Luncheon letter to a friend

Below is my email for a friend who invited me to pick in her garden today:

Dear L,

My lunch today was a mixture of julienned raw beet (from your garden) and cubed cooked beet, your red lettuce, thinly-sliced red onion marinated in sumac spice and lime juice, Calabrian olive oil, chopped tomato, some puréed chana dal (Indian split chickpeas), fried small cubes of Cypriot Halloumi cheese, cooked French flageolet beans, fresh thyme and basil, and toasted walnuts. All accompanied by fresh slices of my whole wheat levain bread baked 2 hours ago and an Italian rose wine. 

Thanks for the vegetables!

L salad lunch L salad lunch-2

 

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Casarecce for Dinner

I love the artisans in Italy.  They make things of such high quality: products that give great pleasure and satisfaction to those who appreciate them.  Over the years, I’ve experienced this with apparel, ceramics, jewelry, art, leather goods, and of course, with food and wine.  Such was the case late in the week when I was shopping at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, where I was introduced to the special pastas of Mauro Musso.

I decided to try one of his small production, hand crafted pastas — Casarecce.  As with all of his pasta, this was made with ancient grains, in this case Farro and Rye flours.  He is also very specific (and accurate) in his timings for cooking pasta; I was warned to adhere closely to his guidelines.

casarecce-2 cooking casarecce

It was my turn to cook dinner, and I decided to make a vegetable pasta dish, with flavors that would complement the rustic grains.  I also had in mind using whatever was on hand, especially if I could finish items that needed cooking or finishing.  Mentally, I was thinking of the hills in Liguria, and mushrooms needed to be a big part of the base.  What became the sauce included:

  • onions, leek, and celery, sautéed
  • carrot batons, sautéed and braised
  • brown beech and shitake mushrooms, and partially roasted eggplant cubes, also sautéed
  • handful of dried Porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water and drained
  • 2 Tbs. of double concentrated paste, made from Santorini cherry tomatoes
  • some white wine
  • fresh peas at the end

These were cooked together slowly for some time.  When the pasta was prepared as directed, I added it to the sauce, along with at least 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and let that simmer for a bit, until the water was absorbed.  In the meantime I made a salad, and then served the meal, accompanied by a glass of Manoir Tête de la Rouge Bagatelle, from Saumur in the Loire Valley of France.  It’s all Cabernet Franc, and fit well with the dish.  It was the perfect supper, and an incredibly good (and healthy) pasta.

Casarecce in bowl Bagatelle

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Fava Bean Purée (not Santorini) with Grilled Homemade Whole-Grain Bread

This week was purée week for lunches.  I stopped at a local organic farm for some arugula, from which I made an arugula pesto (as a bonus I got some stinging nettles for tea and other purposes).  Inspired by the Santorini-style favas, I decided to try again making a purée from organic, dried, real fava beans.  I soaked them overnight, and then with considerable effort, peeled them before cooking the purée.  I found it to be particularly good when combined with the arugula pesto on pan-grilled whole-grain bread I made recently, featuring einkorn and whole wheat flours, ground in my grain mill.  Topping that with Spanish piquillo peppers or sautéed nettles completed the lunch.

grilled bread and toppings

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Greek-Inspired Dinner with Friends

As you may have seen from my recent posts, I enjoyed the food in Santorini immensely.  After being home for a few days, I wanted to cook again, and last weekend had our good friends over for dinner inspired by and including some of the ingredients and recipes I learned there.  It was a vegan meal, but it just worked out that way.  Here’s the menu:

menu

The first course — a richly-flavored consommé from roasted mushrooms — is documented in previous posts, so I won’t elaborate here.  Yu Choy (or Yu Choi, or Yu Toy) is a Chinese vegetable I enjoy.  I found some fresh Yu Choy at Russo’s, so I invented a little dish in which it is steamed, sauced with a little shoyu, olive oil,  and finely chopped preserved lemon peel, then served with pan-roasted shitake and fresh Porcini mushrooms.  It was even better than I imagined.

Yu Choy with Mushrooms

An important element of the meal was the fava beans — split yellow peas from Santorini.  I had enjoyed the purée on the island several times, and I wanted to try my hand at making it.  The purée turned out well, but the chicory I decided to cook and serve with it was nowhere near as good as the chicories of Puglia, so that element was disappointing.

Fava Puree and Chicory

These are the split peas I bought and brought back with me from the source:

Santorini fava-1 Santorini fava-2

Would this work with ordinary supermarket or health food store split yellow peas?  Or perhaps channa dal?  Who knows?  Maybe worth a try, although the ones from Santorini are superb quality, that I can say with assurance.  The beet dish and carrots were pretty straightforward, chosen as much for color as they were for flavor, and good on both counts.  Having some boiled and sautéed nettles from a tea I made was a bonus.

