Τρίτη, 2 Φεβρουαρίου, 2010
It is not often that new chapters open in whatever we do, think, love, dream and desire. I have the feeling that such a chapter has opened for me when I recently heard a story on the city of Aleppo in Northern Syria in the National Public Radio of the US, by Deborah Amos. This is what kick started a process of preliminary research on Aleppo and its secret charms. In what follows, I have assembled some of the results.
Aleppo is a city very near the border of Syria with Turkey, and according to the historians it is on what used to be the silk road. As Gail Simmons writes in her article on the Silk Road, the city’s name «in Arabic its name is Halab, derived from the word for milk as the Prophet Abraham is said to have milked his cow on the Citadel here – it has long been Syria’s prime commercial centre, a major axis on the northerly route of the Silk Road in Syria. Aleppo remained an important metropolis even when, by the 16th century, the opening of new maritime routes between Europe and the Far East saw the eventual decline of the overland Silk Road.»
LIONEL BEEHNER’s article in the New York Times a week ago (24 January 2010) gives an excellent description of the city and its treasures.
In his article for REUTERS, Khaled Yacoub Oweis presents among others, a young chef who returned to Aleppo after spending some years in France.
Lara Dunston & Terence Carter in their article published in the Jazeera Airlines magazine, present one of the city’s most successful restauranteurs, Dala Touma.
The Financial Times have published back in November 2009 an article by Mary Taylor Simeti on Syria’s food. I noted the brain fritters in Smeroud and the visit to the kitchens of the Pistache d’Alep, which make and sell one of the best baklava in the world!
Deborah Amos concludes her story by saying: «When it comes to opening the economy — and the country — it turns out that food is a better draw than ancient history.» Is she right? I do not know, but I will certainly try to find out how good the food is in Aleppo. Especially now that I have established its proximity to Gaziantep, the SE Turkey capital of baklava.
Σάββατο, 30 Ιανουαρίου, 2010
Today I wanted to eat lentils in a different way, and I decided to marry them with meat balls and a shredded potato patty. This is the story.
Th lentils are not visible yet, but you get the picture. A note of importance here, the lentils will not be served as a soup, but as stew, which means that the liquid in the lentils will be at a minimum.
In parallel, shred the potatoes and drain them well. Mix with dill, parsley, coriander, egg and a bit of flour, to absord the remaining liquid. Season moderately with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate for one hour.
The mix for the meatballs is quite simple. Add chopped garlic and hot peppers, mint, bread crumbs, a bit of olive oil, egg, salt and pepper to the meet, mix well cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.
This is a dish of varied flavors and textures. The lentils are soft, melt in the mouth, the meatballs are medium soft to crunchy, and the patty is on the very crunchy end of the spectrum. The meatballs steal the show in the texture, but the lentils and the patty are strong competitors in the flavor zone.
Πέμπτη, 28 Ιανουαρίου, 2010
Today’s dish is made with one of the ugliest looking fishes, the Scorpaena Scrofa, the Orange – Red Scorpion Fish. As there is a good side to everything, even ugliness, this fish has very firm white flesh that provides taste and texture. I usually prepare this fish boiled and then prepare a soup. This time I decided to use all the vegetables and the broth to make a risotto and serve the fish on top of it, with a sauce.
Once the veggies are done, I remove them from the pot and place the fish. I cut it in two parts, as they require different cooking times. The tail end is ready in 15 minutes, the other requires 25 minutes. Once they are done, remove them and give the broth a good boil to reduce.
Once the fish is placed on top, remove the container, and serve the sauce on top of the dish. The sauce is made with the broth, that has been reduced to a very thick liquid, adding a touch a flour, lemon juice and chili pepper flakes.
Σάββατο, 23 Ιανουαρίου, 2010
In my last trip to Rome I had the pleasure of dining in one of the best restaurants in town, Imago, on the top floor of Hotel Hassler, with fantastic views of the eternal city.
