The Season in a Spoon: Greek Spoon Sweets and a Recipe for Pear Preserves

Pass by a friend’s or a neighbor’s house in rural Greece and it’s unlikely you won’t be invited in to sip a cup of coffee or a bit of mastiha, or both.

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Along with the cups, saucers and glasses will inevitably arrive spoonfuls of glyka tou koutaliou, or spoon sweets. Served as a gesture of hospitality throughout Greece, spoon sweets are delicious, syrupy preserves made from almost any fruit or nut imaginable. The custom of serving them to guests is so engrained in Greek culture that sometimes even shop owners will keep them on hand to offer to passers-by who stop in for business or, also likely, a visit.

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Seasonal cooking is the backbone of Greek cuisine, and spoon sweets and other preserves are no exception. Thus, the spectrum of them follows the seasons. In autumn, they’re made with apples and quince. In winter, from lemons and lemon rind, bergamot, grapefruits and grapefruit rind, oranges and orange rind. Come spring, there are apricots, strawberries, and green, unripe figs. In summer, they’re made with cherries, plums, grapes, even tomatoes, eggplants, and watermelon rind. Nuts and flowers also make an appearance in the spoon sweet repertoire, rose petal sweets among the most prized of them.

In the mountains above the village we call home part of each year, pear trees grow in the most surprising of places: in meadows quiet but for the occasional tinkle of a goat’s bell, beside crumbling stone cottages, threshing circles and windmills long abandoned. Although these pear trees, planted by whom we cannot know, seem forgotten, it’s unlikely their fruit will go unharvested. Most of the Greeks I know are extraordinarily resourceful and will not let good food go to waste. Moreover, perhaps because the memory of famine is a part of the culture’s collective memory, there is a certain ethic against wasting food. If it’s there, ripe, and belongs to no one, it’s simply wrong not to put it to use.

One day this summer Vincenzo and I made a visit to the mountain village of Peleta to learn about a traditional dish called patsas, or hangover soup (story and recipe to come). Our host Vangelia had just made a batch of pear preserves, which she served to us before we got to work, with tiny cups of Greek coffee and glasses of ice-cold water. These preserves aren’t exactly spoon sweets as the pear, usually is cooked in its entirety, doesn’t fit on a spoon, but the idea is the same and the results are just as delicious.

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Vangelia’s Pear Preserves

Ingredients:
1 kilogram of pears (small, firm fruit is ideal)
1 kilogram of sugar
3 cups of water, or enough to cover the pears
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon, in strips
A handful of whole cloves

Method:
If the pears are small, you may leave them whole. If not, cut them lengthwise in half or in quarters. If you do halve or quarter them, be sure to also core them. Whole pears can be left uncored.

Peel the pears and, if necessary, cut them. Stud each of the pears with a whole clove and place them in a deep stockpot. Add the water and bring it to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the sugar and the zest of one lemon. Boil for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the pears to sit in the cooking liquid overnight.

The next day, add the juice of 1 lemon to the pears and simmer uncovered over low heat for about 2 hours or until the juices begin to thicken. (From time to time you will need to skim the foam from the top of the syrup.)

When the juices have thickened to a syrupy consistency, remove the pan from the heat. Allow the preserves to cool before serving. Preserved pears are delicious over yogurt (our favorite is unsweetened, Greek-style yogurt) or ice cream. The preserves can be canned or kept for up to two weeks in the refrigerator…if they last that long.

Our friend, Tassia, enjoys Vangelia's pear preserves. Photo by Vincenzo Spione.

Our friend, Tassia, enjoys Vangelia’s pear preserves. All photos by Vincenzo Spione.

Making Pasta, Greek-Style: Handmade Hilopites

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It all begins with good flour.

When you think of traditional Greek cookery, you may not think of pasta as one of its main staples. I didn’t…until fairly recently, that is. Since then, I’ve learned that there are dozens of varieties of handmade Greek pastas and even more recipes that use pasta as an ingredient.

Just how long has pasta been a part of the Greek larder? Some claim it’s been a staple since ancient times. Others say it’s been just a few centuries. For the food history geeks among us (myself included), this discussion from the writer and historian, Clifford Wright, is interesting and persuasive.

Some Greek pastas are a simple mixture of flour, water, and salt; others contain eggs and goat’s or ewe’s milk. Until recently, before refrigeration became common in the Greek kitchen (and for some of our friends, the refrigerator is a fairly new addition to their suite of household appliances), egg and milk-based pastas served as a way to preserve those items.

Like trahana, cheese, and paximadia, pasta is a staple many of our region’s village cooks prepare in volume over the summer to set aside for the winter ahead. In Greece, everything (still) has a season and pasta is no exception: in late summer the milk from the villagers’ herds is still plentiful and the air is warm enough to dry the noodles sufficiently for storage, thus late summer is, for many, the season to make pasta.

It was on one such warm summer day that Vincenzo and I ventured into the mountains above Leonidio to visit my friend, Thomae Kattei. She planned to make two pastas that day—hilopites and goges—and had invited us to watch.

