Looking for the old ways–photos from our travels.

During the past few weeks, we have navigated the steep and winding roads into the mountains nearly every day to collect stories, recipes and photographs.

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The road to the shepherd village of Vaskina.

We’ve met cheesemakers, home cooks, a taverna owner, even a cobbler, and every one of them was extraordinarily generous–inviting us into their homes or establishments and making us feel as welcome as if we were family or old, dear friends.

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Vangelia, Theia Tassia and yours truly making patsa, or “hangover soup.”

We plan to share the results of our travels here, but for the next week or two, while we sort through our notes and images, I’ll post a few photos–glimpses into a world we have felt fortunate to be a part of, if only for a fleeting but beautiful time.

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My friend Thomae and her handmade trahana.

 

Thomae sifting flour from wheat grown and milled in her village of Vaskina.

Thomae sifting flour from wheat grown and milled in her village of Vaskina.

 

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Theia Tassia’s kitchen in the mountain village of Peleta.

 

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Wood-fired deliciousness.

 

Talking feta with two generations of cheesemakers (and possibly a third) in the mountain village of Peleta.

Talking feta with two generations of cheesemakers (and possibly a third) outside of Peleta.

 

A cheesemaker's apothiki or larder, filled with cheeses, dried herbs, and root vegetables.

A cheese maker’s apothiki, or larder, filled with cheeses, herbs, and root vegetables.

 

A curious onlooker.

A curious onlooker.

 

On our way home.

On our way home.

More photos–as well as recipes and stories–to come. As ever, thank you for reading The Shepherd and the Olive Tree.

Roadside Cherries and the Sweetness of Strangers

A few weeks ago, the children and I drove into the mountains beyond Leonidion to visit two of our favorite places: a beautiful monastery that clings to a cliffside in an act defiant of any logic of gravity and, beyond and above it, the village of Kosmas.

At Elona Monastery, we explored the structure’s multilevels, built like balconies against the cliff.

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We took photos of the view toward Leonidion. Inside the hushed church, which holds a famous 700-year-old icon of the Virgin Mary, we lit candles for our loved ones. At the invitation of a resident monk, we refreshed ourselves with spring water and loukoumia (also known as Turkish delight) flavored with rosewater. As we passed a group of nuns sitting in the shade, they welcomed us and blessed the children.

And so it was with a good feeling that we drove on to the village of Kosmas.

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Situated above a chestnut forest at about 1,150 meters (3,772 feet), Kosmas is a thriving community of 500 or so souls with cafés, shops and a ceramics studio encircling a proud church and plateia, or square, all shaded by enormous plane trees. During the warm days of summer, people gather at outdoor tables in the shade of those trees to drink a coffee or an aperitivo, to play tavli and often to eat one of the delicious pastries the village is known for—baklava, galaktoboureiko and melomakarona.

The square was our destination that day, but as we entered the outskirts of the village, the children noticed a large cherry tree at the edge of a garden on the side of the road. OK, there was a house there too, tucked at the other end of the garden, quite far from the tree, but it was silent and shut. Maybe the owners are out of town, I thought to myself. What would it hurt for the children to pick a few cherries?

“Go ahead,” I said.

And so the kids tumbled out of the car and began to pick a taste. Just as Sylvie popped the first cherry in her mouth, I saw the door to the house open from within. A white-haired lady peeked out and upon spying the children at her tree came running up the driveway, yelling at the top of her voice.

Terrified, the children clutched the cherries they had managed to pick and ran toward the car where I sat taking photos of the view.

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To be honest, my heart was pounding, too. I wasn’t sure what to say or do. Yes, I’d assumed the house empty, but still, the children had clearly trespassed and taken the cherries without permission, or without the proper permission.

And then her voice filtered through the nervous chatter of my thoughts and I realized what she was yelling: “Children! Children! Wait! Let me help you!”

I began to laugh. Perplexed, the children stopped running and looked at me questioningly. “Come on,” I said, getting out of the car. “She’s offering to help you pick cherries.”

