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Saturday, 26 June 2010

Cherries from Broadway Market

Cretan odyssey

I think Mr F and I chose the perfect time to venture to Crete for the first time to see our dear friend and photographer extraordinaire, Thanasis.  The tourist season hadn't really started in earnest and there was room on the beach for us.  Plus, the fruit and vegetables, especially the peaches and nectarines and tomatoes, were at the peak of ripeness and abundance.  We've also been fortunate enough to return to the UK on the one weekend this year when summer has chosen to make a prolonged appearance.

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, we ate some fantastic food in Crete.  Oddly given that it is an island, Crete is not the place to which to travel if you are looking to gorge on seafood - which was something of a disappointment for Mr. F.  Cretans are big on meat, and aren't ashamed to proclaim it from the (almost) rooftops:

Of course, Thanasis knew where to take us for a fishy feast, which was straight to the Amateur Fisherman's Association Restaurant in Heraklion.  It was there that we ate some of the best fried calamari I've ever had.  The cuttlefish in its own ink was deeply dark and savoury; the batches of tiny fried fish were crisp and salty.  We ate all this outside, with a view of an enormous yacht that one of our party valued at 50 million euros, with the sound of a World Cup game/vuvuzelas in the background.

Grilled octopus at the Amateur Fisherman's Association Restaurant

I don't think it's unfair to say that the town of Malia has been ruined by the hoards of young tourists who go there each year to take full advantage of bargain all-inclusive package deals.  The main street is populated by shops selling hideous souvenirs and massive bottles of Bacardi at heavily discounted prices.  The old town retains some of its charm, but we knew that round any corner we could happen upon a group of marauding shirtless (and unfeasibly pale/sunburned) Brits.  Some enterprising bright spark has also decided that supplying the aforementioned hoards with quad bikes is a great idea, which means that the streets roar with the sound of revving engines and whooping passengers riding pillion.

We went to Malia with the intention of going for lunch at Kalesma, a taverna recommended on several blogs.  But when we arrived we discovered that it doesn't open until 4pm, a fact which all of our sources neglected to mention.  The menu focuses on food from Northern Greece, and looked promising.  Unfortunately, we were too hungry to hold out so decided to walk to a taverna that Mr. F and Thanasis had sampled a couple of days earlier. It's called The Blue Sea and you will find it at the easternmost end of the beach, close to the archaeological site.  The taverna has a standard menu (boasting the usual Greek salad, souvlaki and taramasalata) and a shorter list of daily specials.  Our stand out dish, from the daily menu, was a plate of courgette flowers filled with a mixture of rice, artichokes, onions and lemon juice and served with a big dollop of tzatziki on the side.  It was a perfectly balanced plate of food.

Another Cretan friend took us to O Kafenes tou Kayabi, an atmospheric restaurant with the friendliest and most hospitable of proprietors and staff.  The walls are covered with an eclectic mix of theatre posters and photographs of famous communists, and one gets the feeling that the decor has remained unchanged since at least 1968.  We ate there a traditional omelette of courgettes and potatoes.  There is something special about the potatoes that they grow on Crete (I wonder if they give them massages and feed them beer in the manner of Wagyu cattle?); they are more flavoursome and potato-y than any others I have tasted and they make perfect chips.  This omelette was a fine showcase for them in fried format.

In addition to our meals out, we were also invited to our friends' home for some wonderful sushi, and were even allowed to participate in the rolling of some vegetable maki.


Mr F and I decided to (try to) repay our hosts' hospitality by cooking a vegetarian Indian meal.  Given the Greeks' fondness for meat and scepticism of heavily spiced food we weren't too sure how this would go down, but we were up for the challenge.  Cooking Indian food with great vegetables, especially with the fantastically ripe and flavourful tomatoes, produced its rewards, but I have to confess that finding fresh ginger and canned chickpeas in Heraklion was a test of my patience until, that is, we happened upon a small supermarket run by a Bengali man.  The meal went down well I think, and the evening marked a fittingly fun and raki-fuelled end to our stay.


Asparagus tart

We're coming to the end of the asparagus season now, but I reckon you still have time enough to nab a bunch of English asparagus to whip up this tart.  Mr F and I have eaten a lot of asparagus this season in a variety of guises.  Asparagus tart has been a big favourite, but we also enjoyed it simply steamed and served with grated hardboiled eggs, fried breadcrumbs, parsley and capers.  Mr F also had considerable success with Georgio Locatelli's recipe for asparagus risotto; the end result really allows the sweetness of the vegetable to shine through.

This recipe serves four as a light supper, and is great served with a lemon-dressed salad and a glass of dry white wine.

Asparagus tart

One packet of all butter puff pastry
A bunch of asparagus
2 eggs
100g grated cheese (cheddar, aged pecorino, gruyere, or a mixture of all three)
Small bunch of spring onions
Teaspoon of grainy mustard
2 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt or half fat creme fraiche
Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Roll out the puff pastry until it forms a rectangle about 0.5 cm thick.  Place on a baking sheet and chill in the fridge for about 15 minutes.  Place a sheet of grease-proof paper over the pastry and put a slightly smaller metal baking sheet on top.  Bake the pastry for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the exposed edge of the pastry is golden brown and risen.

Prepare the asparagus by breaking off the woody ends.  Parboil in well salted water for a minute and a half.  Drain and cool under cold running water.

Beat the eggs, yoghurt or creme fraiche, cheese, mustard and spring onions together to form a thick-ish paste.  Season well, especially with black pepper (you can go easy on the salt owing to the presence of the cheese).  Spread the mixture on to the pastry sheet, leaving the border exposed. Place the asparagus on the mixture (have your pastry in a "landscape" alignment and ensure that the spears are all pointing in the same direction).  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Crete innit

I'm currently on me holidays in Crete, and am aiming to write a couple of pieces for the blog in the next few days.  In the meantime, let me tell you some of the delicious things we've eaten here so far: boiled beetroots with dill and tzatziki, little fried fish (called sardella I think), cuttlefish cooked in its own ink, and hortopita (a fried pie filled with greens - including dandelions - and flavoured with dill, an unexpectedly wonderful combination).  The iced coffee is also something pretty amazing.

We're off to the market on Thursday in order to cook an Indian feast for our kind host!

More soon....


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