Archive | Greece

Recipe | Olive oil, orange and rosemary cake

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Greece lightening

When most families pack a car and set off on their holidays it is not unusual for them to go through last minute panic checks:

“Did you turn off the lights”!?

“Did you lock the back door”?!

“Did I pack my new bikini”?!

“Did we remember all the kids?”?

So it was much to my amusement when we set off, car full of kids, bags, flippers and beach balls that client A exclaims:

“Stop the car! Did you remember to load the Olive oil?!”

It’s going to be my kind of trip I thought as client B assures client A that yes all 17 litres of the stuff is on board and safety packed.  Ready to roll we made the journey from Athens onto the ferry that would sail us to Paros. Getting a car ferry to the Greek islands was one of the most confusing and seemingly pot luck travel adventures I’ve ever been a part of and one day can have a post all to itself… when I’ve figured out how it actually all worked out.

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As I write this on the flight back from Athens I have been flicking through my photos of Paros from the last two weeks and have been struck by several things.

1)The brilliant white that gleams off every building (similar to my skin tone apparently the day I arrived).

2)The variety of produce Paros produces including most things from grapes to goats.

3)The amount of Greek Extra Virgin olive oil we managed to go through (therefore meaning butter consumption strangely low).

4) It looks like I developed a soft spot for ouzo (though not sure if this will travel back with me to the UK as although it works extremely well in the lingering heat of the Grecian evening sun I’m not sure it will have quite the same effect in Dorset).

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Ouzo here is often drunk before dinner on ice with splashes of water. My extensive research concludes it works incredibly well with taramaslata and grilled octopus. The octopus interestingly are caught and killed then beaten to tenderise them before being left to dry in the sun.  You can often see them draped over poles by the beach and above restaurants and bars. When cooked and simply grilled then tossed in a splash of vinegar, lemon juice, dill and olive oil they make the most perfect aperitif.

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Sea urchins I noticed are also very popular and made regular appearances on menus. They can  be served simply with olive oil or my new favourite way, scooped out and served on half a lemon. To eat it you gently scrape your spoon across thereby gathering up the sea urchin and getting a delightful balanced twang of lemon. Perfect.

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Obviously I wasn’t just bought out here to enjoy the sun, sea and ouzo, I was also here to cook. When I first arrived at the villa there were half-hearted mutterings from some of the group that they were afraid they would pile on a few pounds having read some of my heartier statistics from postcards earlier on in the year. I think they were referring to the 1 ½ packs of butter, 500ml double cream and 5 eggs per person per day scenarios that occasionally seem to occur. Fear not, I said as I was totally geared up and ready to start on my summer inspired salads, grills and healthier desserts and of course replacing as far as possible butter with Greek extra virgin Olive oil.

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Menus involved using lots of the all locally produced vegetables, fruits and meats.  Unfortunately there was no fish as the sea was too rough due to the high winds, although as consolation the wind in tandem with the dazzling sun made for perfect summer weather and saved us all from being fried alive.  I noted the fisherman, whom we visited every other day at the port, didn’t seem too distressed and were quite happy spending their morning drinking coffee, smoking their Karelia and mending their nets.

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Food was kept light, refreshing and although I didn’t  specifically set out to make it focused on healthy it naturally is when cooking with Mediterranean summer ingredients.

With every day a guaranteed scorcher it was important the food remained not too heavy and so besides including a lot of salad and vegetable centric dishes on the menus with the lack of fish I kept meat dishes light by grilling or slow cooking them with lots of herbs, zests and healthy sloshes of the impressive Paros white wine.

The local butcher, who turned out to be quite the character,  supplied meat only reared on Paros and although he did not offer a  great variety it was mostly top quality.  He assured me goat meat  is very popular on the island, which was of no surprise as when driving around you can see the hills are littered with them,  but I admit I turned it down as the ones he offered looked very scrawny . Their pork and 41 day aged beef ( thats almost twice the time beef is generally hung in the UK) however was excellent and perfect for the BBQ.

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One of my favourite things about being a chef who gets to travel extensively is rather than the normal situation of staying in situ and trying to find the top foods that have been imported, it is me being shipped out to find the top ingredients from the local suppliers.

Take for instance the kalamata olives. My client and I ( she liked to come with me to the shops as food really is her thing) bought a bag from the local veg shop, she nudged me and predicted I was going to LOVE these. I admit I was slightly unmoved at the time as kalamata olives are hardly a rare sight these days.  When seven O’Clock came and the ouzo, ice and nibbles were gathered I placed a little bowl of these black beauties on the tray, saving one ( or two) to pop in my mouth to try.

‘Surprise” the olives yelled as they bust open in my mouth, filling it with a rich creamy yet clean sensation, ” you won’t forget us in a hurry” they muttered as the delightfully meaty olive taste lingered for several minutes longer ( and no, the olives were not talking to me because I had had one too many ouzos ).

