Category Archives: Greek

Up the Pumpkins!

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We went on holiday for ten days and when we got back I could have sworn the grass had grown by 10 inches! As always in this beautiful fertile island the grass keeps growing. The drop in temperature doesn’t mean that everything else is as keen to keep growing though. The spinach and chard are now on a go-slow and even the kale production has slowed down. Mind you they all get picked so hard for the kitchen at the shop that it’s hardly surprising that they need a break.

Luckily the pumpkins are ready to harvest. We grow the Crown Prince and Queensland Blue varieties.. They aren’t huge this year but they’re not going to grow any more now – in fact pumpkins don’t like the temperature to be below 18c so it’s a wonder that they grow at all.

For us it is a precious crop. Pumpkins store very well and are very versatile, we make them into pies, soups, cakes, hummus, curries, with pasta, pilafs…. The options are endless.

They also have many nutritional benefits, being high in antioxidants, vitamins and fibre.

Each 100g of pumpkin provides 26 calories, no saturated fat or cholesterol, plenty of vitamin A – great for eyesight, vitamin C and B

So all in all it’s a great vegetable to include in your diet.

It’s delicious simply roasted as a side vegetable but it’s also the beginning part of many recipes, which transform it into something more substantial.

To celebrate the pumpkin harvest and with Halloween arriving at the end of this month here’s a pumpkin recipe. This recipe for filo pie is inspired by our recent holiday in Greece where the bakers are the masters of filo pies.

Filo is very easy to use. Just go to your local shop or supermarket and pick up a packet and follow the instructions below. Don’t worry if it breaks up a bit , just patch it up. It’s quite forgiving.

This recipe is for the dense orange flesh type pumpkin. Halloween pumpkins are too watery for this recipe so if you can’t find the hard skinned blue/grey variety it’s best to substitute a butternut squash.

 

Pumpkin Filo Pie

 

750g pumpkin flesh

2 onions

200g feta cheese

2 eggs

half tsp ground cinnamon

about 200mls olive oil

salt and pepper

a packet of filo pastry – defrosted

 

Pre heat the oven to 180c.

Peel the pumpkin, remove the seeds and cut the flesh into roughly 2cm cubes. Put the pumpkin onto a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle over the cinnamon and season with a little salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender. It doesn’t need to brown nor go crispy. Leave aside to cool .

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Peel and chop the onions. Sautee gently in a little olive oil, until they soften and becomes translucent.

Crumble the feta onto the eggs into a large bowl and whisk together.

Stir in the cooked pumpkin and onion, giving it a bit of a mash as you go. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Oil a baking tray that is 20cm x 30xm and has about a 5cm rim. If you don’t have one of these try a large cake tin.

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Open the packet of filo and carefully unroll it. Take the first sheet and lay it in the tin leaving the excess to hang over the edge of the tin. Brush with olive oil. Turn the tin and lay the next sheet so that the overhang is on the other side.

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Brush with oil Repeat this 3 times – there will now be 6 layers of filo.

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Spread the pumpkin mix over the filo then cover with 4-5 sheets on top, brushing with olive oil between each sheet and tucking in some of the overhang as you go .

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This will make rough parcel. Brush the top with olive oil. Score the top of the pie down the middle with a sharp knife then cut each half into 4. This will ensure the tart can be sliced once baked.

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Cook in a pre-heated oven 180c for 40- 60 minutes or until golden on top. Allow to cool for fifteen minutes before eating..

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Revithnos from Sifnos

Sifnos is one of the Cycladic islands in the Aegean Sea, it’s about 25kms long and 15kms wide and very hilly. It takes bit of effort to get there which is  why this beautiful spot is not a mass tourist destination. The main town, Apollonia is in the centre of the island and the roads run down from there to little villages, fishing ports and deserted beaches.

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The island also has plenty of tracks linking everywhere together which formerly would have been used by donkeys. There aren’t many donkeys these days, they seem to have been replaced by Suzuki Jimneys and similar little vehicles which are the only way to get down to many of the hamlets.

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Sifnos tourism has a walking trail initiative, there are lots of way marked tracks to beautiful places. It’s mostly a case of what goes down, must come up – challenging trails with spectacular views.

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We walked out from the village that we stayed in crunching almonds underfoot and feasting on ripe pomegranates, figs and prickly pears. There are trees laden with lemons, olives and quince waiting to be harvested.

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The views are spectacular and with the glorious autumn weather, a very comfortable 25c-30c – it’s a great way to get an all over tan.

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The friendly people who are happy to have visitors are famous for their traditional Greek food, lots of vegetable mezze, grilled fish and meat. Bakeries  produce pastries of all sorts of shapes and sizes filled with different cheeses or cheese and spinach and these make great portable emergency rations.

