For over thirty years I have been escaping to Greece every summer to swim in the translucent turquoise waters and feel my nerves being slowly ironed out by the relaxed rhythm of daily life.
In the beginning when school term finished I would put my daughters in the car and take the ferry to Igouminitsa. We drove around, sleeping in rooms over tavernas, exploring the legendary Peloponnese. We were moved by the feeling of sanctity at Delphi, haunted by Clytaemnestra, Iphigenia and Orestes at Mycenae and inspired by a white and scarlet Melina Mercouri at a performance of Oedipus Rex in Epidaurus. In later years we flew to discover the islands- Ionian, Cyclades, Sporades and Dodecanese. Crete drew us back at regular intervals, dreaming of the bull dancers as we sought echoes of Homer’s wine-dark sea. On all these many holidays food and wine played a very minor rôle. We never acquired a taste for retsina and the other wines were often barely drinkable. The meze were always a delight but when we were taken into the kitchen to choose our main course we were not inspired by the heavy, luke- warm stews. We relied on moussaka and souvlaki to save the day. My first real gastronomic experience occurred in Loutrou, Crete at the Blue House where mother and daughter-in-law vied to produce the most perfect home cooking. Wines started to become something to be sipped slowly with pleasure and the taverna food began to bear some resemblance to the good Greek cooking I used to enjoy in Greek families. Today Greece is the place for a summer gourmet adventure.
I always talked about Greece in my Rome classes and people began to ask me to organize a trip for them One Greek summer, after a morning swim, when I was the only person in the sea, I sat enjoying a glass of wine and thinking “et io in Arcadia sum”. Arcadia should be shared with the deserving few, so the idea of my Greek Idyll was born. I have run several gourmet trips to Sifnos and Symi but this year I am moving to the Peloponnese for my Greek adventure in September.
When I taught at the international school in Rome I organized many gourmet evenings hosted by the students and their parents. When I did a Greek evening Leila Gardner was an essential collaborator and I am very happy that Marina Georgopoulos, her daughter, who studied English literature with me many years ago and now lives in Greece, is working with me. We are going to base ourselves in Finikounda which I discovered when I rented her aunt’s house in Methoni. It will be a return to the simple, relaxing Greece I love so much where every summer after the frenetic pace of the rest of the year I go to relax. The spirit of Greece is not found in swanky, designer hotels. We will sleep on the beach in simple, individual bungalows with garden, private patio, AC and fridge and swim, cook and eat with occasional boat trips and castle visits when we feel like it.
At the end we are adding an optional few days to visit Delphi, Mycenae and Epidaurus, the great classical sites which are the glory of Greece.
A Taste of Greece
Zucchini filo pie
1 packet filo pastry
1 k zucchini, grated
250 g feta cheese
250 g soft curd cheese
2 eggs, beaten
fresh dill, chopped finely with stalks
dried mint and origano to taste
Remove zucchini ends and grate. Do not peel. Heat some oil and slowly cook the zucchini to remove their liquid. Strain and allow to cool. Mix in the cheese, eggs and herbs.
Line a rectangular baking dish with 4 layers of filo pastry, brushing each layer with oil. Allow the pastry to overlap the edges of the dish. Fill with the mixture and fold over the overlap. Cover with two or three oiled sheets of pastry. Cut round the perimeter and cut into serving size portions. Sprinkle the top lightly with water and bake for 15 minutes in a pre-heated 175° C. oven. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and bake for another
Arni Katsikaki or Lamb fricassee
1 k lamb, cubed
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
s & p
4 artichokes and 2 T chopped dill or 500g spinach, chard etc.
2 eggs, beaten and at room temperature
strained juice 2 lemons
Heat oil and lightly brown the lamb. Add the onion, let it soften then stir in garlic, dill and seasoning. Add enough boiling water to cover the meat and cook gently for 35 minutes.Add artichoke halves and cook for another 20 minutes. Beat together the eggs and lemon juice. Add a ladle of the lamb liquid. Then on a low heat stir this mixture into the lamb. Do not let it boil. This is called an avgolemono sauce.