Dionysus Mother, Semeli

The Semeli Estate was an exciting port of call for me, during my latest exploration of the vineyards of mainland Greece, because it produces some of my favourite wines.

Greece’s noblest red grape variety, Agiorgitiko

It is named after the mother of the ancient Greek god of wine, Dionysus. The estate’s vineyards are in Nemea (Koutsi) and Mantinia at an altitude of 600 m. in the eastern Peloponnese.

“Good wine praises itself.” – Dutch Proverb

The views are simply breathtaking – vistas of timeless tranquility. Links to the ancient Greek world do not end there: Hercules performed his first feat – the slaying of the ferocious Nemean lion – in one of its mountain caves.

Nemea is arguably Greece’s most important red-wine appellation.

The Hotel Nafsika and the wines of Semeli have an association which goes back 20 years. We feel that the estate produces wines of exceptional quality which also offer consumers value for money.

Named for the small St George’s Church found within the boundaries of the appellation: agiorgitiko translates as “St George’s grape”.

This bond was further enhanced for me by having my cousin, from Stellar Imports in the US, carry these wines and represent them throughout North America.

While the estate boasts ultramodern equipment, and has strict specifications of cultivation and grape selection, it by no means lacks the human touch. The passion of those who tend the vines is obvious and their skills have been handed down from generation to generation. The result? Wines of unusual character and exceptional quality at favourable prices.

The Semeli Grand Reserve is, in my opinion, the jewel in the estate’s crown and staff admit that it is their pride and joy. For those who enjoy imagining a taste it has been described as ‘bright cherry and raisins on the nose and red berry fruit and prunes on the palate’. There is a savoury (curiously coupled with an almost sweet cigar-box spicy) character overall.

Agiorgitiko is the only PDO-level appellation in Greece that utilizes this grape variety.

Semeli Mantinia Nasiakos, Moschofilero variety, is considered one of the most important wines of Greece. It has the fine and strong aromas, which are characteristics of this variety, combined with a fruity taste. This is one of my favourite whites. It has been dubbed a ‘shiny’, as well as a fruity, wine which ‘causes a smile with every sip’.

Enologists, technicians in the science of wine making, continually observe the process under strict control.

I make these forays into Greece’s winemaking areas when the Nafsika has closed for the winter. I can express my appreciation and enjoyment of the efforts made by the dedicated winemakers no more eloquently than the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, when he said of human endeavour.

Nemea Winery: Koutsi, Nemea, Peloponnese

‘Ultimately it comes down to taste…..trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then trying to bring those things into what you are doing’.

I’ll drink to that!

A True Artist

Kikones is an Ancient Greek tribe, that lived 2500 years ago, in the Komotini, Thrace, region which has had a reputation for producing fine wine from the beginning of history. It was even mentioned by Homer as having supplied the Greeks with wine during the Trojan War.

This is the name that one of the new generation of Greek winemakers, Melina Tassou, has chosen for her modern winery – the first in the region.

Melina, who started the business in 2004, is an agronomist and oenologist. A graduate of Bordeaux University, she gained experience in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire in France and Australia before starting this venture.

Melina now uses her considerable expertise to produce a selection of very fine organic wines.

Harvesting is done with great selectivity. The winemaking itself is done according to Melina’s philosophy of interfering as little as possible with the the natural fermentation process. This preserves the unique nature of each grape variety.

Sampling these wines in the great outdoors of a clement autumn was a heaven-sent opportunity.

Somebody once said that wine is the only artwork you can drink.

In that case he would also class Melina as a true artist!

IT WAS ALL GREEK TO ME: A Culinary Tale by Jo Hart

The next post is from a dear friend of mine that has been coming to the Nafsika quite recently who loves the hotel, the area and the food! I always enjoy seeing the dishes that people make from Theodora’s recipes as I know she does herself. Theodora loves the fact that her recipes are passed on not only in the family but to our extended family as well!

But let Jo tell her story….


My journey into Greek cooking.  I was inspired to branch out into a different
cuisine following holidays at the Nafsika Hotel, and aided and abetted by Spiros
Mouzakitis and his lovely mum’s (Theodora) great recipes.

jo-hart

Me at my Kitchen!

