that add deep, fruity flavor not just heat. I scattered a few sprigs of thyme, savory, rosemary or some sage leaves, whatever I could grab from the garden; I also added one or two onions, quartered, and two whole heads of garlic halved horizontally, tossing everything in a bowl with olive oil. Onion and garlic add their flavor to the new potatoes as they roast together on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. This detail is very important: cleaning the pan afterwards is a breeze; otherwise the roasting vegetables caramelize and stick to the metal so it needs soaking and quite a bit of scrubbing… (more…)

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‘Fava’ and the History of the Humble Lathyrus Pea

Santorini Fava is served as meze at taverns throughout Greece and few suspect its long history and roots…

A somewhat spectacular variation of the common dish we offered at the 2019 Oxford Symposium Dinner we cooked with chef Michael Costa. He preferred a perfectly smooth fava puree, and added basil leaves to my chopped scallions, herbs, and bitter greens, which made it perfect!  I also like to top fava with sweet-wine-braised capers and onions, a traditional Santorini condiment.

 

Long before Santorini became one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations it was one of Greece’s most destitute islands.  Poor on natural resources and badly exposed to the harsh winds of the Aegean, Santorini’s impoverished but ingenious inhabitants survived on whatever they could forage or cultivate in small terraced gardens on steep rocky hills. (more…)

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Santorini Fava with Two Toppings

Today Santorini Fava is served as a meze at taverns throughout Greece, often dressed simply with fruity olive oil, topped with sliced onions and dried Greek oregano. I like to top it with braised onions and capers, but also with chopped scallions, herbs, and bitter greens.

MORE about the legume’s history. 

 

A variation of this second version we prepared for the 2019 Oxford Symposium Dinner, we cooked with chef Michael Costa. He preferred a perfectly smooth fava puree, and added some basil leaves which made it perfect!   

 

Serves 8-10 as meze     (more…)

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PAXIMADIA: barley biscuits’ past, present, and future…

 

I revisited paximadia last week because my friend Defne Koryürek from Ayvalık, on the other side of the Aegean, organized an e-workshop as part of the two-day interdisciplinary conference on Food Futures. She used my basic recipe for her lively presentation, and she invited me to take part and speak about the history and uses of paximadia, or peksimet as they call them in Turkey. It was a lovely experience that made me re-think paximadia as an ideal sustainable staple. It is time to revive the way our ancestors used this crunchy, twice-baked bread not just to accompany cheese and meze spreads –as I had suggested in the article I did for Eating Well magazine —   but also instead of pasta in broths and soups, and of course in salads.  

 

 

When, in the fifties, Ansel Keys and his colleagues studied the eating habits, the state of health, and life expectancy of various peoples in seven countries, they decided that the inhabitants of Crete were faring best of all. Paximadia (barley rusks) in those days were the staple food of the Cretans. But when their traditional eating habits became the model for the now famed Mediterranean diet, the barley biscuits were translated into “whole wheat bread” for the unaccustomed and refined Northern Europeans and Americans. Barley flour has now completely disappeared from the shelves of the supermarkets in big cities, and one can only find it in health food stores or at wholesale distributors of animal fodder. But on Kea as on other islands we can get a pound or two from the local bakeries which still bake the traditional hard and dark paximadia.

 

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Paximadia–barley rusks–in various shapes from the Greek islands and Crete.

 

An old man from Mykonos told me that in the old days merchant ships preferred his island as a stopover because sailors loved to stock up on paximadia from the local bakeries made with a combination of barley and wheat flour. Similar biscuits are baked in most islands of the Aegean and the ones from Crete are still the most popular throughout Greece. One can get various kinds of Cretan paximadia in food stores and supermarkets. Although people belonging to the generation that traditionally fed on this kind of dried bread has either died or switched to more refined foods —like fluffy supermarket, crustless, sliced bread– there is a new generation of consumers who have tasted paximadia during their summer vacations in the islands and loved them. Once back in the city they started to look for them in their local bakeries, so now in most Athenian neighborhoods one can find darker or lighter paximadia, baked using mixtures containing more or less barley flour in addition to the wheat flour that makes lighter and crunchier biscuits, which need no soaking.

(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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