Thursday, August 29, 2013
Sometimes we forget how precious life is. We let so many of the little things that make us smile pass us by. Sometimes we even forget to appreciate the people that are close to us and the simple pleasures that we share with family.
A few days ago we were reminded how important it is to appreciate these moments after hearing the sad news of the sudden passing of a family member in Australia.
So while we feel sorrow for the loss of our loved one, Tony and I feel very lucky to be spending our holiday here with the family that we are with.
My second cousin, Artemis, posted a very poignant thought on Facebook the other day – a quote by Robert Frost – "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." Tony and I have vowed to try and make the most of every day we have here in Limnos, and every day for the rest of our lives because life does go on, and it doesn't last very long.
Every day should be appreciated and reflected upon – try to remember the smiles, the laughs and the joys of that day, no matter how small. And always try to maintain a sense of humour because even some of the most preposterous situations can have a funny side to them.
There are plenty of opportunities in Limnos, and in Greece generally, to have a laugh about the absurd situations that you sometimes encounter. Life is so different here. It's casual and relaxed and no one seems to worry about anything. Things that we would normally freak out about back home in Australia like someone driving the wrong way down a one-way street, people parking their cars on the footpath, parents taking their babies in prams out to nightclubs, stray cats coming up and sitting on people's laps in restaurants – all these things are perfectly acceptable here in Greece, and when in Greece, somehow you accept it too.
Today we experienced one of those situations when things went stupidly wrong, trying to exchange our ridiculously unpowerful 50cc motor scooter for a more powerful one. The speedometer didn't work, there was no suspension, the seat was rock hard and it was loud, smelly and couldn't get up a hill without me hopping off the bike first. We just had to exchange it.
We hired the bike last Saturday from our old friend George who runs a little motor scooter hire shop from his house here in Limnos and always does a great deal for us. This year he promised to give us his best bike, an 80cc Kimco with a back rest. Unfortunately this bike was in repair the day we turned up to collect it, so we ended up with the scrappy little 50cc. "Your bike ready Wednesday!", George promised in broken English.
For four days we put up with the tiny little scrap heap of a bike, managing to take it for a ride yesterday to Agios Yiannis (only a few kilometres from where we are staying but an excruciatingly rough road), all the while enduring whiplash, bruised bums and numerous vertebrae-crushes. Thankfully the road is blessed with breathtaking views of blue skies and blue seas all around which momentarily anaesthetised our painful bone injuries.
Today we returned to George's shop to exchange the 50cc for the 80cc, only to discover the bigger bike was still in repair. George demanded, "You go to garage and ask when bike is ready!". I looked at Tony, bewildered, and yelled back at George, "You're kidding, right? This isn't our job! This is your job, George!!" He laughed like I was saying something completely ridiculous and ordered we get on our rattly scooter and follow him to the mechanic's garage immediately.
Riding effortlessly in front of us on his shiny new smooth-riding motor scooter, we putted and popped along behind him, struggling to keep up with him at our top speed of 40 kilometres per hour.
Still in disbelief that we had to make this trip to the mechanic's garage with George, we eventually arrived at a large junk yard littered with car wrecks and all sorts of rusty old broken down vehicles. Inside the tin-roofed garage was a small cubicle office, and leaning back in his reclining office chair, enjoying a cigarette and pretending he didn't notice us arriving, was the owner of the garage.
George, Tony and I wandered around the shed looking for our 80cc and there behind a few spare tyres was the bike, all pulled apart. The three of us just stood there shaking our heads.
A sufficient amount of time later the owner casually emerged from the office, only to tell us he doesn't know when the bike will be ready. George turned to us and just said, "Who knows, maybe next year!" and we walked out of the shed as the owner strolled back to his office.
Outside, Tony negotiated with George to allow us to take his shiny little smooth rider instead, the one on which he escorted us to the mechanic's garage. We swapped bikes and rode back to George's shop feeling much happier with the feel of the shiny new motor scooter, except that when it came time to stop, Tony noticed it had no back brake!
