Saturday, June 29, 2013

Small discoveries

Rhubarb has been a recent discovery for me. It isn’t grown in Greece so I haven’t had the chance to taste it before moving to the Netherlands, in fact, I had no idea what it was when I first saw it at the local markets. I thought it was some kind of celery variety and never paid much attention to it.

After a while, I started noticing recipes involving rhubarb on different blogs and magazines and thought I should try it. It took me a while, the idea of it being too tart seemed to put me off, but eventually I did. What kind of food blogger would I be if I resisted a novel ingredient?

For those of you who are as unfamiliar to rhubarb as I was, rhubarb is a springtime-early summer vegetable that is generally treated as a fruit. Originating from China, where it is prized for its medicinal qualities for centuries, it is an edible plant. Beware of its leaves though, they are toxic and poisonous. The part of it that’s suitable for consumption is its crimson, red, pink, green or whitish depending on the variety, stalks.

There are two types of rhubarb: forced or hothouse rhubarb that is grown under pots in the dark and that arrives in the winter, and the field-grown variety which appears in early spring. Springtime rhubarb has a deeper red color and a more intense and tart flavor than forced rhubarb.

Being extremely sharp and sour, making it almost impossible to eat without sugar or other sweeteners, rhubarb has been dubbed as the “pie plant” because it is predominantly used as a filling for sweet pies. It pairs well with strawberries and ginger, and it is marvelous turned into jam, but it is also an excellent accompaniment to savory dishes, most harmoniously paired with oily fish, duck and lamb, with flavor profiles that can stand well against the tartness and subtle sweetness of the plant.

Making these small discoveries is so exciting to me. Like with the variety of wild asparagus I found in Holland, rhubarb was a pleasant surprise. I made a polenta cake with rhubarb which was very tasty, but I especially enjoyed it in this ice cream of rhubarb and ginger crumble.

The rhubarb is first roasted in the oven with sugar, releasing all of its juices, becoming meltingly soft and ready to be pureéd. Cream is added and the mixture is poured into the ice cream machine for churning. As soon as it’s ready, all creamy and fluffy, in goes the golden baked crumble that has been broken up into little pieces and then to the freezer to set for a few hours.

It is the most incredible ice cream I’ve tasted in a long time. Creamy and smooth, reminiscent of parfait, with the crumble adding texture and sweetness to counterbalance the sharp acidic flavor of the rhubarb, it was a true delight.

I had spoonful after spoonful and my palate was yearning for more. I’m sad that the rhubarb season is almost at its last days. I could have eaten this all summer long.

P.S As my official tester, S told me, “I’m not convinced by rhubarb”. What can I say? We can't agree on everything.

Rhubarb and Ginger-Crumble Ice Cream
Barely adapted from Delia’s Summer Collection

This ice cream is not too sweet so feel free to serve it with a topping like a chocolate sauce.
If you don't have an ice cream maker, don't fret. Below, I'm including instructions on how to make the ice cream without it.

Yield: about 700 g of ice cream


for the ice cream
450 g fresh rhubarb
230 g caster sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
430 ml cream, full-fat (35%)

for the ginger crumble
75 g all-purpose flour
50 g unsalted butter
50 g soft light brown sugar
½ tsp ground ginger

Special equipment: 1 shallow large baking pan, 1 medium-sized baking pan, food processor, measuring jug (optional), ice cream machine (optional)

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius / 375 Fahrenheit.

Trim both ends of the rhubarb and cut it into 1 cm pieces. Place it in a large baking pan and add the sugar and lemon juice on top. Place on the low rack of your preheated oven and bake undisturbed for 15-20 minutes until the rhubarb is completely tender.

In the meantime, prepare the crumble. In a medium-sized bowl, add all the ingredients for the crumble and using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour, so that the mixture resembles very coarse breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the mixture evenly in a medium-sized baking pan, place it on the middle rack of the oven (while the rhubarb is also baking), and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crumble has taken on a golden brown color. Be careful not to burn it. Once ready, remove the pan from the oven and allow the crumble to cool completely in the pan. Once cool, break it up into small pieces with your hands until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

When the rhubarb is ready, remove the pan from the oven and allow rhubarb to cool slightly. Transfer the rhubarb and all of the juices accumulated in the pan inside the bowl of your food processor and process until smooth.

Pour the pureé into a measuring jug (or bowl with pouring lip), cover with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge so it gets really cold. Once chilled, add the cream to the rhubarb pureé and mix well with a whisk to combine. Pour the mixture into your ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions until the mixture has the consistency of softly whipped cream. Immediately empty the ice cream into a container suitable for the freezer, add the ginger crumble and using a spatula, stir it in the ice cream. Place in the freezer for a couple of hours or until the ice cream is firm enough to serve.

Alternatively, if you don't have an ice cream machine, empty the ice cream mixture into a container suitable for the freezer. Place the mixture in the freezer, take it out after 40 minutes and whisk it very well. You can also use a blender, or even a stick blender.
Continue doing the same thing every half hour, until it's too thick and frozen to beat or whisk. The whole process will take 2 to 3 hours, depending on how strong your freezer is.