 

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The  brilliant white feta ( less chatty than the olives but sensational none the less) which is served from big barrels and chunks sliced off to order, was again nothing like I had tried back home. All the nuts we bought were fresh, crunchy and full of flavour especially the pistachios and almonds and the plump caper berries were so moreish the kids, also keen on them,  threatened to hide the pot from me.

The star of the show/kitchen however had to ultimately be… the Greek extra virgin olive oil.

I had to confess to my client, who is Greek, that I really hadn’t used it much as from my days at the River Café I had been firmly swayed/indoctrinated towards the Italian stuff.  I was calmly sat down and the lectures ( fascinating and in good spirit) began…

Globally the production and sale of olive oil is a murky and not quite so liquid green gold world  with many troubles, grey areas and mysteries. For instance Italy sells far more Italian extra virgin olive oil than it can actually produce (I was told that 60% of Greek olive oil is shipped too Italy and then sold as Italian).  You would not guess from looking on the shop shelves back home but Greece is the worlds third largest producer.  As the rest of the family joined in about the merits of Greek olive oil above, the gesticulating got more flamboyant and my eye kept catching the light coating the olive branches in the garden it was hard not to be sucked in and become a complete convert.  I suspect however it would only take a five minute walk through an olive grove in Provence to remind that there are in fact quite a few places you can obtain delicious olive oil, you just have to be prepared to pay for it.

As price is often the main driving factor in our purchasing decisions it is worth knowing that the cheaper extra virgin olive oils are often sourced by trucks going around various farms / co ops sucking up anything left in the large barrels ( so unknown age/ quality ) then mixing, filtering before bottling and selling it on.  The growing, harvesting and pressing involved is not without its difficulties and so it is not surprising that if you want a quality one it will be comparatively expensive. Once you taste the good stuff however it is hard to want to use anything else.

If you are interested in reading more into the scandalous and marvellous world of olive oil I suggest the book Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller.

 

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As my client grows, harvests and makes some top quality extra virgin olive oil it was not surprising we had brought enough to practically bathe in.  We did however  manage to resist the temptation and stick to the Aegean sea for that urge and keep all the oil for cooking.

It was used not only for the obvious things like cooked meats, vegetables and making dressings but also in various desserts and cakes.

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For this postcard recipe I want to share with you one of the cakes I made for afternoon tea that although may not have helped us in Greece with any lightening of the figures, it uses olive oil rather than butter and mostly honey rather than sugar so seemed a good comprise for a treat.

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This week

Olive oil used : 6 litres

Greek yogurt eaten : 2.5 kilos ( by us all)

Percentage of dishes involving olive oil : 91%

I’m reading : The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield

Ouzo habit: developing

I’m loving : properly made tarmasalata and grilled octopus

Every Greek villa should have: caper berry bushes

Greek wine to try : Mayiko Bouvo , Magic Mountain, Nico Lazaridi

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Extra virgin Olive oil, orange, rosemary and honey cake

1 long sprig of rosemary

150g sr flour

½ tsp baking powder

150g cup ground almonds

3 eggs

100g sugar

100ml extra virgin olive oil

75 g runny honey

seeds from 1 vanilla pod

zest from 2 oranges 

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Pre heat the oven to 170 ° C

1)Line a 2 lb loaf tin with baking parchment and place the sprig of rosemary at the bottom.

2)In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and ground almonds.

3)In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar and eggs until pale and thick ( about 3 minutes if using an electric whisk) then mix in the olive oil, honey , vanilla seeds, orange zest and juice.

4)Gradually mix the eggs into the flour mixture and stir until you have a smooth batter.

5)Pour into the tin and bake on a lower shelf for 40 – 5o mins or until a skewer comes out clean.

6)Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Remove the rosemary sprig

Serve with spoonfuls of Greek yogurt.

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Next stop… Im visiting the East Hamptons.

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Recipe | Vlita, saffron and feta pie

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My big fat Greek….Pie

An overnight stay in Athens was swiftly followed by a few hours boat ride across the Aegean to the pretty island of Paros where the gleaming white washed buildings lay backdrop to the colourful myths, legends and modern day lives of the Greeks. The winding streets of the towns, so designed to make attacking pirates lives more difficult, were filled with cafes, boutiques, ouzerias and restaurants. I soon decided this was my kind of place.

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Our villa instantly filled with guests and I quickly got my first taste of Greek family life. They are similar to the French and Italians in terms of passion and excitement over food, the amusing uncontrollable urge to stir pots on the stove every time they walk by and the wonderful ability to discuss recipes at length. Even the children were overheard debating which their favourite dish of the week had been.   In my books however I have to currently admit the Greeks edge ahead with their friendliness. Firstly they do not look at you like you have just blasphemed every time you attempt to utter a few words of their language (the French, as much as I love them, have I am sure given most of us puzzled glaring looks when pronouncing words fractionally wrong then follow it with a mini lesson that they are never satisfied with the result in). Secondly, unlike the Italians (of whom I am also very fond) who fiercely defend their recipes and dictate that theirs is the best and only way to make a certain dish, the Greeks seem much more easy going and delighted and interested in their food culture being an inspiration for a new dish.

