Thursday, May 12, 2011

Toga party

I had been craving Greek food for weeks.  Friends were expected for dinner last Sunday night, and I wanted food that was full of flavor, and would also be a good balance between rich and healthful.  I typically think of Greek food in the spring and summer months.  There is something about those sun-drenched days that make me crave lemons, olive oil, tomatoes and cucumbers, all balanced by the salty, sharp flavor of feta cheese.

We had a flight of Greek appetizers and olives (including the obligatory shot of ouzo, followed by the obligatory "Opa!"), plenty of wine and then a simple main course of pastitsio and Greek village salad with bougatsa for dessert.  We also tried Metaxa, the Greek brandy liqueur, for the first time.  I can't say that I enjoyed that cordial; it made me think of Southern Comfort for its perfume-y properties, but it is apparently an acquired taste. 

I always say that the measure of a good dinner party is how late your guests stay after they've eaten.  Is one o'clock a.m. on a Sunday night late enough?

Miniature Spanikopita
       OMG!!!  Make lots of these--they won't last long.

1 10 oz. pkg. chopped frozen spinach, thawed and moisture pressed out
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tsp. dill weed
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch nutmeg
2  1.9 oz. pkgs. (15 pieces each) phyllo shells (like Athens brand)
1/4 cup melted butter

1.  Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Combine thawed spinach, beaten egg, feta cheese, dill wead, pepper, salt and nutmeg.  Mix well.
3.  Fill each phyllo shell with spinach mixture, being generous.
4.  Place filled shells on a baking sheet.
5.  Drizzle a small amount of melted butter over the top of the spinach mixture.
6.  Bake for approximately 17 minutes, or until shells are puffed and sizzling.
7.  Serve immediately.  Serves 10 people.


This is a dramatic appetizer of flaming cheese, brandy and lemon juice.  Make sure you have all your ingredients ready to go once the cheese is fried so that the presentation is dramatic, as it is intended to be.

8 oz. Kasseri cheese (have your cheesemonger cut the cheese into a wedge)
1 egg, beaten
flour for dredging
1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup brandy
matches or lighter
1/2 lemon
warm, crusty bread

1.  Dip cheese in beaten egg, then in flour, then repeat process.  Let dry on a plate slightly while you prepare to cook.
2.  Heat oil in a small, stainless steel skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat until rippling.
3.  Carefully lower wedge of cheese into skillet and fry on both sides until a golden brown crust develops.  Remove from heat.
4.  Warm brandy gently in microwave safe container (about 10 seconds).
5.  Pour brandy over cheese in skillet. 
6.  Light brandy and allow to flame for a few seconds.
7.  Extinguish flame by squeezing lemon over cheese.
8.  Serve cheese with crusty bread.  Serves 6 to 8.


     Very, very garlic.  Very, very good.  Excellent as a dipping sauce for all kinds of things, or as a spread for crusty bread.  Lovely with fish.

3 Tbs. minced garlic
3 to 4 boiled potatoes, mashed (or 6 slices white bread, crusts removed, soaked in 1/2 cup cold water and squeezed dry)
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Combine garlic, potatoes (or bread) in blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
2.  With motor running, add olive oil and vinegar.
3.  Add up to 1/4 cup cold water to get a mixture the consistency of mayonnaise.
4.  Add salt and pepper.  Makes about 2 cups.

Kalamarakia Krasata (Calamari Cooked in Wine)

     Squid cooked this way is tender and flavorful.  Serve as an appetizer with warm, crusty bread.  Leftovers make a really great sauce for pasta as well with plenty of feta cheese on top.

1/3 cup olive oil
1 lb. squid, cleaned and cut into bite-size pieces
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
1 lb. tomatoes, grated, or 1 14.5 oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 bunch parsley, chopped (about 1/2 to 1 cup)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley for garnish
warm, crusty bread for dipping

1.  Heat olive oil in medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat.
2.  Saute squid with onions and garlic, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.
3.  Add wine and cook until sauce is reduced to original volume, about 10 minutes.  Stir and scrape bottom of pan frequently.
4.  Add tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper. 
5.  Blend well and simmer until squid is soft and tender, about 25 minutes.
6.  Correct salt and pepper, garnish with chopped parsley and serve with warm, crusty bread for dipping.  Serves 6 to 8.

Horiatiki  Greek Village Salad

4 cucumbers, peeled and sliced into 1" chunks
1 lb. cocktail or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 green pepper, cored and seeded and cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup red onion, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 8 oz. block feta cheese, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup (or more) pitted kalamata olives
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 Tbs. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
fresh oregano for garnish

1.  Layer cucumbers, tomatoes, green pepper, onion, feta cheese and olives in a large glass or decorative bowl.   Chill until serving time.
2.  Mix together EVOO and wine vinegar, season to taste with salt and pepper.
3.  Just before serving, pour dressing over salad and garnish with fresh oregano.  Toss at the table.  Serves 8.

