Watching the Olympics over the weekend got me to thinking, naturally, about Greek food. What came as a surprise was that noticeably absent from my cookbook library is a tome featuring this cuisine. So I took to the virtual library to learn some more about signature cookbook authors of a Hellenic nature.
The doyenne of Greek cookbook writing is Diane Kochilas. Born in raised in New York City and now residing in Greece she has written four books on her native cuisine: The Food and Wine of Greece , Greek Vegetarian, The Glorious Foods of Greece: Traditional Recipes from Islands, Cities, and Villagesand Meze: Small Plates to Savor and Share. Her restaurant reviews appear in Greece’s largest newspaper the Athens-based, TA NEA where the reviews are both anticipated and feared. Someday I would like to learn firsthand from the writer-chef by participating in her one-week “Glorious Greek Kitchen” cooking school program. The sybaritic week includes hiking, cheese-tasting, wine and olive oil tastings and cooking lessons. In the September issue of Food & Wine there’s a great feature article about the school, 8 recipes, Greek wine profiles–great for afternoon coffee break daydreaming. (I hope the link works; I’m a subscriber so I don’t know if my cookies allowed the link.)
Another top goddess of the kitchen is Aglaia Kremezi, who won a Julia Child award in 1994 for best “First Book” with The Foods of Greece, The Foods of the Greek Islands, The Mediterranean Pantryand Mediterranean Hot. This last book intrigues me as I have been known to enjoy a spicy dish. Throughout the Mediterranean spicy means the use of one or more of the following spices–capers, chilies, cilantro, cumin, garlic, onion, paprika, or hot pepper. The UK-based Food Illustrated provides a bit more insight into this chef-author in a 2001 interview that took place in Aglaia Kremezi’s Athen’s apartment with a view of the Acropolis. Another vacation option exists with Ms. Kremezi on the island of Kea where she now lives
The culinary week also includes hands-on classes, artisanal honey tastings, learning how to make homemade phyllo and plenty of hiking and a picnic on the beach.
In the hot off the press category, The Olive and the Caper, by Susanna Hoffman, an anthropologist and author of nine books, has written a 700-plus-page book that is dubbed “a sensuous adventure of luscious recipes, itinerant travel, and historical anecdotes.” In 1971, she was part of a group of friends who opened Chez Panisse. It’s quite a hefty book. There are 150 recipes plus dozens of essays about the origins of Greek food, village life, history, language and custom.
And last up but yet another award-winning food writer, Clifford Wright, and his collection entitled Little Foods of the Mediterranean, features 500 recipes including an introduction to the way people eat in the Mediterranean region and an awe-inspiring collection of all sorts of appetizers, snacks, and little foods served across the region, from Spanish tapas bars and Italian cafés to Tunisian and Moroccan open markets and Greek and Turkish meze tables. Mr. Wright is my kind of writer. He seeks out recipes and endeavors to understand the historical roots of foods we eat today. He won a 2002 James Beard award for A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean a comprehensive history of Mediterranean cusines from A.D. 500 to 1650. He’s currently in production on a 13-part PBS an eye-opening tour of the Mediterranean and tells surprising historical stories of a now famous cuisine. He also writes for Saveur and other food publications.
But now I’m getting into collections that are shifting ever so slightly toward the all encompassing dishes of the Mediterranean region. It’s clear to me there’s a world of food from Greece that goes beyond the always present Greek Salad.
Shrimp Baked in Tomato Sauce with Feta
The Foods of the Greek Islands Cooking and Culture at the Crossroads of the Mediterranean
By Aglaia Kremezi
Makes 4 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2-1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 pounds medium shrimp,
peeled and deveined, tails left on
1/2 cup finely diced tomato,
drained in a colander for 5 minutes
2/3 cup coarsely grated hard feta cheese (see note below)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onion over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the pepper or pepper flakes and the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and sauté for 2 minutes, or until they start to become firm. Add the tomato and salt to taste and cook for 2 minutes more, or until the sauce begins to thicken.
Transfer to a baking dish or four individual gratin dishes.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake for 2 to 3 minutes more. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.
If you leave feta cheese uncovered in the refrigerator overnight, it will dry a bit and can then be easily grated.