Back at George's shop we alerted George to this little problem and he said "Oh. Yes. No brakes. I fix and you come back afternoon for this bike. You take old bike and bring back later."
So back onto the old hard-seated, suspensionless 50cc we hopped, the bike that George had just ridden back from the mechanics, and low and behold, it wouldn't start. Three more attempts and it still wouldn't start. "What have you done to the bike, George!" – I was stunned. George couldn't start it either. "I don't know what happen to this bike! It no work now. I break bike!!" he joked.
We were in a hurry to get to the shops since we were putting on a huge meze feast for lunch today and needed a bike to pick up all the ingredients. All George had left in his tiny front yard was the 50cc bike that wouldn't start, the shiny new bike that had no back brake, and a tiny yellow motor scooter that looked like it would break if one person sat on it, let alone two. But we needed a bike so we took the yellow scooter. Typhoon One it's called, "One" as in "1cc", we are sure.
Below: Tony not very impressed with our 1cc replacement motor scooter.
We went back to George this afternoon to pick up the shiny bike with fixed brakes, but of course he hadn't fixed them. The yellow scooter was worse than the one we started with so we exchanged it yet again for another 2-stroke 50cc spine cruncher.
So here we are, four motor scooters later, back to where we started. Who knows when (or if) we will get a better bike, but this is Greece, and you've got to laugh :)
Today's lunch was one of Tony's masterpieces. He loves putting together platters of food, arranging all the elements in rows and rings on the plate. It's so retro but he loves it. Containing many cold meats and pickled fish, the spread wasn't a vegetarian feast, but I contributed a Greek salad and bowl of home-made fava which is simply pureed yellow split peas dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. A while ago I wrote a guest post for Liz at I Spy Plum Pie where you can find the recipe for fava.
Cheers George! This is George, my dad's brother (not motor scooter George!).
Tony's selection of mezes wouldn't be complete without olives, chargrilled eggplant, cheese, nuts and of course, a bottle of Greek ouzo.
But most importantly, we were sharing this good food with our family. Enjoying every minute, enjoying every bite.
Friday, August 23, 2013
As we were leaving Melbourne there was snow falling on the nearby hills. 28 hours later we were transported to another hemisphere where the air is warm and the sun shines every day.
This is Greece, the homeland of my parents, the place that I connect with, the country that my partner Tony has wholeheartedly embraced. We are on our fourth trip here together and it's just as beautiful as ever.
After a relaxing overnight stay in Athens we are now settled in Limnos, the north Aegean island where my dad's family is from. My dad is now retired, and he and his wife, Julia, spend around 8 months each year living in Limnos, in the house where his mother grew up. Tony and I have been making the annual trip to join my dad and Julia in Limnos for four years now and we never grow tired of this place.
The weather here on the island is consistently warm during the summer months, reaching a guaranteed 30 degrees celsius every day. The beach is only a minute's walk from the house and it's lovely to spend the mornings there when it's not so busy. The water is warm and shallow and the sand is lined with rows of banana lounges and beach umbrellas where you can sit as long as you like and be waited on by young gorgeous backpackers working at one of two bars that service the beach. It doesn't get any better than that.
Here at the house we are sharing the accommodation with my uncle George (dad's brother), aunty Koula, my dad and Julia. Tony and I are very fortunate to be able to spend this time with family in Limnos every year and to have such a beautiful house in which to stay.
The work that dad and Julia have done on the house over the years is nothing short of amazing. It has been transformed from a tired old house with sagging ceilings and sinking floorboards to a beautiful, majestic family home.
Our room is breath-taking, with shuttered windows, antique furniture and our own sheltered balcony to sit and watch the Limnian world go by from the second floor of the three-storey house. On the same floor is another bedroom/study, a large bathroom and the lounge room with a huge stone fireplace that for over 50 years had been rendered over in plaster.