My story is probably very like many others that have stayed at the Nafsika over the years.  The only word I knew in Greek was ‘Kalispera’, which I knew from the Eurovision Song Contest and Katie Boyle all those years ago “Kalispera Athens this is London calling, please could I have the results of the Greek jury”.  I am ashamed to say that I have learnt very little Greek at all despite having spent the last few May holidays in Corfu and at the Nafsika Hotel.  But I have been given a free drink for asking for the bill at a restaurant in Agios Stefanos Beach in Greek!!  Which if my memory serves me right is to ‘logarizmo parakalo’ (phonetic) no way could I do the Greek Alphabet.

I am more enthusiastic about Greek culinary dishes.  I like cooking and I have
used recipes shared by Spiros of the Nafsika Hotel, Agios Stefanos, Avliotes,
Corfu.  Most of the recipes shared are from Theodora, the Kitchen Queen of the
hotel and it is her natural flair for cooking and her son’s willingness to
harness this for the good of the whole family which has made the Nafsika what it
is today, and the reason that people return year after year, the food and the
hospitality are a great draw.  As well as the witty repartee of mine
host.

Theodora’s Spinakopita (Spinach Pie)

The first dish that I ever tried to cook following one of Theodora’s recipes was
Theodora’s Spanakopita.  I followed the recipe to the letter and was really pleased with the results, as I became more accustomed to making it I did actually vary the
ingredients like trying it with Goats cheese instead of Feta, and using cheddar
in place of the ‘kefalotiri’ cheese or parmesan cheese as recommended, although
the taste was good in all instances there were subtle differences to the
finished dish.   All very edible.

spinach-pie

My very first attempt making Spanakopita.

jos-spanakopita

Theodora’s Spinakopita (Spinach Pie)

Artichokes with Broad Beans and Peas.

The next dish I made was broad beans with artichokes, this was a real feat to
complete, owing to the difficulty in getting the ingredients in the UK.  Waitrose, Sainsburys, and Morrisons all have fresh artichokes when in season,
but they are very expensive.  It is possible to buy frozen from Waitrose.   I
find that it is easier to find the components for this dish in Calais (I live in
Kent so make frequent sojourns to the Nord Pas de Calais, where it is possible
to get both frozen and fresh artichokes at reasonable prices).   I ended up
using artichokes from the deli counter from Sainsburys  when I made the dish and
the 1 fresh one that I bought.  It is a light dish which had an acquired taste I loved.

artichokes_being_cooked

Artichokes being cooked

buttter-beans-with-artichokes

Artichokes with Broad Beans and Peas.

I made tzatziki, which is really easy, and tastes so much better than the
ready made variety you can buy in the UK.   If you are watching your waistline,
use the 2% fat Greek yoghurt as the 0% fat one makes it too runny.

I made a Greek salad, although I do think the feta you buy in UK is too salty for
my liking.

I also made Theodora’s famous moussaka, spanakopita and stuffed vine
leaves. My daughter who was with us and a fussy eater ate everything, even the
youngest amongst us was willing to try everything, although she wasn’t as eager
as the rest of us for my Greek cooking.   Never mind, she may remember where she
first tasted it when she is older and wiser.  The moussaka deserves a special mention, the method that Theodora makes requires frying and reserving  the potatoes and aubergines, the result was well worth it as it enhances flavour.  I made the béchamel sauce with skimmed milk and it probably wasn’t as creamy as made with whole milk but a  better for the waistline.  I used Delia Smith’s all in one white sauce recipe which I find foolproof.  That is the only change I made to the recipe was to make it lower fat.  Hopefully it didn’t suffer because of it.  I do not think so.

Dolmades (Stuffed Vineleaves).

I made these for a family meal whilst staying at my sister’s place in Newquay, this is a picture of my first attempt. The dummy run. They were really good even though I say so myself and I served them hot with a roasted pepper sauce. They are a bit fiddly, and at the time of making you could get the vine leaves in Morrisons, sadly they no longer do them, so it would be a trip probably to London for me to get them, so I haven’t made them very often since. I will however, bring some back with me on my next trip to Corfu. I suppose that you could use cabbage.

dolmades

Dolmades

Greek Lemon Roast Chicken.

