In An Athens Kitchen

We are beginning to settle into our new home in Athens. It is actually part of a British academic institution that serves as a hub for UK research in all aspects of Hellenic culture. So, we are now part of a community of staff and students, something very different from our home in the UK.

In the Athens kitchen are very lucky to have the help of a cook/housekeeper, whom I will call S for the purposes of this blog. Among her responsibilities, S helps cater events (lectures, seminars, conferences, etc.) held in our public rooms. As a consequence, the kitchen has a large professional oven that slightly intimidates me. It is huge, fan assisted, and can fit numerous wide trays, perfect for catering – or pizzas for a crowd.

athens_oven

Caddina, my lucky Puglian hen, has emerged from her protective bubble wrap, hopefully to spread good luck in this kitchen. (My old and rather fragile Kitchen Witch has remained in the UK to protect the kitchen there). I might need that luck while I get used to the oven.

cadinna_in_athens

Muriel has been activated – from dried crumbs to a bubbly starter, now officially a προζύμι, pronounced prozimi, the Greek for sourdough starter “pre-dough”). Interestingly, Προζύμι is also the name of a short-lived blog (in Greek) with a dozen or so posts from 2012 on sourdough bread, with tips on creating the προζύμι from scratch. Perhaps perusing it will improve my Greek, although at the moment, the pictures make more sense to me than the text!

muriel_in_athensMuriel in Athens

My first loaf of bread was delicious, making me a little more confident baking in the oven. One thing I learned is the rise time for the dough is much shorter than in the UK – due to the higher ambient temperature, no doubt. The temperature may also be a factor in the brilliant crunchy crust and chewy crumb (just the way I like my bread). However, that might be down to the professional oven in the kitchen. Or, perhaps it may be due to the flour. I found Robin Hood brand flour (a Canadian brand, which I could also get in the US) with 13.2% protein and within the bread flour range of gluten content. A Cretan flour – Μ­ύλοι Κρήτης (Cretan Mills) – is also worth testing which contains about 11.2% protein, although it is more an “all-purpose” type flour.

sourdough_bread_halfFirst loaf made (half eaten!)

Pizza dough was next. Both of these were made before my specialist baking items arrived. Baguettes and breadsticks are next with the arrival of those pots and pans from the UK. I’d also like to experiment with a long rise of the dough in the refrigerator and the effect of different hydrations. Amazing how the differences in environment between the Athens kitchen and my (cool) UK kitchen affect the production of something as basic as bread. Also, the προζύμι will be acquiring local yeasts, another factor that will alter the taste – bread terroir!

The end of that first loaf formed the base of a simple tomato soup – Pappa al Pomodoro – from the River Cafe Cookbooks under review by The Cookbook Guru for the months of September and October.

pappa_pomodoro_finished

Meanwhile, the first preserving in the new kitchen began with fig jam, which I recently posted. Since my Kilner-style preserving jars (Ball or Kerr brands in the US) were back in the UK, I used a different technique – hot sterilised jars with a good lid that still had the “rubber” seal intact, packed with hot preserves, lid screwed on tight and inverted, although many of my Austalian blog friends say that inverting the jar is not necessary. The lid should then vacuum seal.

fig_jam_feature

There was a glut of long mild green peppers from many plants in the kitchen garden. They are often called Turkish peppers, a Capsicum annuum cultivar, also known in Italian as friggitelli. I have yet to learn the Greek name for them – beyond the generic πεπέρι (“pepper”). I picked some for pickling (recipe coming soon) and froze more for future use.

pickled_peppers

S has been teaching me about many χωριάτικα (village-style) dishes – a style of cooking perhaps best equated with Italian cucina povera. One lunch, she made μακαρονόπιτα, a phyllo pie filled with cheesy pasta. One square as a serving and absolutely delicious paired with a simple tomato salad. An added benefit is that it freezes well for future lunches!

makaronopita_feature

The following week was Spetsofai (σπετζοφάϊ), a traditional spicy Greek sausage, onion and pepper casserole. Peppers, of course, from the garden!

spetsofai_9-2015

Lentil soup, lemony chicken στο φούρνο (“in the oven”), and, of course as we enter the cooler months, many recipes for cabbage are to follow. Although you can get nearly any vegetable or fruit in the supermarkets here, most still buy and cook seasonally. Am enjoying being in this Athens kitchen.

A monthly IMK (In My Kitchen) post. Check out the fabulous Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who lists all of us IMK bloggers, writing about what’s been happening in our kitchens each month. A chronological listing of my In My Kitchen blog posts can be found on a separate page, just click the link or look under the heading of Diaries in the Menu bar above.
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44 comments

  1. The big oven looks fab and the bread obviously did well in it. Help in the kitchen- woohoo- very nice Debi. Also good to learn that Greeks still follow a seasonal diet. I can see that you are settling in well.

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    • Finally begin to understand the big oven. It heats up almost instantaneously, so the preheat time is (almost) nil. S is very helpful, particularly when we have to cater receptions for 60 to 100 people. We are both learning from each other. A good way to work!

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  2. How lovely that you’ve settled in… and ever better to have a housekeeper and cook! Lovely Greek recipes there!

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    • I am learning many Greek recipes, plus an understanding of different cultural palates. Surprising how many people here do not like garlic…or…lamb. These are the things I associate with Greek food. But, I do understand this a bit. First, garlic here is extremely pungent; second, lamb is similarly strong and is generally made only one way – roasted with herbs. I might try a Moroccan lamb tagine and see how this is received!