Our amazing bedroom:
Tony enjoying the view from our bedroom balcony:
Lounge room with old stone fire place, recently discovered under a thickly plastered wall:
Right now I'm sitting in the study across the hall where Tony and I have set up our laptops. I can see the ancient fortress over on Castro Hill from here, and in the foreground, a dense maze of terracotta-roofed houses separated only by narrow lane-ways and footpaths.
Above us on the top floor are two bedrooms and another bathroom accessed by a large rickety staircase that slopes one way with scary creaky steps. If you can brave the climb to the top floor, the view from up there is incredible. From the iron-laced balcony you can see ships passing on the beautiful crystal blue sea and the faint silhouette of Mount Athos in the distance.
There is also a kitchenette in the making on the top floor. This is dad's current project and with the help of his trusty handy-man, Anestis, renovation work around the house is always in progress.
Staircase leading up to the top floor of the house:
Sitting room on the top floor:
Bathroom on the top floor:
On the ground floor where the walls are over three feet thick to withstand the frequent earth tremors and occasional earthquakes the island experiences, there is the kitchen, dining room, a bedroom, store room, and a pair of French doors leading out to a large terraced area adorned with masses of grapevines, jasmine and honeysuckle.
Outside there is a guest house, dad's workshop and wood-fired oven room. The large garden has been painstakingly transformed by Julia from a quarter acre of weeds to a productive and beautiful space from which we source many of our fresh ingredients for our daily family lunches.
Lunch is the main meal of the day at the house, and this is the time that the family gets together to talk and eat and wave hands and drink Mythos beer. We sit outside at a white plastic table on weathered plastic chairs but the garden and surrounds are so beautiful, the outdoor furniture can be forgiven. The food is basic, but good. Beautiful Greek salads made with the sweetest tomatoes from the garden, fresh crusty bread, steamed greens with lemon juice and olive oil, big trays of "Takis Briam" (recipe coming soon!) and thick slabs of local feta cheese.
Below from left: George, Koula, Takis (my dad), me and Anestis. Tony took the photo and Julia is currently in the UK. She will be returning to Limnos this Friday.
My dad preparing his special version of briam:
I'm the only vegetarian in the family so there is often fish or some kind of meat included in the lunchtime meals, but when it's my turn to cook, it's vegetarian all the way. We take turns cooking for the family, although Koula insists on rostering herself up for the task much more often than the rest of us! Which is quite alright by us because she is a fabulous cook.
Today Koula was telling me about the melomacarona (Greek honeyed biscuits) she made recently and it reminded me that I must post the recipe for the biscuits I made for my sister before we left Melbourne. My sister Kellie is looking after my cat while we are away and for the incredible job she does with Simba she deserves a truckload of biscuits. She takes the 20-minute drive to my house every day with her two young sons and spends an hour or so playing with my cat and sending photos of him to me. I couldn't ask for a better cat sitter. She's the best.
Tony has been working since we arrived in Limnos so we haven't had a chance to do much together. It's not an ideal situation but he's hoping to have everything sorted out in the next few days so we can really get into holiday mode. I'm lucky enough to have been spared most of the work I thought I was going to have to do whilst here in Limnos, so I've been spending my days at the beach in the mornings, and walking around the village in the afternoons taking photos.
Tomorrow it's my turn to prepare lunch for the family and I'm going to see how my Greek baked ricotta with fasolakia goes down. If Tony can manage to wrap up the loose ends with his work in the next few days we will hire a motor scooter on the weekend and revisit some of our favourite places on the island. We hire a motor scooter every year and as much as my mum hates that we ride without helmets, it's the most liberating feeling in the world riding around the hills with a 360-degree view.
I will be back in a few days to write about our adventures on the motor scooter and a little more about my family and the day-to-day lifestyle of living in Limnos, but for now, here's the recipe for Melomacarona, as promised :)
Melomacarona (Greek honeyed biscuits)
Adapted from a combination of recipes from "Recipes from a Greek Island" by Susie Jacobs and "Modern Greek" by Andy Harris.