Beets, Red Onions, and Arugula

Carrots, Capers and Nettles

Mushrooms grilled a la plancha, and the potatoes, arugula pesto and olives provided some weight to the meal.  My only regret is that the marvelous Fried Tomato Balls (or Fritters) that Barbara made were consumed so quickly that I never got a chance to photograph them.  She even made a little paprika-spiced mayonnaise to go with them.  All I can provide is a photo of the recipe she started with, and a warning that she added an egg and about one cup more flour than prescribed, to get the right consistency.

Grilled Mushrooms

Potatoes with Pesto and Olives

tomato balls

The Villa Creek current wines, both white and rosé, were just right.

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More Santorini Food and Wine (Part 2)

If this is your first visit to my blog, you may wish to look at the previous post, since this one is a continuation of my food and wine explorations of Santorini.  

Grilled

One of the simpler meals I had one evening in Ammoudi was at Taverna Katina, to satisfy my occasional hankering for grilled seafood.  I ordered grilled vegetables (eggplant, peppers and tomatoes) and a very small plate of grilled octopus.  The grill man oversees a charcoal fire in a built-in fireplace at the restaurant, and he does a fine job.  A glass of Argyros house red completed the meal.

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 Selene Restaurant

During my pre-trip planning I came across some write-ups on one fine restaurant on the island which received nearly unanimous acclaim — Restaurant Selene in Pyrgos.  If you are interested in foods, I encourage you to read a bit about the establishment and its owner.  There is a fine restaurant open only for dinner, and a small meze & wine area, for which I made a reservation before I left the US.  I’m happy to say that the restaurant lived up to its reputation.

I sat outside on the partially shaded deck and relished each course.  First, they served a little amuse bouche — Turkish tapioca, infused with tomatoes, delicious with or without a slice of semolina bread.  Next was an island specialty — tomato fritters.  The chef’s take on this was to deep fry the fritters and serve on homemade mini pita bread with fava sauce.  Another dish was lemon scented fava with fried squid, followed by tomato rice with sautéed wild fennel greens.  A glass of the Argyros Estate Asyrtiko was my choice for the first few dishes, and the Argyros Atlantis red for the tomato rice plate.  For the finale, I wanted to try the local pistachios.  However, these were not available on their own, so I had the Baklava made with pistachios to satisfy that need.  Altogether, a divine meal.

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 Last Meal on the Island

As fine as all this dining was, it lacked one element: dinner companions.  Furthermore, I had yet to find a way to taste Sunset Taverna’s signature dish, Lobster Spaghetti.  While I was willing to depart my vegan path for a small amount of lobster and this dish, it was available only as a meal for two people, and the lobster was priced at 90 €s per kilo.  I’m extravagant at times, but all that waste was impossible to me.

Both of these problems were solved on my last evening.  Nicoletta stopped by for a short visit to say good-bye and to make sure I was happy with the apartment, after which she was going to dinner at Sunset with Dominique, a friend of hers.  She invited me to join them for a glass of wine, which I was pleased to do.  Our conversation was lively in both English and French, and since they were ordering lobster spaghetti and asked if I would stay for dinner, the deal was sealed.  A first course of seafood salad was quite good, and the piéce de resistance was as tasty as it was dramatic in appearance.  It was a fitting end to a vacation for which I am running out of superlatives.

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Santorini Food and Wine

My first meal on Santorini was at Taverna Katina on the day I arrived.  Nicoletta had recommended the Melanzane Salata (Eggplant Salad), so I chose that and an Arugula Salad with some bread for a light lunch.  I also ordered a half bottle (375 ml.) of Sigalas Asyrtiko.  Everything was delicious, especially Katina’s eggplant.  As I sat at my table along the edge of the harbor, watching the sailboats go by, the stresses of the long trip melted away.

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One of the special foods on the island is a purée they call fava, which is made from split yellow peas grown there.  It is mild, delicious, and very nutritious, usually served with olive oil, capers, and perhaps chopped onions.  I had that dish several times; the first occasion was the first night at the Sunset Cafe in Ammoudi.

fava+pure%CC%81e+and+onions-3295023476-O Sunset in Ammoudi

 

The next day, fully-rested, I climbed up the many steps to the top of the cliff, to explore Oia (it is pronounced ee-ah).  You can see the torturous path up the hill from where I stayed in Ammoudi:

Goggle Earth Ammooudi and Oia with notes

One of my first stops was the Atlantis Book shop.  Now 10 years old, this was started by a small group of young people who had visited Santorini, and thought ‘what the hell, let’s start a bookstore’.  It’s a charming place, relatively easy to find, and full of interesting stuff.  I met Craig, one of the founders, and he provided me with some local information, along with two books and a flow chart of philosophy.  His cat seemed to like me, too.

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Problem in Your Life?

One of Craig’s most valuable tips was how to find the restaurant Roka.  I had read several reviews of restaurants in Oia, and Roka sounded exactly like the kind I would like best.  After a few wrong turns down narrow alleys, I eventually found it, only to be crushed when it appeared to be closed.  Thinking that it might only be open for dinner, I began to walk away, but another couple came along and seemed certain that it was open.  They called into the kitchen from a window down the street, and the proprietress came out to inform us that they did not open for lunch until 1 PM, and it was only 12:35.  However, we were welcome to come in and have a glass of wine and wait for the kitchen to begin serving.  That turned out to be one of the best decisions of the week.