You can keep the ice cream in your freezer for a week.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Pastourmadopitakia means small pies made with pastourma (seasoned, air-cured beef) and they have been part of my family’s Sunday or celebratory feasts ever since I can remember. Either in the form of individual pies or the more traditional large rectangular pie that’s cut into square pieces for everyone to savor, baked or fried, made with traditional phyllo or sfoliata (puff pastry), pastourmadopitakia are part of my culinary heritage.

My mom made these while I was in Greece this May and that’s when I took these photographs. She always makes them for me whenever I visit home, she knows how much I crave and love them.

I made pastourmadopitakia the other day, just the way she makes them and they disappeared in a matter of minutes.

I hope you like them as much as we do.

On a different note: Google Reader is shutting down on July 1st which is only a few days away, and I'm really bummed about it cause I’m kind of attached to it. For those of you who follow this blog through RSS feed on Google Reader please make sure to transfer your feeds to another reader. I have been trying out a few and I found that the best ones are feedly and The Old Reader. Bloglovin’ is also easy to use and has been around for quite a while but it’s not my favorite. Make your choice soon; you don’t want miss the updates from all your favorite blogs.

See you again soon!

Pastourmadopitakia / Pites Kesarias (Greek Individual Pies with Pastourma)

This is one of the easiest recipes for Greek individual pies. If you can’t find pastourma where you live, well, use any other type of spicy cured beef you like. If you can’t find Greek Graviera cheese, use Gruyère.

Yield: 8 individual pies

1 sheet homemade puff pastry or ready-made puff pastry
8 slices of pastourma
1-2 vine-ripened tomatoes, finely sliced
100-150 g Greek Graviera cheese, coarsely grated
1 egg, lightly beaten, for glazing pies

Special equipment: box grater, pastry brush, baking sheet, baking paper

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius / 375 Fahrenheit.

Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.

Lay the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface so that the widest edge is facing you and cut the pastry into 4 long rectangles. Cut each rectangle into two shorter ones so that you end up with 8 pieces of dough.

Near the bottom edge of each piece of dough, add 1 folded slice of pastourma, 1 slice of tomato and some grated cheese. Fold the dough on top to create a pocket and crimp the edges with your fingers. Place the pie on the prepared baking sheet and continue making the rest.

Brush the tops of the pies with the beaten egg and place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake the pies for about 25 minutes or until the pastry has puffed up and has taken on a golden color.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven, allow the pies to cool slightly and serve.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Where the wild things are

It’s such a revelatory experience for me to savor something new; not so much a product of some novel culinary technique but rather new foods, new raw flavors like a vegetable or a fruit.

I’m constantly amazed when I realize how many vegetables and fruits are out there for me to savor. I feel my taste buds come alive with the prospect and I become intensely aware of all that nature so generously offers to us.

I wasn’t looking to find these when they appeared in front of me at the market, pale green and slender. The wild green asparagus. Looking much thinner and longer than their regular green counterparts.

I couldn’t help but picking up a bunch. Where would I find them again? Their season is nearing its end.

Their taste is close to the green asparagus but fresher and grassier, reminiscent of mellow spring onions or chives with a mild heat and slight bitterness.

I decided the best way to use them would be in an omelette. I’d bought some fresh pea shoots and I had some ricotta in the fridge so I went for it.

Butter, together with a little olive oil to keep it from burning, eggs with a splash of cream to make them even more luscious and the thinner-than-thin spears of the fresh green wild asparagus cut into thirds.

After only a few minutes, lunch was served. S and I dug in and ate it straight from the pan. It was marvelous. With some fresh bread and a glass of white wine, we almost forgot that it was raining outside and that I had a cold

Wild Green Asparagus Omelette with Ricotta and Pea Shoots

I understand that not all of you will be able to find wild asparagus (different kinds can be found in different countries) but regular green asparagus will work as well. Blanched green beans or sautéed spring onions or even young leeks make good alternatives.

I use a wide skillet to make my omelettes because I enjoy them thin—I hate thick omelettes—but, you know, it’s up to you.

Yield: lunch for 2 hungry people

3-4 Tbsp (50 g) unsalted butter
1½ Tbsp olive oil
100 g wild green asparagus spears (40-50 spears), rinsed, dried and cut into thirds
6 large eggs
1-2 Tbsp cream, full-fat
Freshly ground black pepper
100 g fresh ricotta cheese
A handful of pea shoots

Special equipment: a wide, round-sided skillet or frying pan

Add butter and olive oil in a wide, round-sided skillet or frying pan and set over a medium-high heat. Once the butter melts and starts to foam and sizzle, add the asparagus. Sauté them for about 3 minutes, until they soften a bit and add a little salt and pepper.

In the meantime, in a medium-sized bowl add the eggs, cream, a little salt and pepper and whisk until slightly frothy.

Pour the eggs over the asparagus and using a wooden spoon, stir the eggs around a bit and then leave to cook over medium-low heat. It will take 6-7 minutes for the eggs to cook, for a slightly runny top. Cook more or less time depending on how you like your eggs. Be careful not to burn the bottom of the omelette.

