Happy New Year! A lot happened last month to ring out the old year and bring in the new. Back at the beginning of the month, there was shopping to source special items for upcoming celebrations. My vegetable purveyor whom I mentioned in a recent post on excess butternut squash, did come through with parsnips. However – since they are sold primarily for catering companies – the smallest amount I could get was 5kg. It was that or nothing. I chose that.
Mentioning this parsnip overload predicament to various and sundry resulted in one of our students emailing me a Delia Smith method of freezing parsnips, to be used for roasting. They make superbly crisp parsnip chips. Delia’s method is quite simple: peel and cut the parsnips into sticks, blanch in boiling water for about 3 minutes, strain and immediately toss in flour that has had salt and pepper added. The steamy parsnip sticks take on a flour coating which I think adds to the crisp crust when roasted. These are then lined up individually on a foil lined tray for freezing. Once frozen, they can be put into bags for storage in the freezer. Delia also adds grated Parmesan to her flour mixture, but if I wanted to try the Parmesan version, I expect it could be added later. Two kilos down, three to go.
Of course, another old favourite is Curried Parsnip Soup. It is also good to freeze, so that original 5kg of parsnips then shrunk to almost nothing as the freezer has expanded.
I was also still dealing with butternut squash as we rashly ordered more for our staff Christmas Lunch. I had a lot of help making the staff lunch, so it went smoothly plus we used up two of the squash in a pork casserole. The stew was flavoured with cumin and fresh coriander with lots of white wine and homemade chicken stock. The recipe was based on Santa Fe Pork Stew from The Silver Palate’s cookbook New Basics – minus the black beans and substituting butternut squash for the sweet potatoes. There was plenty left over, so I added cooked black beans for another family size meal over the holidays.
Vegetarian options for the staff lunch were kolokithopita (savoury phyllo pumpkin pie) and a casserole of giant black beans (hence, the absence of beans in the pork stew, deemed to be too many beans on offer for the meal). This particular variety of giant black beans are approximately the size and shape of butter beans, grown in the north of the country, mainly in Western Macedonia. I’ve seen them labeled as Prespa beans (after the bean growing country around Lake Prespa) as well as Kastoria and Florina beans (after the two major towns in the area). Each area vies for the honour of producing the best quality beans and often they go so far to dismiss other areas as inferior – sometimes quite vociferously. We found Florina beans in a subterranean shop – a veritable emporium of beans and rice – in the Athinas market area of Central Athens. Tongue-in-cheek, I have to say they tasted exactly like the Prespa beans and the Kastoria beans we brought back on one of our earlier forays up north.
The pièce de résistance at this communal luncheon were the sweets. One experimental offering went down very well: a winter pavlova made with walnuts and topped with caramel coated apples. It combined two recipes I had previously posted: walnut meringues for the pavlova base and baked apples, sliced and coated in homemade caramel, for the topping. Everything was then dusted with cinnamon sugar.
Another sweet that received a lot of attention was the giant pasta frolla with quince paste – using 500g butter for the pastry and a huge amount of puréed ruby red quince to produce the rustic pie, measuring about 56 cm x 36 cm. Luckily, we have an enormous catering oven to accommodate the tray.
The first of the citrus crop – oranges (small slightly sour ones seen below), mandarins, lemons and limes – from the garden was piled into the kitchen a week before Christmas – to juice and freeze for the most part. I used some of the mandarin juice in an experimental mandarin chocolate sherbet – based on my plain chocolate sherbet recipe, simply substituting mandarin juice for the water and reducing the sugar a tiny bit. It was good, but I may play around with it a bit more and post the results if I can get it just right. There is also this mandarin ice cream recipe I’ve been meaning to try. There is certainly plenty of juice to play with.
So, the Christmas season came and went. Since I gave up all that frantic (and calorific) holiday cookie and cake baking, I replaced it with a lot of fun cooking and kitchen experimentation. The rest of the dwindling supply of fresh parsnips were used for roasting on Christmas day, all sorts of crackers and oatcakes made to go with all the cheese and pâté, Parmesan rolls to go with all the soup (particularly good with the curried parsnip), portokalopita which I have been meaning to make for a long time (post coming up next), our annual “easy” chocolate fudge making, our post-Christmas turkey curry with peach chutney and a quick lime pickle from the recent harvest in the garden…
New Year was celebrated with Greek traditions that I’ve blogged about before: the Vasilopita (the New Year Bread for St. Basil), smashing pomegranates on the doorstep on the strike of midnight for luck and prosperity in the coming year, a symbolic ceramic pomegranate to add to my growing collection and a gouri (a good luck charm) for luck in 2019.
Now to plan for a Burn’s Night Supper later in the month. Will need to get the vegetable man on to sourcing neeps (swedes or rutabagas) by whatever name he may know them. I just hope they come in reasonable quantities.