Today’s dish is good for the wet windy weather we had in Athens today. It is warm, soft, crunchy, tasty, and nutritious, to mention a few of its attributes! If you do not believe me, the only thing you have to do is try for yourselves!

Rooster is the integrating element of the dish. Get a big one, the bigger the better!

The next building element of the dish is bulgar wheat. We prepare a mix for the filling of the bird, and then we use it also to supplement the dish with the broccoli.

For the mix we need fresh onions, red and green peppers and parsley, salt and pepper.

The third element of the dish is pancetta. Today I did not have cured belly so I used fresh. It does not really matter, as long as it is really fresh.Make sure you take out all the bones. You can mix them with the wheat for extra flavor.

Finally, you need a nice piece of broccoli to provide the vegetable aspect of the dish.

After you stuff the bird, you add the bulgar wheat around it, the pancetta on top of it to provide extra moisture, and the broccoli on top of the wheat all over the baking tray. Sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt and pepper, rosemary and fresh oregano, and you are ready for roasting.

Roasting is the most difficult part of preparing the dish. For the first 20 minutes you need strong heat (250 degrees Celcius). Then you cover with foil the whole tray, reduce the heat to 200 degrees for another 20 minutes. Finally, remove the foil and «grill» for another 10 minutes.

What you see on the photo is that the pancetta pieces have been removed from the bird before the «grill» in order to give some color ot the skin and make it crunchy.

The result was a moist, tasty bird, on top of the bulgar wheat bed which was full of all the flavors, of the bird and the pancetta. The broccoli added a tone of sanity to the dish, while the pancetta was delicious. The fatty bit was crunchy (because of the «Grill») and the meat moist and flavorful.

Grilled Squid with eggplant and potato and onion piroshki

Σάββατο, 9 Ιανουαρίου, 2010

Today I continue my pursuit of simple light meals that will counterbalance the Christmas and festive days excesses.

When I got back home last night, my good friend from Georgia had brought to me freshly prepared potato and onion piroshkis. I immediately thought that I should make a simple dish with them.

The skin of the piroshki is very light and fluffy, and the filling is minimal and also light. This is why they are versatile and easy to combine with other ingredients.

Although out of season in the winter, in Greece we can buy eggplants that basically come from Crete. Especially this year, the winter is a joke, with temperatures well above the season’a averages. So I could not resist to violate the rule of using only seasonal ingredients, and I grilled the eggplants, and seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and pepper.

My good fisherman had already given me fresh squid of medium size, which are ideal for the grill.

After grilling the squid, I served with a touch of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and chopped parsley.

This is a minimal dish, but nevertheless it is full of flavor and varied textures.

Bon appetit!

Greek Pitta Bread with Grilled Octopus, Onion, Tomato and Parsley

Κυριακή, 3 Ιανουαρίου, 2010

After all the meat eating of the festive days, it is essential to taste something lighter but tasty! Out of this need I came up with this simple but delicious dish that requires a large fresh fleshy octopus.

I boil the octopus in very low heat (45 minutes per 1  kilo). I let it rest and then cut the tentacles that I will use and grill them until they get the crispy surface on the outside, while they remain juicy inside. I then slice them and dress them in olive oil with a touch o lemon.

The other essential ingredient is a mix of chopped onions, tomatoes and parsley.

I make my own pitta bread in a rather sneaky way. I prepare a mix with flour, yeast, salt and vinegar, but leave it on the watery side. After it has rested for one hour I prepare the bread as if it were crepes, in other words I «fry» the mix in a non-stick pan.

After 3 minutes I take it out and place it on a baking tray in the oven for another 10 minutes.

The final step is the most satisfying and has to be done with your hands only. Lay onions, tomatoes and parsley on the bread and then octopus on top of it. Roll it tightly and slice in four parts.

Sprinkle with olive oil, a bit of salt and lemon and enjoy one of the freshest and most tasty simple dishes!

Bon appetit!

This is an original recipe that was conceived and executed in Munich during my last visit to Manolis and Marion in November 2009.