Chickpeas are one of the crops grown on the island. It’s crop that doesn’t require watering which on an island where it mightn’t rain for eight months is a good thing. I now realise  why my chickpea growing experiment failed so miserably in Ireland,as not only is there a very high humidity  I watered them to boot. No wonder they weren’t happy!

The recipe that the island is most famous for is Revithnos – a chickpea soup – one of these ‘live to be one hundred’ recipes. It’s cooked slowly in the oven using just a few key ingredients – chickpeas, onion, olive oil, lemon and bay leaves. It’s traditionally served on a Sunday with bowl of olives and fresh bread. The chickpeas are soaked overnight on Friday then  rinsed and cooked in a ceramic pot  called a tsoukali. Formerly everyone took their pots to the bakers who loaded up the ovens and left  them overnight to be collected for lunch after church on Sunday. The slow cooking makes the chickpeas velvety soft in an emulsion of olive oil and onion which is brightened up with a squeeze of lemon juice. It’s another one of these dishes that isn’t going to win a beauty contest but will healthily sustain body and soul.

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Cooking something in the oven for 4-5 hours is probably off putting  for most of us and  we don’t have friendly bakers with wood fired ovens around here so it’s probably best to cook the chickpeas slowly on top in a heavy pot with a good lid then finish up for an hour or so in the oven. If you own an Aga or range you’re in business. Just pop the pot in the slow oven and go to bed!

Revithnos – Chickpea Soup

350g chickpeas

150mls olive oil

2 large onions

2-4 cloves garlic

1 -2 bay leaves

lemon juice

salt and pepper

water

a handful of parsley

 

Soak the chickpeas over night then drain well.

Peel the onions and garlic and chop finely.

Put the olive oil into a heavy pot and heat gently. Add the chopped onion and cook until the onions melt down but don’t let them brown. Stir in the chopped garlic and cook for a further two minutes then add the chickpeas and bay leaf. Stir everything together for a few minutes then add enough water to cover everything by 2-3cm. Bring to the boil, reduce to a low simmer and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook for one to one and a half hours or until the chickpeas are soft.

Stir in the juice of a lemon , add a little more water if it looks like it’s getting dry and season with a little salt. Pop the pot into a low oven , 150c, oven for an hour.

Serve with a little chopped parsley on top, lemon wedges and fresh bread and olives on the side.

A glass of red wine goes down well with this too!

 

 

 


Syros – Herb Central

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Walking around Syros is like tramping through a herb garden. We have been exploring the island, driving to the north of island as far as the road goes and then heading off on foot. It’s not only beautiful but smells delicious too. We’re sure all the goats that graze are self marinating!.

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There are swathes of thyme, rosemary, fennel and sage and carpets of camomile with lots of bees buzzing happily about their business. There are plenty of hives dotted around the countryside and the honey is delicious.

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The paths lead down to hidden beaches, it can a bit of a clamber but the destination makes it worth it.Lots of hidden coves that are deserted and clean blue sea. The sea is cold. Too cold for me to enjoy swimming but I keep trying!

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Capers are growing on the rocks. This is all news to me – I have to admit I had never considered where capers did grow, but there you go – little bushes sprout out of craggy rocks with capers on the end of the branches and very funky flowers. Apparently June is the real caper picking and pickling season but they are beginning now. No wonder so many dishes are served with capers here.

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We had delicious basil and caper pesto the other day, drizzled over goats cheese.
Very simple and very delicious. It’s certainly worth a try and I’d say it’s equally delicious served with fish.
Here’s the recipe

Basil and Caper Pesto

1 cup basil
1 cup parsley
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1tsp Dijon mustard
2dsp capers
approx 150mls olive oil

Put everything except the olive oil into a food processor or blender and buzz to a paste then drizzle in the olive oil. Don’t add salt , the capers are salty enough

Eat with whatever you fancy – cheese, pasta, fish……


Feta, Feta, Everywhere!

If Ireland’s the land of green grass, butter and Guinness then Greece has to be the land of feta and ouzo.
We arrived in Athens yesterday evening and took a ferry to the island of Syros this morning. We’re kind of travelling blind – not really knowing very much about Syros – but it came highly recommended by some friends who introduced us to some people that wanted to do a house swop.This was an irresistible idea. The last time I was in Greece was more than thirty years ago and I remember delicious grilled octopus – probably my first -and having to learn how to say coffee without sugar as all the coffee was made in the traditional way with heaps of sugar. It’s the only Greek that I remember – kafé sketo!
The ferries that go between the islands are huge but they’re not crowded in May. It’s a nearly four hour trip, with lots of rough sea which which could hardly feel, as the ferries are so big. At one point it lashed rain but as the boat approached land the sun appeared and we could see the town hugging the harbour with pastel coloured houses climbing up the hill behind.

