A Greek Story – Part 3

Posted by admin | Just Food Articles - writers invited | Saturday 26 November 2005 11:10 pm

All the food I’d had in Greece was wonderful, but in Crete mealtimes were splendid!

Read Part 1 & Part 2 here

More quaint Greek islands dotted with cafes, cats and donkeys, more blue sea, more friendly people living just to pile your plate high with food.

collageFinally I reached my last destination, Crete, the largest, stark mountainous Greek island in the Aegean Sea, its southern coast is the last point of Europe, and a favourite watering hole for tourists and the rich of Northern Europe who want to get away for the winter. I spent most of my time in one of its towns, Hania.

Modern, wealthy Hania, with about 60,000 people, is built around the old Venetian fortifications and harbor with its glorious old lighthouse. The old city still exists – narrow cobbled streets, narrow leaning houses, crooked stepped paths, ornate wrought iron verandahs, pure enchantment. The Turks also ruled it. So right in the center of the harbor is a gleaming white mosque, now used partly as an exhibition hall and partly as a restaurant.

We visited a taverna called Tamam. It used to be a Turkish bath and has been preserved as such. We sat along the top ledge where fat prosperous Turks possibly sat in their towels discussing business and invasions, and looked down on the lower level seating, tables in what must originally have been the steaming bath. Arches high above were lit almost completely with candles, and hung with tinkling shell mobiles. We ordered the house specialty – camel, in keeping with the mood. It was salty and a little tougher than most meats, but delicious all the same. The rest of the food was delicious too.

All the food I’d had in Greece was wonderful, but in Crete mealtimes were no longer based on blind choices. My hostess was a delightful Greek woman, loquacious, vivacious, and married to an American who came there to excavate and settled down for good. They really took our mealtimes in hand ordering copious amounts of food, sometimes just a series of appetizers, everything always eaten with large amounts of bread and fried potatoes and the ubiquitous Greek salad that came to the table first so that before you even thought about it you had drizzled olive oil all over and started stuffing yourself. And the local white wine – I think I was the only person in Greece who drank water!

We has fried squid, octopus and sea-urchins. And snails! Yes really! Those things that crawl out of the earth when it rains. We went wandering around the local ruins on a rainy day and our hostess armed with plastic bags got all of us into snail collecting. I believe they’re put into a deep covered bowl and fed on pasta, till all the waste they secret turns clean and white! Then they’re immersed in water bringing to a boil slooowly. Too fast and the snails retreat tightly into their shells and can’t be removed.

One day, sitting at a café as we discussed what to order, a decrepit looking old guy came off a fishing boat swinging a huge fish by the tail, walking around the tables, offerin g it to the locals in a ‘lucky dip’ for just a single Euro. There was much discussions, much examingin the fish for freshness, our hostess called in the owner of the habour-side taverna for expert comments. Some more discussion and we won the bidding Naturally we just had to have the fish soup. A long wait later, it arrived in a huge cauldron, and the waiters ceremoniously spooned out large bowls of aromatic broth with small bits of fish visible and a few onions and shrimp. Just when we thought that was it, (I wondered what the big fuss had been about) they proceeded to lay out the rest of the contents of the pot in the center of the table. Steaming large fish slices, shrimp, mussels, potatoes and onions. Then our hostess taught us how to eat it. Spoon as much as we could into our soup bowls, and then slurp. Mmmm, delicious!

Mealtime in Greece, if you’re not a tourist, and in our hostess’ company we now counted among the locals, start after 10 pm and can continue into the morning hours. When, eyelids drooping and poisoned by Greek cigarette smoke, we finally called for the bill another peculiarly Cretan ceremony begins. Dessert is served on the house. We’re stuffed but who can resist, halwa or cheese pies with honey or simply honey dripping over stewed fruit and thick, sour yoghurt. All served with a potent local brew that is homemade and never sold, – Raki or Tsikoudia. Good for digestion, good for colds, good to rub on your knees for arthritis, basically any reason to knock back a second shot glass, and a third and a…

Two more trips by craggy mountainous roads took us to stare at the ultramarine Mediterranean at the southernmost point of Europe, and up to the small villages forgotten by time, north of Crete. Up to Hora Skafion on roads no wider than our bus, looking down into craggy gorges. Black clad locals smile up as they squeeze themselves into the rock behind them so we can pass. One of them refused to charge for a specialty snack (something like a large cheese pancake with honey) we stopped to have at his taverna suspended out over the mountain on wooden pillars. We commented warmly on their friendliness. Our hostess smiled and agreed. Then proceeded to tell us why these small sturdy northern people must not be crossed. Descended from pirate settlers they still practiced the vendetta system until about 10 years ago, whole families wiping out each other over trivial insults. The police has got them calmed down recently, but they still carry knives and guns, firing them into the air in any celebration, including marriages and births. And when they drive at tearing speed down the mountain roads after a night at the tavernas, they still use the signposts as target practice. We gaped at the lacey metal boards, and then we decided it was time to leave.

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Pancetta Lasagna

Posted by admin | Meat,Recipes | Saturday 26 November 2005 10:50 pm

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CHEESY MUSHROOM & PANCETTA LASAGNA Serves 8
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INGREDIENTS
30 oz Ricotta
1 pk Spinach, chopped, frozen,
1/2 cup Parmesan freshly grated
2 Eggs
12 oz Mushrooms
1 tbs Olive oil
2 oz Pancetta ( if you don’t have a choice – plain bacon) chopped
2 tsp fresh Rosemary
12 oz button Mushrooms, sliced
12 Lasanga noodles
3/4 cup Parmesan grated
1 cup Fontina cheese (a lovely semi-soft sweetish Italian cheese, but any semi-soft variety will do)
1 Tomato, seeded and chopped fine
2 tsp Rosemary chopped

PREPARATION

Combine the ricotta, spinach and Parmesan in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the eggs and mix well. Cook till all juices evaporate, stirring, frequently, about 10 minutes.

