Harissa Prawns, Beans & Vegetables Bruschetta

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

 

Merry Christmas 2013

Wishing all our friends all over the world
a very Happy and Merry Christmas!

from all your friends at the Nafsika Hotel
in Agios Stefanos Beach, Avliotes,
in Corfu, Greece.

My mum’s Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι)

This is one of Greece’s most popular ‘Sunday roast’ and restaurant lamb dishes and yet many tourists that visit Greece each year don’t even know about it.  It is often on the menu in truly authentic Greek tavernas, but with the coming of mass tourism in Greece in the 1960’s, it’s now by passed by dishes such as Stifado and Kleftiko.  The dish is called Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) and it conjures to me fond and cherished memories, as with most Greeks, of my mother doing it for the Sunday table.  Incidentally, I had this dish on our hotel menu for 2 years but sadly it was not moving, so I decided to take it off.

Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with shaved cheese - nothing better!

Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with shaved Kefalograviera cheese and orzo pasta (kritharaki) – one of last summer’s special dishes!

This dish is traditionally cooked in a clay earthenware casserole pot, a γάστρα (gastra) in Greek, which creates the distinct taste and nutritional value of food cooked in them.  For generations mothers used to wake up early on Sunday, the day of rest for most, to prepare this dish and take it to the baker where they would give him their ‘gastra’ to bake after he finished baking the bread, using the remains of their hot wood-burning brick oven.  In my mothers island of Ereikousa, they did not have a baker but each household had a brick oven in which they would take turns to bake the bread for that day.  In this way, the women would not need to heat their oven every day but only when it was their turn so that on each designated day the women would take their bread to the oven that was working.  After the bread was baked, they would put the ‘gastra’ in the oven and leave it cooking slowly until it was ready to have their lunchtime meal.

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Simmer the lamb shanks until they are tender in stainless steel pot, then bake them in a clay pot.

There is normally one pasta used for this dish,  it is orzo pasta (or in Greek ‘κριθαράκι – kritharaki’).  This rice shape pasta is traditional for Giouvetsi and many a people have confused it for rice but this time my mother used another Greek pasta called ‘κοφτό – kofto’ which is similar to the Italian pasta Ditalini.  She prefers this pasta since you use less of it and it absorbs more of the luscious sauce.  Most people can name quite a few Italian types of pasta but the Greeks have their own types which they use for their dishes and few people realize how many different Greek dishes are made with pasta. On the island of Corfu since it was under Venetian rule rather than under the Ottomans, pasta was often used, which is why we have many pasta dishes.  No one really knows where pasta originates but I would not be too surprised if the ancient Greeks had something to do with it!

After baking in the clay pot (gastra) for 40 minutes!

After baking in the clay pot (gastra) for 40 minutes!

Even though there are many British people who love pasta, I don’t think it is as popular as the mighty potato! This past summer, a person who stayed with us and loved the hotel, on a Tripadvisor review he wrote, ‘only complaint… there was quite a lot of pasta dishes’!   Which reminds me of the Spaghetti Harvest – April Fool’s Day Hoax in 1957 which generated an enormous response. Hundreds of people phoned the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree!

Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3  lamb shanks
  • Extra Virgin Greek olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 1 kg  chopped (puree) tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken stock (optional)
  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4-5 whole cloves
  • 4-5 whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  • 500 grams of Ditalini (κοφτό) or orzo pasta (κριθαράκι)

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a deep casserole and brown the lamb shanks on all sides.
  2. Add the onion, garlic and leave until they are translucent.
  3. Pour the wine in and wait for 5 to 10 minutes with lid on.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes which my mother has blended in a food processor, tomato paste, stock and the water (until it covers the lamb).
  5. Add cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, whole cloves, whole allspice, freshly ground pepper and sweet paprika.
  6. Put the lid on and let simmer for 1h to 1 1/2h until the lamb shanks becomes tender. Replenish with water if it needs it.  Season with salt towards the end.
  7. Boil pasta for 2 minutes, drain and get it coated with a little olive oil. This is for it not to stick to each other.
  8. Add the cooked lamb shanks in the clay pot.
  9. Add pasta and pour the sauce over lamb and pasta.  This should cover the pasta, add water if not.
  10. Bake in preheated oven at 170ºC for 40 minutes until the pasta is cooked and there’s still some liquid sauce.
  11. Add plenty of cheese and serve.

My Small Slim English Wedding

This summer we did something that we had not done before, ever…..

Paul and Stevie's arrival at the Nafsika.

Paul and Stevie’s arrival at the Nafsika.

we catered for a small English wedding!  Here at the Hotel Nafsika we have catered for weddings before but they were Big, Fat and Greek!  So when Paul and Stevie first mentioned that they wanted to have their wedding at the Hotel Nafsika, I was really honoured that they would entrusted me and all at the Nafsika with this task.  I have known Paul and his family for the longest of time.  Paul was a youngster when he and his parents, Craig and Sandra first started coming here in the 1980’s along with his other siblings.  When he was older he would visit Corfu by himself and later with Stevie, the love of his life, and wherever he stayed on the island he would always come to say Hello! to us here in Agios Stefanos Beach where ever he might be staying on the island.  This shows you the type of person he is and his love for the Hotel Nafsika and the village!