Makes around 24 biscuits
IngredientsFor the syrup
- 6 tablespoons honey
- 125g caster sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 strip of lemon peel
- 150ml water
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 200g shelled walnuts
- 2 tablespoons of the syrup
- 30g unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 150ml mild olive oil
- 100g butter, chopped and softened
- 50g icing sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Juice of 1 orange
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
- 250g plain white flour
- 125g wholemeal flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Start by making the syrup. Put the honey, sugar, cinnamon stick and lemon peel in a saucepan and add 150ml of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice, cover and allow to cool.
- Next, make the filling. Pulse walnuts in a food processor until finely chopped but not pasty. Reserve 2 tablespoons of nuts for sprinkling later.
- Transfer the remaining nuts to a bowl and add two tablespoons of the syrup, melted butter and cinnamon. Mix well and set aside.
- To make the dough, add olive oil, softened butter and icing sugar to a mixing bowl and beat on high speed for around 3 or 4 minutes, until mixture lightens.
- Add salt, orange juice, ground cloves, nutmeg and cognac and beat well.
- Slowly add the sifted flours and baking powder to the mixing bowl and beat on low speed until you have a malleable dough, adding more flour if too wet.
- Turn dough out on to a floured surface and lightly knead until smooth – around 5 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Pinch off pieces of dough, around two tablespoons worth, and roll in the palms of your hands to form small egg shapes. Press your thumb into the centre of each piece and insert a small spoonful of the filling, forming the dough around the filling to cover and seal. Place on an oiled baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
- Remove biscuits from oven and place on a wire rack. When cool enough to handle, dip each biscuit into the syrup for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a serving dish. Sprinkle with reserved ground walnuts.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Oh my god, if only you knew how frantic things are around our household right now. I would love to describe the mayhem going on here but I don't have time! We leave in about an hour to get on a plane headed for Greece and I still haven't finished packing!
This is not like me at all but it's been one crazy week with work and getting things organised for the trip. Oh believe me when I tell you I can't wait to be on that plane with a glass of Bailey's in my hand. Yes, daggy old Bailey's, but that's my tradition. Bailey's on ice, on a plane.
So here I am, as promised, with part three of my commitment to write three posts for the blog before leaving for Greece (with an hour to spare!). But I'm sorry to say I'm going to have to leave it there – I have a plane to catch! Oh but you won't be spared of my usual eighteen paragraphs of rambling that easily. During the flight I'll be writing all about these beautiful Melomacarona biscuits that I made for my sister who will be house sitting and looking after our cat while we're away.
For the next four weeks Tony and I will be spending time with family on the Greek island of Limnos, holidaying in Santorini, shopping in Athens, and sightseeing in Singapore, and I can't wait to write about our adventures of this trip. In the past I would blog for my family and friends, but this time I can also share these stories (and of course, recipes!) with my new friends of the blogosphere :). How fantastic is that!
"Yeah I'm just finishing up now, Tony!!" (he just realised what I was doing!).
Must go! But see you back here in a few days time, from LIMNOS! xxx
Monday, August 12, 2013
Oh my cat is a naughty little thing.
I was just about ready to take the photos for today's post when that crazy-cat-wants-to-run switch in Simba's brain came on – the one that makes him sprint up and down the hallway not caring what he crashes into at the end of his 5-metre skid along the floorboards. Today's performance had him ricocheting off the half-open door to my little makeshift studio (should've shut it, I know) and sideways Spiderman-style using the door as a spring-board to catapult himself directly onto the table where I had my beautiful okra and fig stew set up, aiming straight for a full glass of water which of course tipped over and soaked EVERYTHING.
I can't help but laugh at this cat. It took an hour to clean everything up, but when Simba has one of his sprint bursts I just find it so hilarious. Tony says he looks like a cartoon character as he suddenly activates his spinning power legs, trying to get some grip on the slippery floorboards but not actually moving; his legs just a set of blurry rotating rings like cartoon scribbles. I'd love to capture it on video one day.
