I was away from my kitchen for the first part of the month. We were on holiday in Epirus, northern Greece, in the Pindos mountains, an area known as Zagoria. Just to remind us where we were, painted folk art on a plastiri (πλαστήρι), a traditional round board for rolling out thin sheets of homemade phyllo, spells it out. Not only was it pretty, it was symbolic of one of the notable culinary elements of Zagori food – the pita or pie, often made with homemade phyllo. I have two recipes for pies from this region to share when I get the chance – blatsaria (μπλατσαριά) and tembelopita (τεμπελόπιτα) – although neither of these uses phyllo.
We were staying in the central Zagori village of Vitsa with its mountain views and stone roofs.
Rhythms of life in the mountain villages begin with the morning bread delivery in the van. After seeing the van, I began to look for bakeries in all the villages we visited – none. I wonder where he comes from?
We had many memorable meals, some in plateias shaded with wide plane trees.
Taking the photo over my shoulder of the lovely plateia of Tsepelovo with its two plane trees. We arrived at half-day closing and the only place to eat was the local coffee and sweet shop. Excellent coffee and exceptional orange pie (for which I keep meaning to post a recipe). It was a very hospitable place. We will be back.
Invariably meals consisted of pitas made with mushrooms (for which the area is noted), greens or cheese. Also on offer were giant beans (gigantes) made the Epirote way with greens. Lamb was prominent – cooked using a variety of methods (stewed, grilled, slow-cooked in clay pots or grease-proof paper) and marked on the menu by its age (1 year, 2 year…). BBQ chicken and kontosouvli – the latter a rotisary style souvlaki with larger chunks of meat – also feature heavily in the local diet.
Visiting various villages we stocked up with food to transport south: wine and tsiporo (a grappa-like fire-water), goat, sheep and smoked Metzovoni cheeses, corn meal (difficult to source in the south of the country) and sweet liqueur made with wild cornelian cherry – krana (κράνα) – that grow in abundance in the surrounding woodlands.
Back in my kitchen in Athens are now two old kitchen pots, copper ones from Metsovo. These old milk pails, which are used in cheese curd production, are known as kardaria (καρδάρια). One prior to polishing:
The other (polished) used as a decorative piece, with two dozen silk roses. Still need to figure out how to arrange them so they don’t flop around.
Also, Eporite textiles for the kitchen or dining room fit into the luggage easily. In the village of Monodendri, the Rizareio school of traditional textile work has a shop selling hand embroidered tablecloths, napkins, table runners, etc. And typical of the area were the hand woven cotton pieces, embroidered during the process of looming.
At the school in one of the looming rooms, the numerous coloured threads are stitched after each passing of the weft thread on the shuttle through the “shed” (the space created by the warp yarns drawn into two layers) and beating the thread into the “fell” (the line of termination of the woven fabric where the last weft yarn was beaten-up). Note the pattern taped to one of the loom’s wooden beams.
After being in Athens for only a few days, we headed to Sicily for a wedding. Naturally, we celebrated with food. Granitas were consumed whenever possible – particularly the prised gelsi (mulberry) or pistachio flavours or those granites made with different sorts of almonds.
The wedding feast began with frutti di mare and ended with fruit tarts and sweet cakes. The dinner in between was spectacular – as you can tell from the menu.
Returning yet again to my Athens kitchen, we brought bounty. Favours from the wedding were jars of delicious confittura di gelsi (mulberry jam), plus we stocked up on goodies from Nonna Vincenza’s deli on the airport – sweet pistachio cream and pistachio pesto. Two arancini ‘takeaway’ came back with us for our supper before we packed again for a quick turn around off to the Cycladic island Koufonisi for a few days – work this time. Yes, I know: nice work if you can get it!
A short hop (very, very early in the a.m.) took us to Naxos to catch the ferry to Koufonisi. Here we had breakfast on Naxos harbour front. I’d forgotten those generous portions on the island: the bougatsa (a cream filled phyllo pastry) for one was enormous. I had an equally huge fluffy omelette with Naxos potatoes (some of the best in Greece).
The second half of the month was spent experimenting in my Athens kitchen, inspired by our recent experiences: pitas from Epirus, pistachio and almond sorbets (granitas melt so quickly, so sorbet with a stabiliser is much more suited to our lifestyle), combinations of fish with bean salads (like the one I posted on two years ago) common in the Cycladic islands, sourcing Naxos potatoes in the market… Plus, we have all our foodstuffs from travelling to enjoy. It’s nice to be moored once again.