Mix the tomatoes, mushrooms and Pancetta in another pan and simmer with a tsp of olive oil for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain.

Grease a deep baking dish. Spread the Tomato, mushrooms, Pancetta sauce over the base.

Arrange 3 to 4 noodles over, trimming to fit as necessary.

Spread half of ricotta-spinach mix over it. Spoon more tomato-mushroom-pancetta sauce over.

Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Top with 3 to 4 noodles, trimming to fit. Spread the remaining ricotta-spinach filling over the noodles.

Spoon the remaining tomato-mushroom-pancetta sauce over. Sprinkle with 1 cup Fontina and 1/4 cup Parmesan.

Cover with the remaining lasagna noodles

Reserve 1/2 cup sauteed mushrooms for garnish. Spread remaining mushrooms over cheese. Sprinkle remaining Fontina and 1/4 cup Parmesan over.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cover with foil and bake covered for 30 minutes. Then uncover and continue baking until bubbling and till the cheese melts, – should be about 20 minutes.

Arrange reserved 1 cup mushrooms, tomato and 2 teaspoons rosemary over

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on a Greek trail – soupa

Posted by admin | Recipes,Sea Food | Thursday 24 November 2005 11:08 pm

This exotic seafood soup, native to the Greek islands, can make a whole meal. You can really use any combination of fish and shellfish that you prefer.
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SOUPA NISIOTIKI – Island Soup Serves 10
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INGREDIENTS
2 Whole Bay Leaves
3 cups Canned Tomatoes – Whole not pureed
1 Medium Carrots grated
1/2 Cup Celery Stalks finely diced
2 Dozen Clams with liquid
455 g / 1 lb Crabmeat
1 Clove crushed Garlic
910 g/ 2 lbs Haddock Fillets (Cut in 2″ pieces)
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1 Large Onion chopped fine
1/2 cup Parsley chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
1 Tablespoon Salt
455 g / 1 lb Scallops
455 g/ 1 lb Shrimp cleaned & de-veined
1 cup dry White Wine

PREPARATION

In a large saucepan, saute onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in olive oil.

Drain the tomatoes but reserve the liquid. Add the drained tomatoes, parsley, bay leaves, salt & pepper to saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes.

Combine tomato and clam liquids, and add enough boiling water to make 3 cups, and set aside.

In a deep pan, arrange layers of haddock, clams, shrimp, crabmeat, scallops covering each layer with some of the vegetable mixture and the white wine. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.

Add reserved tomato/clam liquid and simmer uncovered 20 minutes.

Serve steaming hot.

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On a Greek trail – Greek Salad

Posted by admin | Recipes,Salads,Vegetarian | Thursday 24 November 2005 10:17 pm

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greeksaladGREEK VILLAGE SALAD – Xoriatiki Salata
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INGREDIENTS
4 Ripe tomatoes
1 Cucumber
1 Onion
1 Green pepper
1/3 lb Feta cheese
Olives
1/2 cup Olive oil
1/4 cup white Vinegar
Oregano
Salt

PREPARATION
Cut the vegetables in thick slices and mix in a salad bowl with salt and pepper. Top with the olives, and oregano and cover with “crumbled” feta cheese. Pour the olive oil and vinegar over evenly.

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On a Greek trail – snails!

Posted by admin | Meat,Recipes | Thursday 24 November 2005 10:13 pm

The Greek call them “salingaria” on the mainland, but “hohli” on the island of Crete. Hohli are a favorite Cretan food. Follow this recipe and you’ll know why. Snails are usually avoided except in summer, when they are considered safe to eat. Since snails absorb the odors and taste of foods on which they feed, Cretans catch them after a rainfall, put them in a covered container, and feed them for several days on wheat, flour, and perhaps some thyme. And then when their…ahem…’waste’ is pure white, indicating that they’ve been cleansed, they’re immersed in water and it’s gently brought to a boil so that they don’t retreat into their shells. Yes, not a description for the tender-hearted perhaps, but that’s the way it is!

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SNAILS – CREATAN STYLE Serves 4
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INGREDIENTS
2 lb snails
1/2 cup red Wine vinegar
1 cup Olive oil
2 onion grated
2 lb tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
Salt to taste

PREPARATION
4-5 days after they’ve been caught and fed on flour and some thyme, make sure all the snails are alive, then wash thoroughly in cold water and place in their shells in a container large enough to hold them. Pour cool water over them so they open out, then slowly add hot water over them to cover and bring to a boil.

Add a teaspoon of salt for each quart of water and continue to boil for 20 minutes, skimming off foam.

Drain the snails, then wash in cold water and drain again. By now it should be easy to separate the snails from the shells.

Add some salt for seasoning the snails, cover, and set aside.

Saute the grated onion in olive oil and add chopped fresh parsley.

Stir over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes.
Pour in the red wine vinegar.
Cover and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a deep, heavy pan, heat olive oil almost to the boiling point. Add the snails and fry for 10 minutes, turning carefully with tongs to avoid spattering oil. Put aside.

Add the snails to the tomato mixture and simmer for 10 minutes more.

Serve with bread and wine, as an appetizer or with fried potatoes and Greek salad as a first course.

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