When we travel, we bring back food supplies for our kitchen pantry. Since we’ve been going to Zagori in the Pindus mountains of northern Greece for a few years now, we know just what to bring back and where to source it. Almost all of it is homemade except for the specialist products we pick up in Metsovo on the way back to Athens. In my kitchen are glyko (preserved fruit in syrup), jams, liqueurs, dried products, pasta, cheese, sausage and wine.
We usually stay in the village of Ano Pedina with the exceptional Althea cafè which serves us delicious set breakfasts of yoghurt, homemade bread & jams, omelette (eggs from their own chickens), fresh fruit of the season (including offerings from their garden), extremely light cakes and pitas (often the alevropita which is sometimes called lazy pie or the cornmeal based blatsaria for which Epirus is noted). The pita, cake and often half the fruit we take away in a packetto for a picnic lunch.
One surprise this visit was the freshly made raspberry jam. They call it batomouro kokkino (βατόμουρο κόκκινο) which translates as blackberry plus the word for red tacked on, although the berry does have a proper Greek name: smeouro (σμέουρο). Naturally, Althea café sells the jams; we brought a number of jars back with us. I do miss berries here in Southern Greece!
In June we were in Zagori when it was cherry season. We had so many fresh cherries – at breakfast, with lunch and after dinner. Nearly every garden has at least one cherry tree. A popular way of preserving these is by making glyko, pitting and gently simmering them in a syrup. They make them with both sweet and sour cherries (respectively κεράσια – kerasia – and βύσσινα – vyssina). Traditionally, they are served on a tiny plate with a small spoon (hence “spoon sweet” as a common translation of glyko) as a sign of hospitality. Most cafés sell jars of glyko and this visit we picked up a number of them. We love the cherry glyko on yoghurt for breakfast.
Iris café which you can just see in the image I took over my shoulder several years ago in the plateia (main square) in the village of Tsepelovo makes excellent infused liqueurs.
Our favourites are the raspberry, blackberry, strawberry (notice the berry theme), wild cherry (agriokerao) and their exceptional deka botana (“10 herb”) liqueur. The deka botana is a well balanced mixture and it is difficult to identify all 10 ingredients with the exception of cinnamon (which is technically a spice in English, but I suspect part of the botana family in Greek).
In Papingo, the Sterna café is run by enterprising young women who make and sell a range of local products. The ones I like best are the dried and powdered porcini mushrooms and powdered wild garlic. They also dry and powder tsouknides (nettles), but we have so many of these in the garden and I preserve them as cooked pulp in small packets in the freezer mostly for pasta making, but they can be used in soups or mixed with ricotta for lasagna or ravioli filling.
We visit Sterna café every time we go to Zagori and this time I needed to replenish our supplies. They forage porcini in the local forests. Initially, the porcini slices are dried in the sun, then in a dehydrator before the smaller pieces are ground into a powder and bottled. I use dried porcini powder in pasta sauces, stews and soups – much easier (and more economical) to add a small spoon than to soak and chop the dried mushrooms.
Metsovo, on the east edge of Zagori is noted for its cheese and wine. We had just been in June, so we were well stocked up with sheep’s milk cheese, the cracked black pepper studded goat’s cheese and smoked cow’s milk cheese which the area is famous for (see my earlier post Metsovone). This time we thought to try “Metsovo Parmesan”. It is not Parmesan at all, but a dried and aged sheep’s milk cheese which the manufacturers call kefaloparmezana. This is a play on the usual name given to this type of cheese – kefalotyri. Found throughout Greece, kefalotyri is a hard salty sheep or goat’s milk cheese commonly used for grating. Although, the Metsovo variety is superior in taste – less “sheepy“ and more sharp and tangy. We also brought back local loukaniko (sausages) flavoured with wine from the Metsovo based Averoff winery.
The Averoff winery was our next stop for wine. The photograph below was taken a few years ago around the same time of year. As you can see, a storm was rolling in. I love the drama of this photo with the rain clouds over the stone shingled roof of the winery.
We like their INIMA wines, a Vlach word that means soul. Negoska and xinomavro reds are defined by their grape varieties. The rose is also made from negoska and the white from asirtiko. I know it is fanciful, but when we drink a glass of this wine, it’s like drinking the soul of the mountain.
We also picked up traditional Metsovo hilopitas (pastas). Hilopitas usually come in two different shapes: short linguine-like strips or tiny squares generally used for soups. They can be found all over Greece, but the Metsovo ones are a little thicker and perfect for heartier winter sauces or simply good with sage butter and cheese (normally Parmesan, but also good with Metsovo kefaloparmezana). Earlier in the month, I replenished our supplies of herb butters which are moulded into logs and chopped into chunks before freezing. The ones I use most frequently are simple sage butter (for pastas), dill butter (for risottos and vegetables), and parsley butter (for all sorts of things). On our first day back from holiday, I made hilopitas with sage butter and grated cheese.
While in Metsovo, we also make a habit of looking through the second hand shops (+ some of the tourist shops that contain a combination of tourist stuff and “old” things). This time we found a traditional copper plated water flask with lovely hammered designs. It is for decoration in my kitchen, not for use. It cleaned up beautifully by submerging it in hot water with crumpled aluminium foil, baking soda and a pinch of salt (see my earlier post, Silver Fish, for a description of the method).
We had breakfast on our last morning in the Pindus, a bit chilly at 1350m altitude in the mountains above Metsovo. The car was packed with all sorts of goodies for the kitchen, but we had one more stop to make.
A rest area on the highway along the Corinthian gulf is run by Autogrill, an Italian road service provider found in a number of European countries. Italian pastas can be found here, including my favourite Tuscan pasta – pici. Not quite the same as buying it in Tuscany, but we try to time a rest stop for a top-up of coffee combined with a little pasta shopping.
Making sure the kitchen pantry is well stocked is something I have always done, not panic buying or hoarding, but a simple matter of preserving things in season and having items to hand when you need them. Since we are based in Athens (Greece), we’ve been lucky to be able to travel around the country since June when they lifted travel restrictions. Restrictions may be put back in place, but for now, I will enjoy my bounty from the north.
It’s been a long time since I posted an IMK post. Good to be back sharing happenings in my kitchen with other IMK bloggers who connect at Sherry’s Pickings. Wherever you are in the world, stay safe.