Pastitsio    adapted from The New Doubleday Cookbook (1975)

     I love this dish for the creamy, rich sauce, the base of pasta and the cinnamon-scented meat sauce.   I
      also love it because you can assemble it up to 12 hours ahead and bake it the next day.  Instead of
      preparing two bechamel sauces, one thick and one thin, this recipe uses a clever shortcut.   You can
      substitute beef or turkey (or a combination of both) for the lamb if you wish...

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 lb. ground lamb
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. oregano
1 cup canned plum tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
3/4 lb. ziti or elbow macaroni
3/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup (or more) grated Romano cheese

Cream Sauce: 
4 Tbs. butter
6 Tbs. flour
2 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten with 2 Tbs. milk

1.  Fry onion, garlic and lamb in olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan 8-10 minutes over medium-high heat, breaking up lamb with a spoon, until no longer pink.
2.  Add salt, pepper, cinnamon, oregano, tomatoes and tomato sauce.
3.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes.
4.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
5.  Cook and drain ziti according to package directions; rinse in cold water and drain again.
6.  Make the cream sauce:  Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan over moderate heat.
7.  Blend in flour.
8.  Slowly add 1 3/4 cups milk and heat, stirring constantly, until very thick.
9.  Blend in salt and pepper.
10. Off heat, measure 1 1/4 cups sauce into a bowl and beat in remaining 1/2 cup milk; set aside.
11. Mix a little of the remaining thick sauce into egg yolk/milk mixture and return to pan.  Blend well, still off heat; set aside.
12. Skim any fat off meat sauce and discard. 
13. Blend in 1/2 cup bread crumbs.
14. Sprinkle remaining bread crumbs over bottom of a well-greased shallow 2 1/2 quart casserole dish.
15. Layer in half the ziti, spread with all of the meat sauce, then half the thin cream sauce.
16. Sprinkle with half the cheese.
17. Top with remaining ziti and thin sauce.
18. Using a spatula, spread thick cream sauce evenly over all, then scatter remaining cheese over the top.
19. Bake, uncovered for 30 minutes, then reduce temperature to 325 degrees and bake 10 minutes longer, until lightly browned.  Serves 6 generously.

Bougatsa  adapted from Sofi's Aegean Kitchen (1993)

     This apple and custard pastry is lovely--and rich.

2 cups milk
3 Tbs. flour
4 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
2 medium egg yolks
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
3 large golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed and cut into four pieces each (I used Pepperidge Farm)

Confectioner's sugar and ground cinnamon for garnish
Toasted, sliced almonds for garnish

1.  Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in medium saucepan.
2.  Meanwhile, combine flour, 3 Tbs. sugar and cornstarch in a bowl.
3.  Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup milk and the egg yolks.
4.  Whisk mixture into heated milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it is thick and creamy.  Remove from heat.
5.  Beat in 1 1/2 Tbs. butter and the vanilla.
6.  In a heavy skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat.
7.  Add the apples and cook until soft, stirring frequently, about 5 to 10 minutes.
8.  Sprinkle with remaining sugar and continue to cook until lightly caramelized and golden.
9.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and stir the apples into the custard.  Set aside to cool.
10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll out each piece of pastry on a lightly floured board to about 7" squares.
11. Spoon equal amounts of custard filling in the center of each square, then fold pastry in half to form 3 1/2" rectangles, pinching edges to seal.
12.  Bake on a greased baking sheet until golden brown and puffy, about 30 minutes.
13.  Remove from oven and sprinkle lavishly with confectioner's sugar, cinnamon and toasted, sliced almonds.  Serve immediately.  Serves 8.

About what we drank...starting with appetizers, we opened Branciforti Inzolia-Catarratto 2010 (Sicily).  Light, slightly mineral, with hints of grapefruit.  Refreshingly bracing.  We followed with a classic, Segura Viudas Brut Rose, a beautiful and elegant strawberry-colored cava that is soft, lightly acidic and hints of cherry and grenadine.  We also drank Rosa del Golfo 2007 (Italy), an herbaceous, dry rose with an intensely coppery hue in the glass.  This rose is silky and floral, a lovely counterpart to the olives and garlic in the appetizers.  With dinner, we drank Henry Fessy Beaujolais-Villages 2009 (France).  This lovely Beaujolais-Villages, much more sophisticated than a Beaujolais-Nouveau is full of red currant, cherry and raspberry.  It's soft and mildly tannic with hints of earth and some floral notes.  A flattering counterpart to the main course.  Thanks to both my terrific and helpful wine guys at Spec's for their continuous and unflagging assistance with all of my wine needs and desires!

Opa!!!  May your tastebuds dance!

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