So eventually I reassembled and photographed today's gorgeous dish, Okra, Fig and Basil Stew. Miraculously, the sun came out for a few minutes this afternoon and cast a wonderful glow over my arrangement. Even the basil leaves warmed to the idea and released a generous amount of their heavenly scent as the sunlight triggered some extended photosynthesis action!
Tony and I are five days away from boarding a flight headed for Greece. I can't tell you how much we need this holiday. It's been an intense few months for both of us work wise, so it will be lovely to have some time away from the daily grind. But more severe than our aversion to working 16-hour days is our severe intolerance to cold weather. I have a prolapsed disk in my lower back which tends to flare up during the colder months. I get muscle cramps in the bum and classic sciatic pain all the way down my right leg during these flare-ups. It's not the most comfortable condition to live with, but at least I know that warmer weather provides some relief. This is one of the reasons we are moving to Queensland next year, and definitely a reason to get excited about going to Greece in five days!
To get us there, I've got part two of my three-part-promise that I made last week when I said I'd commit to posting three more recipes before we leave for Greece. A few days ago we started with Avgolemono Soup, and now we are on to Okra, Fig and Basil Stew which can be served as either a side dish or a main meal. It's delicious with rice, pasta, couscous or crusty bread. Today I ate it for lunch without accompaniment and it was exquisitely yum.
Fresh figs are really expensive in Australia at the moment. I'm obviously buying them at the wrong time of year but I wanted to test this recipe before getting to Limnos where we have a gigantic fig tree in the garden. The figs will be almost ready for picking by the time we get there so I intend on making this dish as well as other fig-loaded dishes while staying at the Limnos house. Tony is keen to fire up the wood-oven again and I can already see fig and fetta pizza on that paddle!
Some people are put off by the sometimes slimy quality of okra. I don't mind a bit of okra goo, but I did a bit of research today on ways of reducing the slime factor for those that are not too keen on the "soft centre" of okra's insides.
Slime-reducing methods range from soaking okra in vinegar for an hour or two before use to blasting washed okra with a hair-dryer for 20 minutes, or frying whole okra in hot oil until brown all over.
Contact with liquid is one of the things that activates the "mucilage" as it's called (awful, AWFUL word – too close to "mucus" for my liking) so the key is to dry the okra out as much as you can before you use them. Being a liquid, I'm not sure how the vinegar works but all the Greeks swear by that method. Except me. I don't like the taste of vinegar so I really didn't want to go there. I ended up combining the drying and frying methods. It reduced the slime a little, but not enough to declare these methods foolproof.
Rather than risk killing my hairdryer that's already on its last legs just before I take her overseas with me, I decided to dry my okra in the oven for 20 minutes set to 80 degrees celsius. I then cut them into 2cm chunks and fried them up on high heat for about 10 minutes.
Yeah, my hair dryer is a she.
Anyway, this dish is a stew after all, and the thickening properties of the okra in this case were actually a good thing. It reduced the cooking time by half and resulted in a rich and thick tomatoey sauce.
I found this recipe in a cute little book I recently ordered online called "Greek Vegetarian Cookery" by Jack Santa Maria. There are no pictures which I actually struggle with when trying a new recipe – I usually need the visual before I can commit to making something from words alone! – but Okra and Figs together sounded brilliant to me so I took a chance.
And I'm glad I did! I changed a few things like using fresh figs instead of dried (I HATE dried figs. But LOVE fresh figs. Go "fig"ure… Sorry, had to throw that one in), and as previously mentioned, I pre-dried and fried the okra.
I loved this dish. The acidity of the tomato was beautifully mellowed by the sweetness of the figs which was like heaven on the tongue. But it was the basil that added a real spark to this dish. Basil and fig. Who would have thought?
Tell me, do you have any hot tips on how to reduce the slime factor in okra?