I make this dish in a roasting bag, as it gives the potatoes the texture that I require, and like for the dish. I find that the Marfona potato is a good one to use for this recipe. It’s very simple you just place all the prepared vegetables in the bottom of the bag, season, add lemon juice and olive oil, spices oregano, and bay leaf and then put the chicken on top, the whole dish cooks in the oven and the potatoes and vegetables take on the flavour of the chicken and the potatoes cook, semi boiled/semi roasted. It’s better if cooked in a slow oven about 150C,  adjusted slightly if you have a fan oven. The smells will begin to waft through the house when nearly ready. All you do is open the oven and take a look if the potatoes have begun to take on a semi roasted appearance then the dish is ready. This is one of my favourite recipes and so easy to make.

greek-roast-chicken

Greek Lemon Roast Chicken

Theodora’s Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with Orzo.

This was a recipe that Spiros had promised to me for ages, and which I waited for with bated breath.  It took a really long while for him to send this to me, having promised it to me following his putting a picture of it on Instagram.  The picture below is of the dish whilst it was cooking, and what is so lovely about this recipe is the heavenly smell of cinnamon and spices that waft through the house while cooking, very reminiscent of Christmas cooking smells.  One of my favourite childhood remembered smells is coming home from school and the Christmas cake being cooked and another is liver and bacon being cooked for dinner.  They both conjure up lovely memories.  If you are staying at the Nafsika don’t miss the calves liver and bacon with garlic mash it is to die for!!  When Spiros puts a recipe of any sort on his blog, I love the little tips often included, like in this case to make sure that the shanks were completely tender, as it can vary according to the age of the lamb. Lots of tips which he relates are what his mum does.  In case of all those English readers the difference for example between Welsh, English and New Zealand lamb and the relative age of the lamb.

giouvetsi-with-orzo

Theodora’s Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with Orzo.

The finished dish. The orzo is easily obtained in the UK, although this particular orzo was purchased in Agios Stefanos Beach and taken home with me, along with other items like the small green lentils, called fakes. Have used orzo in other recipes countless times, makes a change from rice. That’s one recipe I haven’t made so far from the array that Spiros has put on the blog. There are bound to be others I haven’t got round to doing as yet, and maybe this year there will be something new that I would like to try following my holiday at the Nafsika in May!

I am looking forward to trying out more recipes in the future.  I would like to make Baclava – which I would share with friends as it is better while still fresh and is so delicious it must be eaten at once!

A Christmas Story

What better way to celebrate Christmas 2016, than with some treasured moments of summer 2016! This summer we had a wedding, a christening, a sexy fire eater, our live music night and countless endearing moments with people that are far too many to post on this short video.

We had revisits from old friends not seen from way back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s!  Questions filled my thoughts: Would they think the place still special?  Has it developed too much?  Does it have the charm that it had all those years ago?  I’m pleased to say that my worrying was all in vain! Thank you all for making this summer so special!!

Here are but a few of the festive shenanigans that occurred at the Hotel Nafsika in 2016!

God bless us, every one!”

https://youtu.be/_sgl4RzL9O0

Harissa Prawns, Beans & Vegetables Bruschetta

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c1d/22878882/files/2014/12/img_1994-0.jpg

Sometimes we are inspired to cook something even under the most normal circumstances!  Yesterday my mother was cooking Fasoulada and just before she added the tomatoes (which was the 6th procedure on the Fasoulada recipe) I appropriated a ladled full of cooked white beans. On the recipe that follows I use canned white beans as it would be easier for most people to find this ingredient although if you follow the Fasoulada recipe they are quite easy to make.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c1d/22878882/files/2014/12/img_1991.jpg

I had once seen a dish with prawns and beans and wanted to do something similar. wondering what else I should put into the dish I immediately thought of northern Greece’s crimson king: the sweet, red Florina pepper. Quickly the other vegetable ingredients came to mind like onions, cauliflower and zucchini/courgette.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c1d/22878882/files/2014/12/img_1990.jpg