One minute before the eggs are cooked, dot the omelette with ricotta. Once ready, either slide and fold the omelette onto a platter or, like us, eat it straight from the pan. Sprinkle with some ground black pepper and add the fresh pea shoots on top.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Refreshing strawberry drink

When I said on the previous post that one of the reasons I enjoy a more loose jam is to use the syrup that remains, I meant it.

That is perhaps the most amazing thing about strawberry jam; that viscous, sweet syrup with the condensed strawberry flavor that can perk up anything from a boring cup of yoghurt to a simple pound cake.

One of the best uses for this syrup though is in drinks. Sure, you can use it to intensify the aroma and taste of a strawberry daiquiri or margarita, or you can add a splash to a glass of champagne, but for me, the best thing to use it with, is the simplest thing ever. Water. Plain water, still or sparkling.

With a few ice cubes and a squeeze of lemon that cuts through the sweetness, it’s the best drink ever. The concentrated flavor of the strawberry is guaranteed to make you swoon.

Cold Strawberry Drink

Add to a glass ¼ cup of strawberry syrup, preferably from a homemade strawberry jam, and top it off with still or sparkling cold water. Mix, give it a taste and add more syrup if you like. You can also add a squeeze of lemon or lime, and don’t forget plenty of ice cubes and a straw.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Strawberry jam

I’ve sung the praises of Greek ingredients many times and now is the time for Dutch ingredients and particularly strawberries.

Dutch strawberries are small and sweet, with a reddish-pink color and in one word, awesome. There’s really not much more to say; they’re delicious beyond description.

While in Greece, I made strawberry jam and spoon sweet using local strawberries. I made the exact same thing here in Holland with Dutch strawberries and it was like tasting two completely different things.

The version made with the Dutch berries was tastier with a fuller flavor of the fruit bursting in my mouth with every spoonful and far more aromatic. There’s no better test than that in my book; using the same ingredients and seeing the resulting differences.

I have been making this strawberry jam for years. I’ve mentioned it before, promising that one day I’ll share the recipe. Well, the time has come, finally.

It’s pretty straightforward and quite quick as well; no macerating of the berries is required, which undoubtedly makes things easier. You clean and hull the strawberries, making sure to halve any that are big; this isn’t of course the case with Dutch strawberries that are invariably small and cute.

The secret to this jam is twofold. First, it’s the lemon seeds that are put inside a muslin cloth and into the pan along with the berries as they simmer, thus omitting the need for artificial pectin and second, the vanilla seeds that bring an incomparable flavor and aroma to the jam.

This jam can be as thick or thin as you like it. I usually prefer it on the thinner side as this gives me the chance to enjoy the small berries in all their juiciness and sweetness and not mashed into oblivion, but also because I can use the syrup that usually remains, to make strawberry drinks of any kind.

Of course, for those of you looking for a more traditional jam consistency, you can simmer the berries for longer and mash them as they cook inside the pan.

I have made it twice already and I’m planning on making it a couple more times before the strawberry season ends. On top of cakes and crepes, yoghurt or ice cream, on top of buttered bread, straight from the jar with a big old spoon, I simply can’t get enough of it.

Strawberry Jam with Vanilla

Needless to say, the more aromatic and flavorful the berries you use, the more tasty the jam will be. Choose strawberries that are ripe but not overripe.

I use a thermometer to determine the setting of the jam but it is not necessary. The simple sauce-in-the-freezer technique described in the recipe, works just as well.

Yield: about 1.5 liters / I usually end up with 4 medium jars of jam

1.5 kg fresh strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise if too big
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp lemon seeds
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 kg caster sugar
120 ml lemon juice

Special equipment: muslin or cheesecloth, twine, sugar/candy thermometer (optional), potato masher (optional), glass jars with lids

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, add the strawberries and the water and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the strawberries soften.

Place the lemon seeds inside a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and tie it with twine to the handle of the pan. You need to make sure that the lemon seeds are immersed in the fruits. Add the cut vanilla bean as well as the scraped seeds, followed by the sugar and the lemon juice, stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved and turn heat up to high. Bring to the boil and place the sugar thermometer in the pan, if you’re using. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 20-25 minutes, depending on how thick you want your jam, or until the thermometer reads 105 degrees Celsius / 220 Fahrenheit (known as the setting point), and making sure to stir it from time to time. If you want to mash the fruit, do it gently with a potato masher while the jam is simmering.

Note: As the jam simmers, remove the scum that forms on top with a metal spoon in order to have a clear jam.

If you don’t have a thermometer, you can check if the jam is ready by doing the following: Put a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes. Take it out and spoon a little of the jam on it. Leave to cool for 1 minute and then push the jam with your finger; the top should wrinkle. If not, boil for a couple of minutes longer and test it again. Keep in mind though that once the jam cools, it will thicken.

When the jam is ready and the consistency is to your liking, remove the vanilla bean and the muslin cloth with the lemon seeds from the pan. Pour the jam into sterilized jars and turn the jars upside down. (Read here on how to sterilize glass jars). Once the jam has cooled completely, put the jars in the refrigerator.

The jam will keep for several weeks in the fridge.