Craig, Sandra and family by the pool during the cocktail hour!

Craig, Sandra and family by the pool during the cocktail hour!

Once they have secured the venue, Paul and Stevie needed help with the other wedding arrangements, so I sent them the San Stefanos Travel, as they were the wedding experts in the village.  They have done many weddings of this type and I knew that they would arrange everything without hitch!

Sealed with a loving kiss at the end of the ceremony!

Sealed with a loving kiss at the end of the ceremony!

As I said, we have catered for many Greek weddings from our very early years of our existence.  When the hotel was first built-in the late 1970’s my father purposely made the dining room large so that we could cater for weddings.  Only when the guest list began to be 300 and 400 plus people large did we decide to stop doing them.  Other reasons are that most weddings take place in the winter as in the summer it interferes with the running of the restaurant in the hotel and in the winter Agios Stefanos Beach is too cold and unreliable with the weather to guarantee a trouble-free wedding.

Wedding table arrangement!

This traditional centerpiece is simple but classic.

The weather of course can make or break a wedding, not only here in Corfu but anywhere in the world which is why all of the world most take place in June, a nice safe month!  Here we can have them all summer long!  My biggest fear though was having a Maestro, a fierce northerly wind blowing on the day of the wedding.  Not that this wind would have spoilt the wedding but it would not have been ideal.  But the actual wedding day was blessed and perfect in every respect!

The groom giving a speech at the beginning of the festivities!

Paul, the groom giving a speech at the beginning of the festivities!

Having been to an endless amounts of weddings in America I knew how to arrange this one along similar lines. Sandra, Paul’s mother and I were emailing each other all winter long deciding how to organize the reception.  We both agreed on having a cocktail hour beforehand at the Hotel’s pool bar, BarOne, only that we would serve Prosecco with cherries as they were in season instead of cocktails.  Sandra thinking small ordered 10 bottles for their humble group of 19!

The meal would consist of a medley of Greek Mezzes (starters) and a choice of 3 main courses: a fish dish, a chicken dish & a meat dish.  Being our first English wedding and wanting to please my long time friends, I might have gone a bit over board with the starters as I kicked off the wedding banquet with: bruschetta, taramasalata, tzatziki, hummus, ktipiti, meatballs and a few others dishes.  There were so many starters that I had to cancel a few that I have not mentioned as the wedding party were clearly defeated by my onslaught of Greek appetizers.

The main course meals consisted of Fennel Fillet of Sole, Rosemary Chicken, and as Craig and Sandra wished, Spit-Roast Leg of Lamb!

All this was followed by the wedding cake and fruit and of course, Greek dancing!  Sandra wanted to surprise the newlyweds with a live band and even though Paul and Stevie found this out as someone ‘let the cat was out of the bag’ but they took it in true fashion by asking me to teach them a few Greek dances.  The music all evening was all Greek, in fact, very traditional folk music at that, but went like a charm with everyone dancing to it regardless of nationality.  Sandra and I both agreed that the hotel guests should be considered as honoured guests and not be excluded from the festivities so what started out as a small English wedding, it turned out into a Big English Wedding!

During the evening Sandra had given all the guests a Thai Sky/Fire Lantern to let loose into the night sky.  It was very beautiful as it was as quite a few of the lanterns reached the heavens.  Personally, I prefer our old fashioned declaration of setting the wedding in progress by letting off fireworks or even the more traditional Corfiot custom of exploding dynamite!  All serve the same purpose, to announce to the world the joining of 2 people into a sacred bondage.  Needless to say, they did not burn half of Corfu doing it, though it did cross my mind!

What made this wedding so fabulous is that everyone participated in the festivities regardless of any cultural difference, you must remember the band was playing Greek folk music so when I asked them if they knew any modern English songs they told me that they knew how to play ‘O Sole Mio’ so they played it…  and guess what?  Everyone danced to it!

I would like to thank Paul, Stevie, Sandra, and Craig along with the rest of the family guests and honoured guests who all contributed to a magical summer’s evening, enjoyed by everyone!

Super Full Moon

One of the biggest celestial events of the year was upon us!

The biggest and brightest full moon of the year graced the Corfu sky early hours of Sunday night/Monday morning as our celestial neighbor swings closer to the Earth than usual. Here are some photos taken at Agios Stefanos Beach in Corfu, Kerkyra, Greece.

Super full moon shining over the Hotel Nafsika

Super full moon shining over the Hotel Nafsika

A Super Moon occurs when the Moon is at its closest approach to the Earth at the same time it is full or new. Super moons are caused by the shape of the Moon’s orbit, which is not a perfect circle, but an ellipse, or oval, shape. The Moon orbits the Earth once each month, and each month reaches a point farthest from the Earth, called apogee, and closest to the Earth, called perigee.

Super full moon shining over BarOne and the pool.

Super full moon shining over BarOne and the pool.

Moon watchers won’t be able to notice the difference with the naked eye. Still, experts say it’s worth looking up and appreciating the cosmos.

Super full moon... June 2013

Super full moon… June 2013

The moon will come within 222,000 miles (357,000 kilometers) of Earth making it a majestic celestial wonder.

Super full moon trying to get through some clouds

Super full moon trying to get through some clouds

Happy Super Moon gazing!