I have spent the last month visiting the US and Greece and I came home last week to enjoy a few calm days in Ferentino before I leave for my Greek and Budapest Gourmet Adventures
I already knew I would find most of my local food shops closed for vacation until the end of the month so I expected fresh fruit and vegetables would be hard to find.
I rejected the tired offerings of the shops I found open, and threw away all my newly-purchased ‘fresh’ eggs after finding two obviously bad and three ‘suspicious’. I drove to the nearest Commercial Centre and eagerly shopped for the acceptable produce I usually despise.
Back home I planned to feast on prosciutto, figs and cantaloupe melon. I decided to delay my mozzarella and datterini tomatoes until the small speciality shops re-opened on 31st August. My grandson, Jamie, was with me so we cooked all our favourite pasta dishes like Maria Grazia zucchini and tuna and rocket. Then disaster struck on the third day. In my absence dried cat food had been washed down the kitchen sink and the temperamental pipes had become blocked. I discovered last year that for some inexplicable reason my kitchen pipes flow uphill and they need to be pampered. Tracking down a plumber in August is no mean feat but two days later the man arrived. Italian workmen require you to hover over them while they work but 90 messy minutes later the kitchen floor was wet but the pipes were still blocked. A pump was needed but several phonecalls later it became clear that no pump could be found. The plumber paddled out with vague promises and another day passed without a working kitchen sink. The cooking became minimal and my sunny mood evaporated as again August was used to excuse gross inefficiency. Eventually Paola and Andrea, who have made me an honorary aunt as they solve all my domestic problems, saved the day. Andrea is a dive instructor and he arrived with an oxygen canister to blow the pipes free. Oh, the joy of a kitchen sink that works, until next time.
I compare this experience with my stay last month in Virginia. We woke one Sunday morning to find no water. Joe and Dallas had a problem with the well pump. They sent a text to their plumber and he arrived at 8am on Monday to repair it. In the meantime we had seven bathrooms with full tanks for the three of us, and we drove for the day to their nearby lake house which has three kitchens and many more bathrooms. With that level of domestic back-up day-to-day living becomes so easy. I already marvel at the drive-thru chemists and post offices, the nail varnish manicure that lasts a week’s intensive cooking with no chips and the great choice of international produce which begs to be cooked.
‘O my America, my new found land’!
Greece was as always beautiful.
As a tourist I could get cash from the ATMs, the people were lovely and the sea was warm and uncrowded. On the peak holiday, August 15th, at 9am I was the only person in the sea. We feasted on delectable meze and enjoyed the good local white wine and the occasional Mythos. It is always sad to leave but his year I knew I would be returning for my September Gourmet adventure, and with more guests you get to sample more. The Greek people are brave and dignified in their adversity and put some other nationalities to shame.
On my return to Italy I heard the Greek elections have been called for September 20th. My group extension was booked to arrive in Athens to a hotel near Syntagma on the 19th. To avoid any negative experience I have taken advantage of the Ryanair cheap flights and we are flying to Crete for four days instead. I love Crete and I had already decided to base next year’s Greek trip there so I have a list of things to see and do.
Next year as well as Greece we are visiting Seville, Marrakech and Palermo and east Sicily. There are details on my website or drop me an email. There are only 4 places left for Sicily in October 2016. I will probably go to Goa and Kerala in early February if anyone is tempted
Zucotto di melanzane (aubergine) e pomodori
Aubergine or eggplant timbales
500 g diced eggplant or aubergines
250 ml. fresh tomato and basil sauce (not worth doing if not made with ripe summer tomatoes)
50 g breadcrumbs
10 basil leaves, roughly torn
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
25g grated pecorino
25 g grated Parmesan
extra virgin olive oil
Make the tomato sauce in the usual way then put the diced eggplant in a colander and sprinkle over 2 T coarse salt. Leave for at least 30 minutes to purge the bitter juices then wash well, drain and dry in a kitchen towel. Fry in the olive oil until golden brown , lift out and drain on kitchen paper. Toast the fresh breadcrumbs in 2 T extra virgin olive oil and mix together with the eggplant and other ingredients. Line your small moulds with cling film, leaving a generous border on the outside to make them easier to turn out. Spoon in the mixture and level the top so that it is packed in tightly. Stand in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Before serving turn out on a small plate decorated with basil leaves.
Zucchini filo pie Greek
This is another dish that we learned to cook in Sifnos with Stavros and Margherita. The trick of cutting into portions before baking makes it much easier to serve.
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° oven. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and bake for another hour.