Okra, Fig and Basil Stew
Adapted from the recipe for "Okra with Figs" from Greek Vegetarian Cookery by Jack Santa Maria
Serves 4 as a main or 6 as a side
- Olive oil for frying
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 400g okra, stems trimmed
- 2 zucchinis, sliced
- 5 fresh figs, cut into quarters
- 1 can peeled, chopped tomatoes
- Handful of basil, torn
- 2 cups of water or vegetable stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 extra fig for garnishing
- Lay washed and trimmed okra on baking tray and place in oven at 80 degrees celsius for 20 minutes to dry.
- Heat olive oil in large heavy-based pot and fry onions and zucchinis on medium heat for 2–3 minutes. Add figs and fry for another minute or so.
- Add tomatoes and stir well. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and allow to simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
- While stew is simmering, heat some more olive oil in a frying pan over medium to high heat. Remove okra from oven – they should be cool enough to handle – cut into 2cm chunks and quickly add to frying pan.
- Fry okra, tossing continuously, for around 5 or 6 minutes, until brown all over.
- Add okra to stew in the final ten minutes of cooking time.
- Remove stew from heat and stir in basil.
- Serve stew with rice, pasta, couscous or bread. Garnish with slices of fresh fig and a sprig of basil.
Friday, August 9, 2013
A bit of a shorter post today to the usual lengthy ramblings I tend to subject you to here on the Greek Vegetarian blog. With only 8 days to go before Tony and I leave for Greece, it's been a bit hectic trying to get everything organised before we leave, and our efforts to reduce our respective piles of work have left us feeling a bit frazzled!
And it's not just the craziness of work. The weather this week has been totally crazy too. The wind outside is so violent the trees are almost spinning around, and the rain is hurtling directly at my window. Birds are struggling to fly forward, showers of debris are landing in our back yard, and I could have sworn I just saw a branch torpedoing across the sky.
The mountain of work on my desk at the moment would form a spectacular tornado if I were to toss it outside right now. Please, can I do that? Oh what I would do to have no work in this final week before we leave for Greece!
Melbourne's current blast of revolting winter weather is perfect for one thing only: Soup. And oh, didn't I say a few days ago that my next post would be a soup? Well how about that :)
Avgolemono (meaning egg and lemon in Greek) is the name used to describe both a sauce and a soup. The soup is made with rice, the sauce without. Both the soup and sauce are often served with poached chicken or fish, but today's recipe is Avgolemono soup in its simplest form – meatless and delicious.
Light and frothy with a lemony tang, Avgolemono soup is surprisingly heart-warming on a freezing cold day. There are only four ingredients in vegetarian Avgolemono soup – eggs, lemon, vegetable stock and rice – and it's quick and fun to prepare, so let's go!
Avgolemono Soup (Greek Egg and Lemon Soup)
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup long grain white rice
- 2 eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- Bring the stock to the boil and add rice. Simmer until tender.
- Meanwhile, beat eggs whites until soft peaks form.
- Slowly add lightly beaten egg yolks, continuing to beat at high speed.
- With beater still running, drizzle lemon juice into egg mixture, then add a cup or so of the hot stock to temper the eggs. Try not to let too much rice fall into the egg mixture at this stage.
- Transfer the egg mixture into the pot of stock and rice, and stir until combined. To retain a frothy top layer, don't over stir the mixture.
- Serve immediately with a generous grinding of freshly cracked black pepper.
Monday, August 5, 2013
In less than two weeks Tony and I will be on a plane headed for Greece. Less than two weeks! And for both of us, way more than two weeks of work to get through before we leave. I don't know where the time goes and I don't know where we'll find the time to finish everything we need to. No time to cook, no time to think and no time to blog. When I left my full-time job last year I thought I'd have all the time in the world to do these things. Little did I know freelancing would render me useless in the free-time department. Don't get me wrong – it's great to be getting all this work, but I really need to find a way to better organise my time.
I did find some time last Friday afternoon to make a batch of Vegetarian Pastitsio which is a dish I've been wanting to make ever since I started reminiscing about the rare but well-remembered Greek meals of my childhood.
