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…)

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Baked Fish with Lemon, Potatoes, and Thyme

I first made it with striped bass –absolutely delicious—then with some small hake, and also with pelagisia tsipoura —wild gilt-head sea bream, called Orata in Italy, and Dorade in France– the exquisite, and most expensive Mediterranean fish. All three versions were great, especially with the thick-skinned, almost sweet lemons from the old lemon trees in our garden, which are of the vintage kind grown also  in Amalfi.

You basically need no recipe if you would like to make it. Bear in mind, though, that using head-on fish is really important as it flavors the sauce and the potatoes beautifully.  Read more HERE.

 

 

Serves 4 (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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Orange, Lemon or Tangerine Olive Oil Cake

This is my basic cake, the one I soak in syrup and I often complement with jam or marmalade as well as with seasonal fruit to create a more elaborate dessert. Costas, who loves desserts, likes to freeze the cake and he cuts thin slices to eat after lunch.

 

 

Instead of grating the fruit to get the fine zest, then juicing it, I pulse whole pieces in the blender — peel and flesh of the lemon, orange or tangerine—to add aroma and tang to the cake.

I bake it either in loaf pans, or in a square, round or rectangular pan. When cooled a bit, I often slice it horizontally and while still warm I douse with the basic lemon syrup I describe in the Yogurt Cake. I sometimes add a layer of jam or marmalade in the middle, and/or a seasonal fruit and nut topping: Confit orange slices, briefly cooked strawberries, an/or almonds or pistachios.

 

 

Traditionally all Greek cakes –called glyka tapsiou (cakes baked in a pan)– the most well known being walnut or almond cake, are served soaked in syrup.  I always splash liberally the cake with my Lemon Liqueur;  you can use Limoncello or any good citrus-flavored liqueur.

 

Makes 2 loaf pans (8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2 inches, or 20 X 10 X 6 cm)

or a 9-inch round or square cake (more…)

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