With the mercury easily hitting the 30°C each day but a delightful breeze keeping us all in a very pleasant state, food was light, summary and involved of course a lot of extra virgin Greek olive oil. 2016-07-10_0014

I instantly loved that shopping for fruit and vegetables was dictated by what was fresh, local and in season and it was very much one of those places here you go to the shop/market and then decide what to cook. There are permanent stalls/benches set up in the towns that farmers can just come and sell there produce at when they have it and some farmers shops that although are certainly more shi shi than a few old wooden crates by the side of the road still fully focus on what the very productive island has to offer.

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Feeling plucky and encouraged by the feed back by day three I decided it was time to cook them a lamb dish

“ Ooh that’s brave, cooking lamb for the Greeks”, the hostess playfully told me as I splashed extra of the local excellent wine, Moraitis over the young legs of lamb and returned them to the oven.

Well too late now, I thought as suppertime shortly loomed. Again they were delighted with it loved that I had used local wine and the wild thyme and oregano that had been picked by the path that led down to the beach.

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With encouragement from this and courage from a little outing with the group the night before for a pre dinner ouzo I decided it was time to have a go at my version of their practically national dish, Spanakopita (surely the name of the next bond girl)  this postcards recipe.

Having never been one to feel totally compelled to follow the well-trodden path I had been thinking of ways I could beneficially twist the dish.

Saffron and vlita became my answers.

 

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In the middle ages the charmingly named Essex town of Cheppinge Waldron became Englands epicentre for saffron and so great was its importance that the places’ name was changed to Saffron Waldron. Sadly with a puritan sway sweeping the land as we emerged from the Middle Ages, our tastes became plainer, the saffron use declined and so did the industry.

Legend has in ancient Greek that when the bold and ‘easy on the eye ‘ youth Crocus set his amorous heart of the nymph Smilax she indulged him in some frolics in a wood near Athens. Enjoyment, on her part at first, soon turned to boredom and when he continued to persist in bothering her she turned him into the flower ‘saffron crocus’ and still to this day the fiery glow of the stigmas reveals his smouldering but unrequited passions…or so the story goes.

The Mediterranean island of Santonrini has had discoveries of wall murals dating back a few thousand years BC of beautiful breast baring female saffron gathers that tells us of the exotic spices long history with this land. I cant imagine a similar dress code or look for the Middle Ages saffron pickers in Essex but then again perhaps it was dress down Fridays that sparked a puritanical turn in our ways.

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So on a bold Friday morning I made my big fat greek pie and presented it at the table. We sat down to lunch, slices were shared out and we began to eat.

Then the head of the table says;

“ That was the best spinach pie I have ever had”!

Inwardly I was thinking OMG are the woman going to throw plates/daggers/a wild cat ( there are quite a few here) at him?! Would this be the beginning of the end for me? Will this bring and end to the holiday harmony and bliss? ….

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No of course not, more wine was poured, the laughter and chat levels rose, various methods, twists and recipe ideas were discussed and the party continued…

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This Week

Greek Extra Virgin Olive oil used : 8 Litres

Raw Greek Honey used : 2 lbs

I’m loving: Ouzo

Im reading : Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, totally gripping and can’t believe I hadn’t read it before.

Mode of transport : Boats, trains, Planes and cars

Every Greek Villa should have: poolside beanbag loungers and be within skipping distance to the Aegean.

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Vlita, feta and saffron pie

Serves 8

In the UK although the leaf vlita is not wildly available, it is a bit like a chard / spinach / nettle cross (but with out the sting), you will have seen its seed Amaranth in many food shops, a so called super food packed full of protein.

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4 or 5 thick sheets of filo

pinch of saffron

150g butter

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 red onions finely chopped

1 tsp dried oregano

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

3 good handfulls of blanched vlita (or spinach / chard)

200g top quality feta

4 organic eggs

1 1/2 tbs each of finely chopped parsley, mint and dill

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Pre heat the oven to 180 °C

Melt the butter in a small pan with saffron then leave to one side to infuse

In a frying pan sauté the onions and garlic with the olive oil until softened and sweet.

In a bowl lightly beat the eggs, crumble in the cheese then add the herbs.

Add the cooked vlita to the egg mix and season with salt and pepper.

Brush a pie dish or baking tin of approx. 8” by 10” with the saffron butter.

Lay a sheet of filo down, it should come up over the sides and brush with butter.

Repeat with 2 more layers .

Tip the filling in and level out.

Then crinkling and rucking up the rest of the sheets of filo and the overhanging sides enclose the pie and drizzle with the rest of the saffron butter.

Bake for 45mins to 1 hour, the pie should be golden.

Can be eaten warm or cold.

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Next postcard recipe….I’m staying put !

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