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Kostas, our host was waiting on the square as pre arranged and we climbed the steps through the town to where we are staying. The house is stunning. Built in 1870 and recently renovated by our new friends. It has everything that we need and a sunny terrace which is where I am sitting whilst I write this.
We dumped our bags and wandered back down the steps in search of lunch – we have been given several recommendations- a very big plus of house exchanging – and soon found ourselves sitting in a little street on a comfortable terrace. It was a little bit tricky establishing whether we had arrived at the correct taverna as everything is written in Greek – naturally enough – and we can’t read Greek but Con dragged out some morsels of knowledge from his youth and we figured we were in the right place so we sat down and looked at the blackboard menu. It was Greek!

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The waitress soon appeared with a bi-lingual menu.
Somehow each dish we chose had an element of feta. All completely different dishes but lots of feta. This is not a complaint, more an observation!
We started off with Greek salad. Very traditional but irresistible when in the land of sun ripened tomatoes and fresh feta. It arrived to the table, a mound of tomatoes, cucumber, onion and olives with slab of feta and capers on top.

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The olive oil and vinegar is on the table so you dress the salad yourself. We polished the salad off then the Giant beans baked in tomato sauce arrived – with feta. These were delicious, the tomato sauce was made with fresh oregano, bay leaves and whole allspice

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And the final course was a stuffed calamari – stuffed with tomato, wild fennel and feta.
After the beans this was bit over the top and it didn’t get as many brownie points but maybe that was because we were already quite full.

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We washed everything down with a carafe of the local white wine and felt very happy sitting there in the sun!

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Aubergine Adventures

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I was walking around the garden trying to decide on a recipe for this month. My first thought was the quinoa, which we have harvested and have stretched out to dry in the tunnel. Then of course there is also an inviting collection of pumpkins, which we’ll be eating for most of the winter. But when I walked into the tunnel and saw our mighty crop of aubergines it became obvious that this was the vegetable of the moment. We grew three different varieties of aubergines this year. Long mauve Thai ones, long skinny dark purple Chinese ones and chunky stripy Spanish ones and they are all ready to eat.

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One of my first culinary adventures was to make a moussaka in a domestic science class at school. It’s a Greek dish that uses minced lamb and aubergines. I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing but was I was curious, it sounded so exotic.

My mum scoured the town for aubergines, which were relatively uncommon at that time, and I carted all the ingredients into school on a bus. The instructions must have said something like ‘fry the aubergine in oil’ which I followed to a T, pouring in more oil as the aubergine drank it up like a sponge. The resulting dish was quite disgusting and nobody wanted to eat it.

I have since learnt to salt the aubergines, not so much to eliminate any bitterness, but to slow down the oil absorption. And for a dish like moussaka I now brush the aubergines with oil and roast them in the oven rather than fry them in the pan..

Aubergines cooked this way have a wonderful velvety ‘meatiness’ which paired with Puy lentils makes a great vegetarian dish.

Puy lentils are King in the lentil world. –  also known as the caviar of lentils. They are grown in the sunny volcanic region of Auvergne in France and are protected with a designation of origin status (AOC).

They are more expensive than the other lentils but the beauty of these little blue/green gems is that they hold their shape when cooked.

Saying that, do cook them carefully. They don’t require any soaking and will take about twenty minutes. I start checking just before the twenty minute mark – just pop one in your mouth and if it’s tender they are done..

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Vegetarian Moussaka

125g Puy lentils

1 bay leaf

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1-2 onions

2 sticks celery

2 cans tomatoes

2-3 aubergines

fresh basil or oregano

olive oil

3 eggs

225g ricotta

200ml cream

75g grated parmesan

Put the lentils into a pan and cover them with water, add the bay leaf. and bring to the boil. Turn down to simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 20 mins, until the lentils are tender. Drain off any remaining liquid and discard the bay leaf.

Slice the aubergines lengthwise , not too skinny as they’ll shrink slightly whilst cooking – a little less than a centimetre thick. Sprinkle with a little salt and leave them to sweat for about half an hour

Pre heat the oven to 180c.

Dab the liquid that will have accumulated on the aubergines with kitchen paper or a clean t-towel to dry them off.

Oil a large oven tray. Slice the aubergines lengthwise and lay on the tray. Brush the tops of the aubergines with olive oil.

Bake in the oven for about 15=20 mins. The aubergines should be soft but not crispy.

Peel and chop the onion, chop the celery and sautee together in a little olive oil When they are soft and translucent add the chopped garlic and cook for a couple of minutes longer then add the tomatoes and cook for about 30 mins. Stir in the drained lentils and season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped basil or oregano.

In a bowl mash the ricotta together with the eggs then beat in the cream. Stir in the grated Parmesan and season.

To assemble the moussaka pour 1/3rd of the tomato lentil mix into an oven proof dish. Cover with a layer of aubergines then 1/3rd more of the tomato lentil mix, another layer of aubergines and then the remaining lentil mix. Pour the egg mix over and bake in the oven for approx 25 mins, until the topping has risen and is golden.

Feeds 6 hungry people