The meat version of this favourite Greek family dish was a staple in our house when I was growing up. A cheesy, tomatoey pasta bake topped with a thick layer of béchamel sauce to fill our tummies during the cold winter months.
A vegetarian version of this dish is easily created by replacing the meat with mushrooms, lentils, chickpeas, tempeh, a mix of vegetables or just one of your favourite vegetables like I've done here with broccoli. I fried it up with the onions to intensify the flavour (love a good browning on my broccoli) and the rest of the recipe is pretty much faithful to regular pastitsio, loaded with the gorgeous aromatic spices of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Less than two weeks, hey? I haven't even had time to get excited about going to Greece! Is that a bit mental of me? The excitement phase should have started 6 months ago! Less than two weeks and I haven't even started packing (yes that's right, the mental woman usually has her bags packed a good month before going on an overseas trip.)
I really need to get my act together, and I need to set more time aside for blogging. I fully intend on posting while we're staying at the family house in Limnos but if I lose my blogging mojo before we leave, it will be hard to get motivated again once I'm in Limnian heaven surrounded by the Aegean Sea and beautiful warm weather – it is so positively intoxicating.
OK. How about I make a commitment right here and right now? I promise to write at least three more posts on the blog before we leave for Greece. A soup, a side and a dessert. There. A good, structured commitment that I have to stick to now that it's in writing and out there on the internet. Done.
Enjoy a good chunky piece of this Vegetarian Pastitsio and I'll see you in a few days with a recipe for a mystery Greek soup!
In the meantime, you might want to hop over to Veggie Mama's blog to see what everyone else is cooking up on Meatless Monday!
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions, finely chopped
- 3 cups of finely chopped broccoli (or any other vegetable/s)*
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 2 cans peeled, chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 packet (500g) Misko pastitsio pasta or bucatini pasta (thick spaghetti-like tube pasta)**
- 60g butter
- 60g plain flour
- 1 litre of milk
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup grated tasty cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup sharp cheese to cover béchamel
* You could also use 2 cups of cooked lentils, cooked chickpeas or tempeh, instead of vegetables.
** If you can't find pastitsio or bucatini pasta, macaroni, penne or spiral pasta will work just as well.
- Heat oil and fry onions in a large pot over low heat for 15 minutes. Add broccoli and continue to fry for another 15 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned.
- Add wine and turn heat up to medium. Cook, stirring for around a minute, until most of the wine has evaporated.
- Add bay leaves, cinnamon, oregano, sugar, tomatoes, tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste and stir. Bring to the boil then turn heat down to low and allow to simmer, uncovered, for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, prepare the béchamel. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and mix well, stirring quickly.
- Cook while stirring for around 1 minute until the mixture is beginning to froth a little, then remove from heat.
- Add around a quarter of a cup of milk, stirring quickly to incorporate. The mixture will thicken and lumpify a little but trust me, it will smooth out. Immediately add a little more milk, stirring quickly and constantly, ensuring the mixture is combined properly before adding more milk. Keep adding milk and stirring until all the milk is incorporated.
- Put the saucepan back on medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. Takes around 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Using a whisk, quickly stir in the cheese, beaten egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cover until ready to use.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add pasta. Cook for 10 minutes only – it should only be partially cooked. Drain and rinse under cold water so that the pasta is cool enough to handle.
- Lay half the cooked pasta in the bottom of a deep baking dish (around 35cm x 25cm and 6–7cm deep). If using pastitsio pasta, it is traditional to lay the noodles side by side so they are parallel to one another. This way when the pastitsio is cut, the pasta "holes" are all facing the same way. It's purely for visual purposes but can also be quite therapeutic laying out the pasta this way!
- Spread a few tablespoons of béchamel sauce over the pasta then pour the tomato sauce evenly over the pasta.
- Lay the rest of the pasta over the tomato sauce, then the rest of the béchamel, and top with grated sharp cheese.
- Bake in a preheated oven set to 180 degrees celsius for around 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden.