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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Butternut Squash Soup with Yogurt

This is the soup I make often varying the ingredients slightly –with more onion or leek, sometimes adding chopped, dried mushrooms instead of the chicken broth. The topping also may vary; once I made a kind of caper-scallion-chard pesto instead of the fried peas.

Just toasted pine nuts with chopped cilantro are also a fine, simpler topping for this comforting winter soup.

 

Serves 6-8  (more…)

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Bringing Crete to Napa

We Greeks are thrilled that recently there seems to be a trend leading people back to the honest, no-frills, unadorned dishes that our grandmothers used to cook. Foreign visitors, especially those who are genuinely interested in food, often go to great lengths trying to find the long-forgotten, plain, everyday home cooking; and this is what we demonstrated at the Worlds of Flavor conference held last November in the renovated, wonderful Copia, in Napa Valley.

 

It was a foggy, bitingly cold morning as we stood at the back garden of Copia, in Napa.  With chefs Yiannis Tsivourakis and Dimitrios Mavrakis we had come for this fall’s Worlds of Flavor to present dishes from Crete to food professionals and chefs from all over the world. That morning we were giving our last workshop and tasting and had prepared a few more dishes in an open fire. As we were grilling and plating the stuffed calamari, the sunflower-seed-crusted cheese, and the smoky eggplant-pepper salad we almost forgot the humid cold, experiencing such warmth and genuine interest from the twenty or so participants. They tasted, expressed their gratitude, and asked relevant questions, making us proud and somewhat puzzled that the peasant-inspired, simple foods we learned from our ancestors were so enthusiastically received by savvy professionals.

 

See HERE the Video of our Ecolab presentations

 

The previous day at eight in the morning we were scheduled to deliver our big cooking demonstration at the Ecolab –the large, state-of-the-art amphitheater of Copia. We were somewhat afraid that very few if anybody would wake up at the crack of dawn to come see us. As we were being ‘wired’ with our microphones in the back room, all three of us were stressed and trying to concentrate and do exactly what we were supposed to do –show the slides, cook and plate our dishes, and especially keep the timing as it was planned. We had the feeling that we were fussy and nervous for no particular reason; besides the cameras that recorded the presentations, we didn’t expect more than a handful of people in the audience. Anne Mc Bride started to introduce me and as I stepped toward the podium and faced the audience I almost screamed seeing the vast amphitheater completely packed! Every single seat was occupied; there were even people standing in the back.

 

 

Chef Yiannis started the demo cooking the delicious olive-oil-fried snails with rosemary and vinegar.  Then he prepared my favorite tomato-braised chestnuts with pearl onions and mushrooms, a dish originally cooked in the villages high up in the rugged mountains above Chanea, on western Crete.

 

(more…)

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Apple Cake with Olive oil and Lemon

This moist, fruity cake is based on a recipe for Rustic Tuscan Apple Cake that my friend Val posted in her brilliant site More than Burned Toast.

I tweaked the recipe, substituting olive oil for the butter, and also used my lemon liqueur instead of the amaretto the Tuscan recipe suggests.I made it in a rectangular pan, and as I took it out of the oven I glazed it with some marmalade diluted in more lemon liqueur…

 

For a 10X7 inch (25X18,5 cm) cake (more…)

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Red-pepper-and-feta-topped Flat Bread

Besides adding our garden’s delicious red peppers to sauces, fry, and stuff with rice, vegetables, meat, or fish, I love the combination of flavors created by olive-oil-sautéed peppers and use them as topping for my flat bread, pairing them with crumbled feta cheese.

The dough is the one I use for my everyday breads, sometimes adding yogurt if I have leftover that is going too sour or any kind of mashed vegetables or greens.

See also the Tomato and Cheese topped bread, the Smoked Cheese and Kumquat Bread which is basically the winter version of my topped breads. For a more spicy-aromatic topping spread Zaatar mixed with olive oil over the tomatoes.

 

Makes TWO large Laganes (flat breads), or FOUR smaller 10X7 inch (25X18,5 cm) breads, serving 8-12 people as appetizer 

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