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.

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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.

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My very first attempt making Spanakopita.

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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.

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Artichokes being cooked

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.