The road to Vaskina and Thomae's

The road to Vaskina and Thomae’s

Made with eggs, milk and whole-wheat flour, hilopites are a dried pasta, usually cut into small squares. In the village kitchen, they are often served topped with browned ewe’s or goat’s butter and cheese, typically myzithra, an unpasteurized cheese made from a combination of milk and whey, or touloumotiri. Hilopites are also used in soups and stews. My children’s favorite way to eat them will likely never be found in a Greek cookbook: it’s the way my mother prepares them—in a chicken or vegetable broth spiked with a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes.

Like many of the home cooks I’ve met in Greece, Thomae is an extraordinary pasta maker. And on that beautiful summer morning on her farm outside the village of Vaskina, it was a pleasure to watch her work the dough so deftly, using a long dowel-like rolling pin to ease it into culinary perfection.

Thomae wields her dowel of dough.

Thomae wields her dowel of dough.

For me, the pleasure was even greater knowing the wheat, milk and eggs she used to make the pasta came from her farm. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again: Thomae is the walking, talking, paximadia-cheese-and-phyllo-making definition of a locavore. And, she’s not alone. Many of the women and men in this region live this way: growing, foraging and cooking nearly all of the food they eat. As I’ve written in the past, eating locally is not a movement or trend here in rural Greece; it’s simply the way it has always been.

This is Thomae’s recipe for hilopites. As with nearly every dish I’ve encountered in Greece, the ingredients vary from cook to cook. In Thomae’s case, they vary from day to day, depending on the amount of milk and eggs her goats and chickens have given her. If you don’t like the flavor or texture of pasta made with whole-wheat flour, feel free to use a mix of whole-wheat and unbleached white flours. Experiment until you find the combination that tastes best to you.

THOMAE’S HILOPITES

Ingredients:
5 eggs
5 cups goat’s or ewe’s milk
2 tbsp. salt
5 cups whole wheat flour (or a mix of unbleached white flour and whole-wheat flour) plus enough to bring the dough to its desired consistency
Olive oil for oiling hands and bowl
Flour for rolling out and cutting the dough

Method:
Place 5 cups of the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs, milk, and salt.

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Using a wooden spoon, combine the ingredients. Continue to stir, gradually adding enough flour as you stir to make a dough that is stiff, but not dry. Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a clean work surface dusted with flour. Knead the dough, incorporating flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands. Continue kneading until the dough is elastic and springy to the touch, about 10-15 minutes.

Cut the dough into three pieces. Lightly oil your hands and then shape the pieces into balls.

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Knead each ball again for approximately one minute. Place the balls into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rest, unrefrigerated, for 30 minutes.

Lightly sprinkle a large workspace with flour. (Thomae uses her kitchen table covered with a clean plastic tablecloth.) With the heel of your hand, flatten a ball of dough and then dust it with flour. Using a dowel (a typical rolling pin is too small), which you have also dusted with flour, “open” or roll the dough into a large thin round, approximately 1 millimeter thick. IMG_7584-1

Place the round on a large, clean surface lightly dusted with flour. (Thomae uses a bed covered with a clean cotton sheet.)

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Allow the round to rest while you roll out the remaining balls of dough. They will dry slightly; this is a good thing as it will make cutting the dough into hilopites a much easier task.

When you have “opened” all three balls of dough, place the first round on your workspace, dust it with flour, and roll it completely around your dowel.

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Using a paring knife, cut the dough lengthwise into a long sheet of pasta.

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Remove the dowel from the sheet of pasta and cut it into ribbons approximately one centimeter wide.

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Then, cut the ribbons into the traditional hilopita shape. This, of course, varies from cook to cook, too. Some make them a square of approximately one centimeter each; others, like Thomae, prefer them to be slightly rectangular.

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Scatter the hilopites on the bed to dry.

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Thomae also made this tagliatelle-style pasta from the same dough. Some she saved to eat fresh; the rest she dried.

(If you find it is difficult to cut the dough while it is on the dowel, work with it on the table instead. In this case, you will fold the rounds of dough in half, and then in half again. Cut the dough into long sheets and then proceed as above. Be sure to lightly flour the rounds of dough first so they don’t stick together when they are folded.)

Depending on the air temperature and humidity, it can take up to one week for the hilopites to dry completely. Once they have dried, they can be stored an air-tight glass container for up to six months.

A note on “opening” or rolling out the dough:
“Opening” is the word Greeks use for rolling dough, be it for pasta or pita. As Thomae explained, when you think of it, “opening” is a better word than “rolling” for the goal is to stretch the dough rather than to smash or roll it. When you use a dowel to work the dough, the key, according to Thomae, is to use a light, quick touch, moving your hands along the length of the stick rather than leaving them in one position.

That day at Thomae’s, I tried my hand at opening the dough and I found the process difficult to say the least. As they watched me fumble with the dowel, Thomae and Vincenzo shared a good laugh. “It takes practice, kamari mou (my pride),” Thomae said, as she gently removed the dowel from my hands. “Now, go sit down and drink your mastiha.”

Harumph.

Paradosiako (traditional) selfie. (Forgive me, I couldn't help myself.)

Paradosiako (traditional) selfie. (Forgive me, I couldn’t help myself.)

As usual, all photos were taken by my partner in life, crime, and in seeking out good food, Vincenzo Spione.

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.

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!)