I incorporated these vegetables as I had them on hand, but I might have used others if I had them such as a fennel bulb, snap peas, broccoli or fresh mushrooms. I wanted it to create this dish more as an appetizer rather than a main course and definitely I wanted it to be a very light dish. I only decided on using Harissa paste towards the end of my stir frying. Harissa paste, a spicy North African chile paste, is available even in Corfu but it seems quite easy to make from scratch.  This is readily available in most countries.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c1d/22878882/files/2014/12/img_1995.jpg

I finished the dish on a bed of garlic bread fried on an iron skillet.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c1d/22878882/files/2014/12/img_1992.jpg

Alternatively, it can made into a main meal which you could serve with rice, noodles or something a bit more exotic like couscous.

Harissa Prawns, Beans & Vegetables Bruschetta

Ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5-6 garlic cloves, sliced
10-12 medium prawns, peeled, deveined
1 15-ounce cans white beans (such as cannellini), rinsed, drained
1 small onion, sliced thickly
2 red peppers of Florina, sliced thickly
1 zucchini/courgette, thinly sliced on the diagonal and halved
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets, (using only a quarter of it)
2–3 tablespoons harissa paste
Sea salt, freshly ground pepper
3  tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Grilled garlic bread

Preparation:

1. In a non-metallic bowl, combine prawns, lemon juice, one teaspoon of Harissa. Marinate for 30 minutes to an hour.

2. Break up the cauliflower into large florets, then, using your hands, break into very small florets. Blanch cauliflower for 2 minutes in hot water.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and butter in a wok or large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Once slightly smoking add sliced garlic and cook for 1 minute, add marinated prawns. Cook prawns 3-5 minutes, turning, until they change color and are cooked through. Remove prawns and set aside.

4. In the same skillet over medium-high to high heat. Add the oil, then the onions, red peppers and courgette slices for 2-3 minutes. Stir the cauliflower around the pan, allowing it to get very brown in some areas. Add cooked cannellini beans.

5. Add the 1-2 tablespoons of harissa and toss prawn and vegetable mixture well in in the wok. Cook for 3 minutes, add parsley and then turn heat to low. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Fry sliced wholewheat bread on iron skillet or just fry in toaster, rub clove of garlic on one side.

7. For each serving, place garlic bread flat on plate and top with harissa prawn mixture and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley.

Hotel Nafsika’s Thanksgivings – Summer 2014

On this Throwbackthursday and on this day of Thanksgiving, Hotel Nafsika gives thanks to all of its guests and patrons for making the summer of 2014 special.

Although most of the world does not celebrate Thanksgiving Day, a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year, we at the Hotel Nafsika would like to give thanks to all of our guests and non-guests alike with this video.  (This video was supposed to be posted yesterday but uploading in this part of the world is a b*tch!)

Summer 2014 was not without its challenges: my father falling and breaking one of the bones in his pelvis; staff getting sick and not working most of the season; the economic climate in Greece not abating in the face of our politicians saying they are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and local government not providing services even though we are paying them through the nose!

Yet with all these hardships and others, we give thanks to this past season and dare to be grateful for who we are and what we have. Our Thanksgiving is perpetual.

Once upon a rainy day at the Hotel Nafsika.

Corfu is one of the prettiest islands in Greece and one reason for this is that it rains much more on this island than any other island in Greece. Labeled ‘the Emerald Isle’ for its striking sea of greenery and olive groves.

Many people are surprised at how much it rains on the island, some say as much rain as London gets but this only explains its lush greenery and breathtaking beauty. Flowering bushes, shrubs, olive and cypress trees cloak most of its rolling landscape, and in spring the island is bursting with beautiful wild flowers.

Luckily for the people of Corfu, it has a long dry summer which makes it an ideal destination for holiday makers as it mainly rains in the winter months. Although not tropical in character, it is not unusual for it to rain in the morning and the sun to come out in the afternoon. As this video above illustrates!