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We never made it to the square that day. Instead we spent the afternoon at the home of Panayiota and Diamantis harvesting cherries and drinking coffee and homemade visináda or cherry juice and, later, for the adults, a bit of tsipouro. We talked about our families, our joys and our sorrows. They told me about their lives and I told them about ours. I learned that Diamantis has Alzheimer’s, but that it’s in the early stages yet and indeed I saw no sign of it. He joked with his wife, with me and with the children and laughed until the tears rolled down his cheeks.

Just before we left, Panayiota put a spoonful of honey into each of our mouths. As she plopped the golden elixir onto our tongues, she said to each of us, “To sweeten your life.” It was at that moment that I resolved to return one day soon…to somehow return the sweetness.

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βυσσινάδα/Visináda

A popular summertime drink here in Greece, visináda is made with the juice from cherries—usually sour—a bit of water, and sugar or honey. The combination is cooked and then mashed and then cooked again until it has become a deep red syrup. You may use any variety of cherry, but as the different varieties also differ in flavor, you will need to adjust the sweetener to taste.

Ingredients
Sour cherries
Honey or granulated sugar to taste
Approximately 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Thoroughly rinse the cherries and place them in a heavy pot with just enough water to make them bob. Bring to a slow boil. Remove from the heat and mash with a potato masher or a spoon. Return the pot to the stovetop and bring the mixture back to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

Place a colander lined with a layer or two of cheesecloth upon the pot. Pour the mashed berries into the colander. To the juice in the pot, you will now add the lemon juice and either honey or sugar to taste. Bring to a boil. When the honey or sugar has dissolved, simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

Pour the syrup into sterilized jars and, when the jars have cooled, place them in the refrigerator. The syrup can be kept refrigerated for up to three months.

Serve visináda in a tall glass with ice, 1 part syrup mixed with 3-4 parts cold water. (It is delicious mixed with sparkling water, too.) Undiluted, visináda is a wonderful topping for ice cream and can be used to make a refreshing summer cocktail.

Cheese-stuffed peppers / Πιπεριές με τυρί

All photographs by Vincenzo Spione.

All photographs by Vincenzo Spione.

 

 

A few days ago, our friend Spiros, a local farmer, invited Vincenzo to harvest vegetables at his farm.

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Our friend Spiros.

I expected Vincenzo to return home with a grocery bag full of produce. (Spiros, like many here, is extraordinarily generous.) Instead he returned with a very large crate brimming with enough vegetables to feed us for a couple of weeks or longer. Among the goodies–so carefully packed by Spiros between layers of newspaper–were potatoes, dark red tomatoes, eggplants (our local heirloom variety) and, I was thrilled to see, the long, tapered, light green peppers our neighbors cook up in a number of delicious ways.

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They grill them. They fry them. They bake them and they broil them. They stuff them with cheese or with an aromatic mixture of rice, chopped vegetables, herbs and sometimes ground meat and then broil or bake them in the oven or, if you’re lucky, in an outdoor wood-fired oven, which imparts the dish with a delicious smoky flavor.

Last night we got busy making plans for each vegetable. With the eggplants, we will make papoutsakia, or “little slippers,” and melitzanasalata, or eggplant salad. The potatoes, I knew immediately, we would fry, as fried potatoes sprinkled with salt and oregano is, hands-down, Vincenzo’s favorite dish. The tomatoes we will use in fresh salads, of course, and for a couple of Italian pasta sauces. As for the peppers, it was a bit of a dilemma, albeit a delicious one, for we love the variety of methods used to cook them here. In the end, we decided to make piperies me tiri (πιπεριές με τυρί), or cheese-stuffed peppers.

A simple dish, piperies me tiri can be made in a variety of manners. After they have been stuffed, the peppers can be baked, broiled, grilled or even fried. Last night the weather was cool and so we decided to bake them in our indoor oven. Having been schooled by my mother in the practice of roasting peppers over a flame on our gas stove, I was a bit concerned that baking the peppers would not sufficiently enhance their sweet and smoky flavors. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised.