Marion (Manolis” wife for the uninitiated) who is an accomplished cook, had prepared among other dishes salt cod in a tomato sauce, and cheek peas in the oven. She had also bought a wonderful delicious sausage from Spain, the one with whole chunks of fat in it. They are very delicious, but require a robust stomach.

As we were discussing about food and tastes, it became apparent to me that the next day we will have a lot of leftovers, a little bit of each dish and a few pieces of the sausage (chorizo). One of the themes of the conversation was the combination of pork products with seafood in Catalonia and the Basque country.

I therefore thought of combining the pieces of sausage left with the cod, and add some cheek peas to the lot. The container of all of these would be a mix of eggs and thinly sliced peppers. I even created a drawing of the dish.

Please disregard the rather dramatic «Teufels Dreieck» which means «Devil’s Traingle» in German. It was the tentative name for the dish, but it was dropped after Athina commented that it was rather unsuitable for such a nice tasting dish.

The dish remains without name to date, but as it is a classical example of «cucina povera», or «cooking with leftovers», I decided to name the article accordingly.

Take a deep round baking dish and put the slices of the sausage in a way that they form a triangle.Put in a very hot over (250 Celsius) and let the sausage fat to soften for 10 minutes.

Add thinly sliced peppers, the more colors the better, and then the cod flakes and the cheek peas.

Whisk 6 eggs and pour them over the triangle. Bake in 200 Celsius for 20 minutes and serve piping hot.

The result was more than rewarding. The mix of the sausage and the salted cod worked beautifully, the fish standing up to the ferocious attack of the strong animal. The cheek peas acted like the buffer zone between the two war camps, while the eggs and the peppers softened the impact of the competing tastes. What a dish!

Therefore, in food as in life, we can safely conclude that synthsesis is more than adding things together. This is a good example of the case.

Lunch 26th December 2009 – Toscana meets Thessaly

Κυριακή, 27 Δεκεμβρίου, 2009

On the 26th December is the name day of my «brother», Manolis. We have made it a tradition that every year we get together in my house and celebrate his name day having lunch. The same happened yesterday, and I happy to report the proceedings of this event.

As you may remember, I already had a go at the menu a couple of weeks ago, but as it usually happens, things changed. The ever moving fate brought two regions of the Mediterranean together on the menu. Thessaly of Greece and Toscana of Italy contributed their best products. Spleen sausage (splinantero) from Trikala and Bistecca Fiorentina from Panzano, Toscana.

Lets start from the appetizer, which is like a greeting card of the two regions in an envelope.

Hard salty goat’s cheese (kefalotiri) from Trikala and pancetta from Toscana, join forces in the greeting card.

Place one slice of cheese on top of a phillo pastry sheet, then a slice of pancetta, then tomato and parsley and wrap as an envelope. Bake and serve steaming hot.

This envelope was well received by all participants, who more or less gulped it down in a frenetic mode. This was largely due to the fact that the cheese had melted, it was thoroughly covered by the liquid fat of the pancetta, and engaged in constant dialogue with the acidity of the tomato and the strong sweet flavoor of the parsley. Hard to resist!

Next in line was the spleen sausage, the «splinantero» (σπληναντερο), prepared by a shepherd in a village near Trikala, in the region of Thessaly. This is forbidden food, according to the European Union. This is sausage made from the spleen and heart of muton, wrapped in the «suet» fat (μπολια). For the Greek speaking visitors, I have created an entry in wikictionary on splinantero (the spleen sausage).

I grilled it on charcoal fire and the result was divine! The honest beauty and quality of the ingredients shone through the grilled melting cover. Every dialog seized. Only moans could be heard.

Then it was time to greet the Tuscan beauty, La Bistecca Fiorentina! Especially prepared by my friend Dario Cecchini in Panzano, Chianti. I grilled la bistecca over charcoal, as the spleen sausage.

In Greece a lot of people eat meat well done, and so my task was a difficult one, as I personally detest well done meat. In any case, it all worked well and everyone was happy! Manolis more than anyone else, as he devoured the bone!

The bistecca was out of this world! Tender, juicy, full of flavors, it was literally melting in the mouth! Grazie Dario!

Every good meal must end with a good desert, may be more than good, to lighten the hearts and the stomachs of the participants. In this case, I made a kiwi tart on the basis of a recipe by Thomas Keller (Bouchon).

