Fresh spring flavors & cook-it ideas

March 31st, 2007

Cook-it is a fat file, an ever-expanding collection of new variations on old themes – both in my laptop and, well, as paper clippings.  Our office/library will never win prizes in a paperless office competition.  Nor will the shelves hold any more cookbooks, but here we are with another little stack for the groaning boards.  On a theme of Chill-it, this time I popped for fresh ideas on sorbets and ice creams in a tidy volume by Shona Crawford Poole, simply:

ice cream, published by Conran Octopus in a revised edition, 2001. This indispensible guide to simple ices, frozen yogurt and fruit gelatos also includes basic sauces and crisp tuiles to serve on the side.  I found this treasure while browsing in a Volos bookstore, and keep it close at hand.

Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, a rich collection of Mediterranean recipes by Diana Henry, is another recent addition to the shelf – though it is more often on the kitchen counter. Published by Mitchel Beazley in 2002, this well organized tour of Mediterranean specialties offers a fresh look at culinary traditions surrounding the “Middle Earth Sea”. Seemingly complex dishes become approachable, quotations enrich recipe pages, and Jason Lowe’s photos seem to call out: bon appétit!

eggs by the master chef, Michel Roux, is an elegantly photographed and practical book that inspires one to whip up an eggy Easter soufflé of cheddar, tangy spring sorrel and savory anchovies.  The range of recipes doesn’t stop at the brunch menu, but takes you right through to cinnamon ice cream for dessert.

The Illustrated Greek Wine Book by Nico Manessis, second edition, deserves a place in the wine-lover’s collection of references.  Published by Olive Press Publications (in Corfu), it is a compact, stiff paperback book to update travelers on progress in Greek wine making.  In fact, use it as a guide to Greek geography: the terrain, products and people in profile – to read on the way, or on the way back to Greece.

Spring markets, a first taste of Greece

March 19th, 2007

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A recent whirl south took us to Crete, then on to Athens and central Greece. And what was our first stop in Athens? The city’s huge Central Market, even late on a Saturday morning is in constant motion. Flanking the hall’s front doors are aisles of butchers’ stalls – all hung and strung with sides, hinds, heads and tails of beef, pork, mutton and lamb. There appears to be a customer for every morsel, including sheep heads threaded on a skewer; nothing goes to waste. But in the center of this hubbub, under the sky-lit roof, one finds fish and shellfish fresh out of Mediterranean waters. As we arrived, fish vendors were still wheeling in tubs of fish, misting their glistening displays and hawking scaly creatures of all sizes. Slabs of tuna and swordfish, red rock fish (the Greek names are, well, Greek…), and many little slivers of fish akin to smelt – ready to be fried or grilled. This is a kalamari afficianado’s (for language soup!) dream market, for all sorts and sizes of octopus and squid. These tentacled delicacies sell out fast, so a shopper is advised to arrive early.

Directly across Athinas street from Athens’ Central Market, a pedestrian passage is lined with vendors of fruits and vegetables. Shoppers fill their sacks with just-picked oranges, long cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes – and the season’s first strawberries. We retraced our steps back through the market hall, and exited by way of side doors (wondering what people were eating in a spare and bare, smoky-windowed café in a rear corner of the hall) and found ourselves surrounded by a completely different arrary of products. Here we found cheese sellers, and along the same crowded walkers’ passage, we admired Greek olives large and small, oily or brined – too difficult to resist. This is where to find the eastern Mediterranean’s best dried fruits, as well as stalls selling only nuts. Only nuts? The Greeks top the list of European nut consumers, just one of the reasons a great selection is found here. Turkish pistachios, Greek walnuts, peanuts, macadamias and almonds are sold in natural, salted or spiced variations. A big sack of California almonds sat in a row with all the rest. I was amused, watching a young man take an almond out of an open sack: he showed it to his bright-eyed, toddling daughter, then popped it into her mouth. She bit, both grinned and they continued, hand in hand, on their rounds.