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  3. Looks to me as if life is pretty rosy in Athens Deb. It must be nice to have help finding your way around your “new”kitchen. So pleased to see that the sourdough starter has made itself at home, your loaf looks delicious..

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  4. It’s the little things that make it homely. Caddina standing at attention, your sourdough bubbling away, preserves and wonderful food picked from the garden. I would kill for that oven! The bread that you turned out is sensational. How lucky are you to have an on site teacher of all grecian food things too? Seasonal cooking, beautiful! 🙂

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    • You are absolutely right, it is the little things that make a home – or a kitchen, in this case. Caddina fits right in. Have been spreading the sourdough joy whenever anyone asks for a bit of the starter. Will have many parts of Athens baking their own bread! However, there are some really good bakeries within walking distance of my house. Will sample their wares as well.

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  5. The loaf looks lovely KW and you have been having some marvellous adventures in your new kitchen. Glad to see your lucky hen is providing some familiar comfort.

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    • Can’t quite believe I am here in Athens, setting in, shopping in the local markets, cooking, walking around the city seeing the different neighbourhoods (and the antiquities, of course). It is an ongoing adventure. Soon, we will go further afield and check out surrounding areas. Hope to explore more regional foods as well.

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    • Hi Glenda, Yes, the change is proving to be a lot of fun. Many new things to learn. It is proving to be a great way of exchanging ideas with someone else in the kitchen who is a good cook and keen to explore new foods. The budget is the only thing that keeps us grounded!

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  6. Hi Debi, looks like you are well into the swing of things! Beautiful looking bread and all of these local and seasonal produce. I too invert my jars when re-using lids. Happy October!

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  7. lucky you in Athens! As I get older I feel compelled to go to Greece and explore my background a bit more– can’t believe I lived in Europe and never made it to Greece. That’s interested about the names of the peppers because my family only refer to all kinds of peppers with the generic ‘pepperi’ term!

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    • So many pepperi! Once, many years ago, I asked what a particular flower was called and was told λουλούδι – generic “flower”. Although, perhaps, I was asking the wrong person who didn’t know one flower from the other. If you have Greek roots, you have to visit. It is a great country.

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    • I had thought to do a post on how sour dough starters change with different environments, but it seemed too much work researching the concept! But, it does happen. Meanwhile, my son is making sourdough bread with a bit of the starter I left back in the UK. Am going back soon for a visit, so will have to taste test.

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  8. Debi, what a fascinating glimpse into your Athens kitchen! That tomato-bread soup sounds delish — so does your sausage & pepper dish. Muriel and Caddina look like they’ll be good company as you tackle that HUGE oven. Best wishes in your new-to-you environment and life!

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    • Kim, I’m having a lot of fun adapting to this new life. I think it good to make changes every once in a while. Definitely the tomato-bread soup is something I really love. When I make it in the UK, I have to source good sun ripened tomatoes – sometimes a difficult task. Here, however …. Muriel and Caddina are very happy in their new home.

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  9. it sounds very interesting being in your athens kitchen. amazing how the temperature affects cooking. being in a sub tropical climate here, and with many recipe books written for the colder southern states, it is often fascinating reading a recipe and going nup that won’t work in this climate. like leaving food out overnight on a bench. Hah! we have cockroaches the size of bats here:))

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    • Many of my UK recipes have to be modified given both the different types of ingredients and the environment and how it affects things. Many food stuffs that live in cupboards (after opening) back in Britain wouldn’t last the week here unless refrigerated. Bread rises faster and I find I can make a loaf the same day that I feed the starter, rather than waiting overnight. I certainly wouldn’t want to meet your cockroaches (or bats, for that matter).

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  10. I, too, have been pickling peppers and have made a peperonata a few times of late.I’ve not restarted my sourdough, though, and this post has given me the urge to do so. I do enjoy baking bread when the temps fall. You may be in Athens now but Caddina looks right at home.

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  11. What an exciting adventure you have started upon! I laugh when I read about the difference in your kitchen environment. Celia lives in Sydney and I live in Brisbane. In Summer, I can feed and prepare a loaf from start to finish in less than 6 hours whilst she needs overnight, Makes baking interesting huh? The spetsofai looks spetsofantastic. Yum!

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    • Interesting that you and Celia make virtually the same bread, but the time it takes to rise is very dependant on the ambient temperature. I assume that Brisbane, being further north and closer to the equator, is much, much hotter than Sydney. The spetsofai was delicious. It takes its flavour from both the fresh local produce and the special Greek spicy sausage.

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  12. I understand your trepidation regarding new ovens – after 3+ years with a toaster oven getting used to a regular size oven is tough enough and now trying to reacquaint myself with gas and finally using a fan oven means some luck is needed! Unfortuately, I have no Caddina to help me! All your food looks amazing and I am glad to see you are settling in! Take care!

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  13. Love it, Debi! So glad you’re settled into Athens, home of so many archeological ruins, it must be sheer bliss for you both! And how glorious that Muriel has made the move so successfully! Your first loaf looks absolutely perfect! All the gorgeous food is making me hungry, especially the sausage casserole! xxx

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    • I am having a lot of fun in this Athens kitchen, although finding the time to experiment is limited (all those archaeological ruins to visit!). I am also very glad that Muriel made the transition. Little Muriel progeny have been dispersed across Athens.

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