The deck along the back side of the restaurant was airy and lovely, looking down toward the sea on the east side of the island.  Flowers and vines, and lattice work overhead protected us from the sun.   And the food and wine were delicious.  I ordered an eggplant dish, fried first, then baked with tomato sauce (wonderful herbs and spices in it) and feta. A glass of Argyros red wine, and I was in heaven.

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As more people came into the restaurant inside and out, a young Indian couple from Sacramento who were on their honeymoon sat at the next table.  We started talking and they generously shared their food and recently-gained knowledge of dining in the area with me.  One of the must-have dishes at Roka which they insisted I order was the ‘green pies’.  These are half moon ravioli with more of a pastry-type crust, filled with local wild greens.  I was too full to eat another dish, so I ordered it to go, and ate it for supper that night.  They were absolutely right, one of the best dishes I ever had.

IMG_1353 Roka green pies

Then on Saturday Thannasi and I toured the island.  We had a simple lunch at a hilltop restaurant and shop owned by Santo Wines, and then visited two wineries for visiting and tasting — Argyros and Sigalas.  But first he gave me some closeup lessons in Santorini viticulture. Because of little rain and hot sun, along with strong winds from the sea, most of the grapes are grown low to the ground, not up on wires.  The deep roots are trained in a circular manner at ground level, to form a basket in which the grapes can be placed to protect them from the wind and sun.  The soil which is volcanic in origin and has ash on top, will hold the moisture it receives from the fogs in August.  He scraped away some ash to show me.

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With our son Aaron growing and making wine in arid Arizona, I immediately shared with him these practices and seeded the idea of a future trip here together.

A small, family-run operation for well over 100 years, Argyros winery may be the best on the island in my opinion.  The people were so hospitable and the wines so good, that this was one of my favorite tastings anywhere.  I especially liked the Estate Asyrtiko (80% in stainless steel vats, 20% in French oak for 6 months), Atlantis Red, and the Vinsanto 12 years barrel aged wines.  The Vinsanto is stunning; I bought one to bring home.

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Domaine Sigalas in Oia was the other winery we visited.  Their wines are always good, and they have a lovely outdoor patio at the edge of the vineyard where they serve food and wine, so we finished the day there with an excellent meal.  The fava purée (with both caper buds and caper leaves in it) was the best I had during my visit, and the eggplant and salad dishes were superb.

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This post is long enough that I will end here, and add part 2 in the next one, to complete my culinary adventures on Santorini.

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Santorini Sunshine

Why Santorini?

Ever since I saw the first photos of the white cliff homes posed dramatically in brilliant sunshine against the rich blues of the roof paint and the Aegean Sea, I was always attracted to this island.  Then I started drinking Santorini’s crisp white wines made with Asyrtiko grapes — perhaps it was eight or ten years ago — and it was very clear this was a place I must visit.

When the siege of the hard Winter and heavy snows, followed by this Spring’s ailments finally lifted for me in late May, I took off for nearly a week’s respite to Santorini.  It was a long trip: three successive direct flights (to London, then to Athens, and finally to Thira), taking 20 hours, but it was worth it.  Here is where the island is located:

Aegean Air route map

 

History and Geology

As described in Wikipedia, “the island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, which occurred some 3600 years ago, and it left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits hundreds of meters deep. The eruption may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km (68 mi) to the south, through a gigantic tsunami.   Another popular theory holds that the Thera eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis.

and before 1500 BC santorini_map

printable-santorini-map

I was not prepared for the fascinating aspects of history and geology that I began learning when I arrived (after all, food, wine and scenery is most of what I look for).  I decided to rent an apartment on the northern tip of the island.  That was a very fortunate choice (photos just below).  The woman who owns the apartment had arranged for a car and driver to pick me up at the airport, on my arrival early in the morning.  The driver (Thanassi) was very knowledgeable and engaging, and two days later I booked a tour of the island with him.  His interest in and mastery of the history and geology were a marvelous educational resource.

Ammoudi apts-with note apartment panorama Oia, glass of wine at my door

Travel Tips

I had such a good time that I want to share with you some of the sources and services I found, in case you plan to go there yourself.

Scenery

The scenery is awesome.  I’ll let some photos show you.

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 Akrotiri Ruins

One of the worthwhile places to visit on the island is the ruins of Akrotiri, on the southern end of the island.  This may truly be the lost city of Atlantis.

Akrotiri brochure-front intro panel entrance ticket map and writeup Akrotiri Akrotiri-2 Akrotiri Pithoi Storeroom Akrotiri Pithoi Storeroom-2 Akrotiri Pithoi Storeroom-3 Akrotiri

 

Tomorrow:  Food and Wine of Santorini

tastes of Santorini

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