As with many of the recipes on this blog, the ingredients can be played with to suit your tastes. For the stuffing, we used feta cheese, a bit of olive oil and parsley. Some cooks use other cheeses, such as kefalotiri or touloumotiri. Others add oregano or a hot pepper finely chopped. Some add a splash of lemon juice or a pinch of lemon zest to the mixture.

In Greece, this dish is commonly served as a meze (small, savory plates of food enjoyed in the company of friends or family), but it is hearty enough to be served as a main course with a side of salad and, of course, bread to mop up the delicious juices.

Cheese-Stuffed Peppers

The Ingredients
10 or so long green peppers (Fresno or Anaheim peppers can be substituted. In Greece, try sweet Florina peppers, if you’re lucky enough to have access to them.)
400 grams (a generous 1.5 cups) of feta cheese
A splash of olive oil for the filling plus enough to coat the pan and drizzle over the peppers before they’re baked
A handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste

The Method
Preheat oven to 200°C (390°F).

Remove the caps from the tops of the peppers and gently remove the seeds.

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In a bowl, add the feta cheese, olive oil, parsley, salt, and pepper.

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Mash and mix until combined.

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Using a small spoon, stuff the cheese mixture into the peppers to within a centimeter (approximately 1/2 inch) from the top. Place the cap back on the pepper, using it as a stopper to prevent the cheese from oozing out as it bakes.

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Coat a roasting pan with olive oil and place the peppers side by side in the pan. Drizzle the peppers with oil.

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Bake until they have softened and browned, approximately 30-40 minutes.

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Enjoy with a glass of classic retsina or your favorite spirit.

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Coming soon: Adventures in wood-fired cooking:

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A Taste of the Sea: Marinated Anchovies

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All photographs by Vincenzo Spione.

Here on the southeastern Peloponnesos, the hot days of summer have begun. In the village, we walk along the streets’ shaded sides or gather in the shadows of trees and buildings to visit over tiny cups of Greek coffee, a cold beer or an icy frappe. During the heat of mid-afternoon, the streets clear and become quiet and still but for the thrum of the cicadas. People wake early, work hard and then rest during the hottest hours of the day, returning to the task at hand when the heat begins to ease.

As we tune our daily routines and rhythms to accommodate the heat, I find myself craving the freshest and simplest of foods: salads of tomatoes and onions; salads of eggplant and garlic; horta vlita, or amaranth, which grows profusely in gardens this time of year and is boiled and then served cool with a healthy splash of olive oil, a bit of salt and some lemon.

At the top of my list of favorite summertime foods is the marinated anchovy or, in Greek, gavros marinatos (γαύρος μαρινάτος). I’m not referring to the tinned anchovies one can buy in the supermarket, the kind that pack a fishy, salty, pungent (and to me, delicious) punch. I’m talking about fresh anchovies that are cured quickly and either eaten on the spot or saved, packed in oil, for future consumption. Compared to their tinned brethren, marinated anchovies taste of the sea, yes, but it’s a delicate flavor, one that is balanced with the flavors of the ingredients used to cure and finish the fish. Fresh anchovies are satisfying and refreshing. They’re a wonderful addition to lunch or dinner, but they can also stand alone as a meze and are delicious with a glass of wine or ouzo.

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As it turns out, the little fish are good for you, too. Like sardines, herring and salmon, anchovies are classified as “oily fish,” which simply means that their tissue contains oil. (No reason for alarm; I mean, the good, nutritional kind of oil.) Oily fish are rich in vitamins A and D as well as omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital to heart health and to the growth and development of the brain and nervous system.

Anchovies shoal in profusion across the world’s temperate waters and are rare in very cold or very warm seas. When we are snorkeling in the quiet bays along the shoreline here, we often see them swimming in silvery schools two or three meters beneath the surface. The species we encounter in Greece is the European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) and although they thrive in the waters of the Aegean (who wouldn’t?), their range includes the Atlantic coast of Europe all the way up to southern Norway.

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Like the bulb of the wild tassel hyacinth and the sea urchin, anchovies were considered by the ancient Greeks and Romans to have amatory powers, particularly if eaten uncured and uncooked. (Perhaps it’s no coincidence that anchovies are the primary ingredient in pasta alla puttanesca or the “prostitute’s pasta.”) In ancient Greece and Rome, the anchovy was the main ingredient in the highly nutritious fermented fish sauce known as garos (or the Latinized, garum), which was produced in industrial quantities and served as a lucrative trade item. Since ancient times, the Greeks and, indeed, people from throughout the Mediterranean, have cured a variety of foods, such as capers, olives and fish, by salting, drying or pickling them, or by using a combination of those methods. Today, they still do.

This summer, marinated anchovies have become a bit of an obsession of mine, and every time we’ve eaten out, I’ve ordered them, but until recently, I only ate them while dining out. Lately, though, Vincenzo and I began to grow curious about making them at home and so we asked various friends just how to do it, beginning with our local fishmonger, Spiros.

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What we found was a variety of approaches, all involving salt and acid (vinegar for some, lemon for others and the two together for still others). Factors that varied from person to person included the amount of salt used and the time they allowed the fish to cure. It seems everyone we spoke to cures their anchovies overnight or longer. Vincenzo, however, who is Italian, has fond memories of eating the fish just a few hours after they were caught. The recipe his mother used was with much less salt than our neighbors use here, the quick curing dependent primarily on vinegar and lemon.

Here is a very basic recipe from Spiros. It’s the approach we wound up trying in the end and the results were absolutely delicious. Of course, it can be adapted to include other herbs and spices, such as peppercorns, oregano and red pepper flakes.

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Marinated Anchovies / Γαύρος Mαρινάτος

Ingredients:

IMG_acc3-6037-1-1500 grams (approximately 1 pound) of very fresh anchovies

Course sea salt

The juice of one lemon combined with enough red wine vinegar to cover the fish

4-6 garlic cloves, cut into very thin slivers

A generous handful of parsley

Olive oil

Cleaning the fish:

Fresh anchovies deteriorate quickly, thus it’s important to clean them as soon as possible. Begin by washing the anchovies under cold water.

Pinch the head with your thumb and forefinger and remove it.

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Gut the fish by running your thumb along its belly cavity. Open the filet gently, trying to keep the fish intact—like a butterfly—rather than dividing it in half. Carefully remove the spine.

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Once again, using a colander, give the anchovies a little rinse in cold water. Place them on a plate for preparation.

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Curing the fish:

In a nonreactive dish (glass, ceramic or plastic), sprinkle a pinch or two of salt. Then, stack the fish in layers, sprinkling salt between each layer.

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Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, thoroughly rinse the fish. Wash and dry your container and return the anchovies in layers to it. Mix the vinegar with the juice of the lemon. Add enough of the mixture to cover the fish.

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Cover the dish and return it to the refrigerator, allowing the anchovies to cure from 6 to 12 hours, or until they have turned white.

Once again, using a colander, rinse the fish. This time, pat them with a clean towel, trying to remove as much of the water as possible. Wash and dry the container and pour a bit of olive oil in the bottom (about 1-2 tablespoons) adding a scant handful of garlic and chopped parsley to the oil.

Proceed to layer the fish in the container again, this time topping each layer with a scant handful of garlic and parsley. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into the dish—enough to cover the fish.

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Cover the dish and return it to the refrigerator for 3 hours or longer. At this point, the marinated anchovies are ready for your enjoyment.

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Serve with a glass of wine or ouzo and, of course, in Greece watch out for the presence of hungry cats!

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Fava: A recipe for the Great Fast

With Clean Monday or Καθαρή Δευτέρα, this week began the seven-week season of the Great Fast in Greece during which the devout eat nothing that contains or is derived from any creature through which blood flows. This means no meat, fish, dairy or eggs, and this includes sweets and pastries made with eggs or butter. (Shellfish, octopus and squid are fine as they are said to have no blood.)

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A bowl of deliciousness: fava at our favorite taverna, Myrtoan, in Poulithra. Photo by Vincenzo Spione.

One of my favorite fasting-friendly dishes is called fava, a misleading name as the dish is not made with fava beans but with yellow split peas. One of the world’s earliest cultivated food crops, split peas have been a staple in Greece since antiquity. And for good reason: They are small but nutritionally mighty, full of B vitamins, protein, isoflavones, soluble fiber and virtually no fat. Split peas are good for the heart, the digestive system and for preventing a slew of diseases, from diabetes to cancer. A variety of the pod fruit, Pisum sativum, or field pea, yellow split peas are part of the legume family.

In Siren Feasts, an excellent history of food and gastronomy in Greece, Andrew Dalby writes that split peas were cultivated in Greece as early as 6,000 BC. I’ve also read that vendors sold bowls of split pea soup from large, steaming vats on the stone-paved streets of ancient Athens. Today, the legume is still παντού (everywhere) in Greece, making frequent appearances on tables in tavernas and homes throughout the country, particularly during fasting times.

Although split peas are grown throughout much of Greece, the island of Santorini is perhaps most famous for their cultivation. Nourished by the island’s rich volcanic soils and naturally sun-dried, the yellow split peas of Santorini were included on the European Union’s list of “Protected Designation of Origin” foods because of their unique flavor and history.

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Fava
1 cup dried yellow split peas, picked over, rinsed and drained
5 or more cups water, as needed
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toppings
Olive oil
Lemon
Chopped red onions
Chopped garlic
Capers

Place the rinsed and drained peas in a large pot and cover with several inches of cold water. Bring to a boil on the stove top, and then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, skimming if necessary. As the peas cook, add water as needed to keep the peas covered. When the peas are completely disintegrated, remove from the heat.

Drain the cooked peas, reserving the cooking liquid. Mash the peas with a fork or blend in a food processor. Add olive oil (and a little of the cooking liquid if you prefer a thinner consistency), mashing or blending until the fava is smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, place the fava in a bowl, drizzle it with olive olive oil and top with any combination of the toppings above.

Kαλή όρεξη! (Good appetite!)

Stifado, a rustic Greek stew for a cold winter’s day

Last week, during a rare break in the rain that has been falling nearly nonstop in Leonidion since late autumn, we took to the road to visit friends who live in Kyparissi, a seaside village down the coast from us. As the proverbial crow flies, the distance between our home and theirs is short, but the drive is long, following a road that snakes precipitously up and over the mountains that divide our communities, passing tiny mountain villages and hilltops crowned with crumbling windmills, past generations-old vineyards where the families that live here grow the grapes for their homemade wine, through flocks of goats and sheep, their bells clanging as they walk past our car, gazing in at us with curiosity.

Curious.

The journey ends with a thin ribbon of potholed road that zig-zags down a cliffside that plunges to the sea. The drive is at times thrilling, always beautiful and, for me, beloved, in part because of the good friends who wait at the road’s end, but also because of the views the trip provides of the traditional ways of life our mountain neighbors lead.

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On the road to Kyparissi, we pass through Pelleta, a quiet but still-thriving mountain community. By Dina Vitzileou. (For more of Dina’s wonderful photos, visit poulithragr.blogspot.com)

Before we left Leonidion, our friends sent me a shopping list, for Kyparissi is not only distant from our own door. It is remote from everywhere, accessible only by boat or that skinny, pot-holed road.

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The descent to Kyparissi.

To do most of their errands, Kyparissiots must wind their way up and out of the village and then drive south to their main town of Molai, 45 minutes away. There is no operating gas station in Kyparissi. No pharmacy and no bank. Not even an ATM. And so we carried cash, medicine, vegetables, and, last but not least, rabbit, to the village, for our friends planned to make stifado, a deliciously intense and rich rabbit stew, for us for lunch the following day.

Wallace's stifado. He serves it on potatoes. Some use hilopites (akin to orzo). Others make it brothier and add no starch to the bowl, serving it instead with a hunk of bread on the side.

Wallace’s stifado. He serves it on potatoes. Some use hilopites (akin to orzo). Others make it brothier and add no starch to the bowl, serving it instead with a hunk of bread on the side.

Like many Greek dishes, stifado’s ingredients vary from family to family, season to season, and region to region. In part, this variety is due to what’s readily available to put in the stew. In the mountains of the Peloponnesos, for example, you’re unlikely to find a stifado made with octopus. You will, however, find it made with goat, rabbit or, on special occasions, wild hare. For octopus stifado, look to the islands and to fishing communities along the coastlines. In regions where wild mushrooms grow, you may find them serving as the stew’s “meat.” One recipe, from Crete, calls for snails. Another calls for tripe. Some cooks add such warming spices as cinnamon, allspice and cloves along with walnuts and currants. Others prefer the simplicity of the stew’s essential ingredients: onions (usually pearl onions or shallots), tomatoes and sometimes garlic. This endless variety on the stifado theme also provides a window into the region’s history. The use of exotic spices, such as cinnamon and cloves? These point east, to the Orient, which makes sense when we recall that the Turks occupied most of Greece for 400 years.

The name “stifado” has its origins in the Italian “stufato,” which simply means “stewed.” Like English “stew” and French “estouffade,” the Italian word “stufato” is a descendant of the Latin word “extufare,” which means, “to heat in steam.”  Again, stifado’s name reveals the region’s history. Its Italian etymological roots are likely due to the Venetians’ rule of Greek territory during the Middle Ages.

Venetian map of Isola di Corfu : posseduta dalla Serenissima Republica di Venetia ("owned b the Republic of Venice"). . Circa 1690.

Venetian map of  the Ionian island of Corfu. “Posseduta dalla Serenissima Republica di Venetia” (“owned by the Republic of Venice”). Circa 1690.

No matter which ingredients you choose, with its rich, intense flavors, stifado is the perfect antidote to a cold winter’s day. This recipe, from the inimitable Diane Kochilas, is one of my favorites. But remember, you can play with the ingredients. Squeamish about rabbit? Use beef or chicken. If you’d prefer to avoid the sweetness of exotic spices and fruit, omit the allspice, cloves and orange. If you like garlic, add it.

When it’s done, serve your stifado with red wine and warm crusty bread. The combination–universally appreciated, in my opinion–will warm your day.

Κουνέλι-Στιφάδο or Rabbit Stew

INGREDIENTS
One 3-pound rabbit, cut into serving pieces

For the marinade
2 cups red wine (if possible, use the delicious, slightly sweet Greek wine, Mavrodaphne)
2 bay leaves
6 to 10 allspice berries, to taste
1 cinnamon stick

For the stew
1 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 pounds small onions, pearl or shallots, peeled
All-purpose flour for dredging
1 orange, washed and cut into 8 wedges
2 cups red wine
1 cup chopped tomatoes (peeled fresh or canned)
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick

Wash the rabbit and pat dry. Place in a large bowl with the wine and spices. Marinate overnight, covered, in the refrigerator, turning several times.

In a heavy stew pot, heat 1/2 of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and reduce the heat to very low. Cook until lightly browned and translucent, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the rabbit from the marinade, pat dry, and dredge lightly in flour, tapping off any excess. Discard the marinade. Remove the onions from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil to the pot and heat over a medium-high flame. Place the rabbit pieces in the pot and sear to brown on all sides. Place the orange wedges over the rabbit. Pour in the wine and tomatoes and add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer the rabbit until tender, about 1 and 1/2 hours. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly, and serve.

"Welcome to beautiful Kyparissi."

“Welcome to beautiful Kyparissi.”

Rainy days in Leonidio and a salad for the citrus season

We arrived home, our Greek home, that is, a week ago today. When we left Leonidio last August, the landscape was parched and brown after months of that glorious Greek sun pouring (and sometimes beating) down on it. Today, after months of nearly nonstop rain, the land is a profusion of bright green clover and grasses.

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Mist clings to the mountains above our house. The gorge that divides the village–usually dry or occasionally host to runoff, torrential and temporary–is now a bonafide river.

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The river now runs through Leonidion.

Our olive-growing friends are grateful for the rain. Other friends who grow their food for sustenance or sale have mixed reviews: it is difficult to plant lettuces and other delicate winter crops in soil that is drenched with water.

Nonetheless, the produce market down the road is chock full of beautiful cool-weather fare: lettuces, curly endive and spinach, broccoli and cabbage, fennel root and of course, horta, the domestic and wild greens that are a mainstay in Greek cookery. Most of the olive trees are bare, the season to harvest just behind us, but the citrus trees are heavy with oranges, mandarins and lemons.

Yesterday, Manolis, a friend from the village, dropped by with a box of assorted citrus from his trees. A handsome and charismatic man with a thick thatch of white hair, he promised his oranges would taste better than any others from the village. And, indeed, they are delicious. He also brought three heads of lettuce from his garden (also succulent and flavorful) and olive wood for our newly-installed wood stove. All were gifts. This kind of generosity is commonplace here. The day before, for example, while doing errands downtown, we returned to our car to find a bag of mandarins left anonymously on the passenger seat. Okay, to a certain degree citrus season here is akin to zucchini season back in Montana, but still, it is not unusual to find gifts from friends’ kitchens and fields left beside the front door or inside, on the kitchen table.

So now that we are swimming in oranges, what to do with all of them? Of course we will juice many, but we’ll also use some for a favorite salad of mine, which uses orange as its main ingredient. Vincenzo, my partner, first made it for me last year when we were faced with the same delicious dilemma. He calls it “Insalata di Arance,” which in Italian means, simply, “Salad of Orange.” Salty rather than sweet, the salad is typical fare in Sicily, his birthplace, and is traditionally served at the beginning or end of a meal. Vincenzo’s version is the salad in its most basic form made with chunks of orange (blood orange is his favorite), olive oil and salt. There is no need for vinegar, he says (and I agree), because the juice from the orange gives the salad a sufficient tartness.

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Photo by Vincenzo Spione.

The salad is also common in Spain, but many variations of it exist throughout the Mediterranean. Common additions include fennel bulb, onion, and olives. Some cooks add pomegranate seeds, others anchovies. Really, you can use your imagination and dream up all kinds of combinations, but in my opinion it is best kept simple in order to allow the main flavors–of orange, of olive oil (fresh and fruity this time of year) and of salt (and pepper if you want it)–to shine.

To make Vincenzo’s Insalata di Arance, simply peel and chop one orange per person and toss it with generous servings of olive oil and sea salt. Vincenzo says the secret is to not  skimp on either the oil or the salt as a sufficient amount of each enhances the flavor of the salad and distinguishes it from a typical “fruit salad.” Experiment and you will get it right.

Insalata di Arance

Insalata di Arance. By Vincenzo Spione.

For those who prefer a little more direction, here is a recipe from Ed Behr, the editor and publisher of The Art of Eating, a fine magazine that explores food and wine, their flavors and stories, with passion and precision. The recipe is from Ed’s book, The Art of Eating Cookbook: Essential Recipes from the First Twenty-Five Years.

INSALATA DI ARANCE
Orange Salad

4 large oranges (or enough smaller ones to serve four people)
1/3 cup (80 ml) excellent, fresh-tasting olive oil
Salt and black pepper
Black olives (optional)
Thin slices of bulb fennel (optional)
Thin slices of onion (optional)

Peel the oranges using a very sharp knife so as to cut cleanly and avoid pressing out juice. (Ed says a 10-inch or a 25-cm chef’s knife is efficient; I prefer using a sharp paring knife). First cut a disc from the top and bottom of each fruit to reveal a flat circle of flesh; then, following the arc of the fruit, cut wide strips from top to bottom, each time cutting down to the flesh. Afterward, trim any remaining white pith. Slice the peeled oranges crosswise into rounds about 1/4 inch thick (a generous 1/2 cm). Remove any seeds. Vigorously stir together the oil, a good pinch of salt and finely ground pepper, and pour this dressing over the orange slices. Allow the salt to dissolve for about 15 minutes before serving. Optionally, add any combination of the olives, fennel and onion. Serves four.

Καλή όρεξη! (Or, as Vincenzo would say, buon appetito!) And thank you for reading The Shepherd and the Olive Tree.