I quote from Times Travel:
«Grace Kelly honeymooned at this turn-of-the-century palace at the top of the Spanish Steps, and it’s still the hotel of choice for many of today’s celebs and stylish tastemakers in search of old-world elegance (Gwyneth, TomKat, and Victoria Beckham are all regulars). Renowned for its personalized service, the Hassler is a family affair — a place where guest relations are taken very seriously. The 95 stately rooms are a checklist of classic good taste, with elaborate moldings, gilded furniture, French silks, 16th-century antiques, Limoges porcelain, playful frescoes, and marble, marble, marble, plus mod cons like flat-screen TV’s. Imàgo, its modern Italian restaurant, has heart-stopping views of St. Peter’s Basilica and Rome’s terracotta-tiled roofs. And the concierges can accommodate just about any request, including mapping out routes through the Villa Borghese gardens, near the hotel.»
I was staying at a nearby hotel and walked the distance, passing through Via Veneto. It is a beautiful part of Rome, and I highly recommend staying in this area.
The view from inside the Imago rooftop is amazing.To the extent than when I saw it, I started having second thoughts about the food, as one of the golden rules of the restaurant business is that when the view is stunning, the food sucks. Thankfully, I was proven wrong.
With determination I moved on and got a table. The clients of the restaurant are varied. You have the visitors who come for the views and the ones who come for the food and the elegant atmosphere. In one of the tables there was a family with two kids, with both grandparents, celebrating the birthday of one of the kids. Wonderful «tableau vivant», with the grandmother reminding me of one of the powerful female figures in the black and white Fellini movies.
Lets move to the food now, and the gastronomic menu the chef prepared. The menu overall is structured in three stages. Stage I is the «delicate» one, with two appetizer dishes, both of them seafood based. Stage II is the «taste explosion» set of two half-portions of first courses. Both are strong in taste and flavor. Stage III is a combination of two half-portions of main dishes.
The first starter was raw fish of the day. I do not recall the name of the fish, but it was quite tender, moist and tasty. The high point of the dish was the combination of the raw fish with pears infused with grappa. Personally I do not understand the foamy bits, in my eyes they are like aesthetic pollution, but lets ignore them, everyone these days seems to put a little foam here and there!
The next dish was an imaginative preparation of scallops, as they they were stuffed with mozzarella and then fried.The chef added a touch of black truffle to the finished dish, which was extremely subtle in taste and texture, a true delight. The dish is extremely delicate, and the frying must be very quick and swift, otherwise the scallop is destroyed.
The continuation was more intense in flavors and powerful, as the chef prepared pheasant ravioli with cauliflower puree and truffle-flavored honey. Full-bodied, intense flavor, and meaty texture were the characteristics of the dish.
The dish that followed was the star of the menu. Capellini pasta with smoked eel. A divine dish, one that I would include in the Italian Gastronomic All – Time Menu, if there was ever one. A magic of textures and flavors emanates from the dish. The chef came by and had a chat with me after the dinner was over, and he more or less agreed that this dish is his masterpiece. It is quite interesting, that of all the dishes in the restaurant of one of the most expensive hotels in the world, the best is one based on the humble eel of the Lazio region and capellini pasta, which you can find everywhere in Italy. The other golden rule of gastronomy, that is to use the materials of the terroir is yet again proven 100% correct! The chef had at his disposal the most expensive materials in some of the dishes. Yet his signature dish is the one that serves humbly the tradition of the Lazio region. To be correct, I belive that the dish is also traditional fare in the central regions of Italy, like Umbria.
To conclude the excellent dinner, the chef offered a sweet tray, where the pistacchio canolo stole the show!
Chef Francesco Apreda has a bright future ahead of him, all we need to do is follow him as he evolves and grows as a chef. The one Michelin star he has been awarded is fully justified. And there will be more!
Roast Rooster with pancetta, broccoli and bulgar wheat – Κοκκορας στο φουρνο με παντσετα, μπροκολι και πληγουρι
Σάββατο, 16 Ιανουαρίου, 2010
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.