I am proud to report that not even a flake of the pastry was left! Needless to say, this lunch also demolished the alleged divorce that I have taken from sweets. (Manolis could make a comment here!).

A short note on the wines, all of which came from Toscana. We started with Morellino di Scansano Riserva 2000, from Val delle Rose (92 out of 100 in the Wine Spectator). Continued with Alte d” Altesi 2000 from Altesino (93 out of 100 in the Wine Spectator). For the desert we had Castello di Brolio Vinsanto del Chianti 2004, from Barone Ricasoli.

A quick visit to Riga, Latvia

Πέμπτη, 17 Δεκεμβρίου, 2009

Last week I went for a quick visit to Riga, in Latvia.

Rain and clouds and temperature around zero. The locals were complaining that they should by now have snow and subzero temperatures!

The main square at ten o’clock in the morning was quiet, although the Christmas market stalls were open.

The crisis is quite severe in the country. A young girl stops me in the middle of the street, asking for help, in perfect English. An old man tries to sell to me some pictures of Riga.

This bakery gave some warmth to the otherwise cold and empty urban space.

This view of the old buildings with the unpaved ground in the front is quite unique. Had the cars not been parked there, we could be back in the 19th century.

The city is impecably clean, you do not even see a cigarette butt on the street.

Lets not forget the communist past. The cold, impersonal totalitarian buildings that nullify the individual human being.

This nice girl was preparing her two horses for a ride in town. They live in a farm out of town and come in Riga for the holiday season, offering to tourists a nice horse ride. The two horses pull a two wheel carriage.

Back in the square with the Christmas market, where I met this nice lady who proudly displays a box with marinated eels.

In her stall I discovered the elongated brown golden smoked eels, but I could not buy them as I would certainly be stopped by customs. The smell was extremely strong!

But then it was not only the marinated and smoked eel that atracted me. What can I say about the abundance of the smoked fishes around the market?

In a nearby stall, two ladies were oferring blood suasage and smoked bacon.

Time to move on, or I will eat the whole bloody (literally) lot!

All around the old town you can see a mix of architectural styles that reminds us of the vitality and the power of the baltic state centuries ago.

I stayed in the old town, at the «Grand Palace Hotel», and was quite happy there, even though I stayed for only one night. The building is beautiful maintained, and has the features of a mansion. The reception area is the entry hall of the mansion.

I had dinner at the Hotel’s Restaurant, and am happy to say this was a very good choice! Exc ellent service, and way above average food. Here is the amuse boouche, a slice of jamon rolled around grapefruit eith a touch of balsamico on the side.

My first dish was salmon tartar, which was excellent. I especially liked the layer of avocado cubes, and the red fish roe. Perfect company for the samon, which was trully raw.

For the main dish I got the breast of duck, medium – rare, and again, hit the pot! The meat was juicy, with firm texture and gamey taste, the thin layer of fat crunchy and tasty.

Back to the Christmas Market, where the cheese and carrot tarts are perfect for desert, with sweet hot wine served in a glass.

Some tasty rolls for breakfast.

Au revoir Riga!

Festive Menu: Take One

Τρίτη, 15 Δεκεμβρίου, 2009

Due to the extreme pressure exerted on me by the atelier members, I present today «Take One» of the festive menu, to get the dialog and exchange of ideas started. This is a conceptual presentation, there are no real photos of the dishes.

First Dish

The first dish is the opening of the experience. It has to be adventourus, but at the same time familiar, so it does not have to fight the distance.

My choice is trout tartar, served with pears marinated in Greek Tsipouro (grappa) and leaks confit.  

Main Dish

The main dish is always a big gamble, as you have ot meet and excced the expectations that were (hopefully) created from the first dish.

I propose a Millefeuille of roast pork leg with chestnuts, prunes, green and red gabbage and craked wheat.

The leafs are paper thin slices of the leg, the cream is made of all the ingredients listed above. It is served with caramelized carrots and potatoes. 

Desert

My favourite is a Chocolate and Chestnut charlotte.

This is it for now folks, the ball is over to you!

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