Saturday, November 2, 2013

PIZZA DOUGH, GREEK STYLE

Wish I had one slice left.  Even half a slice.  I would settle for half of a slice. Unfortunately it's all gone.  I am left with just the pictures.  And with the memories.  Ah, the taste memories!  I am eulogizing this pizza because it's not store bought, I made it myself.  Made the dough, arranged the toppings, even used zucchini from my garden, and handpicked the basil leaves from the plant that grows on my patio. So I had special feelings about this pizza.  We had a relationship.  It's over now.  The pizza has been eaten. 

What can I say?  Greeks love bread. I would wager it's every Greek's favorite thing to eat. So just about any Greek who cooks knows how to bake bread with homemade dough.  And they all like to argue about whose dough is the best. I long ago decided that there is no need to argue the point, since my dough is, if not the ultimate # 1 dough, then the ultimate #1.5 dough.  A difference of half a point is hardly worth arguing about.  Now we come to the subject of pizza.  Can you have pizza without dough?  Perhaps in an alternate universe that could be possible, but it would hardly be worth the experience. So since pizza depends on dough to become pizza, the pizza with the best dough makes the best pizza.  Perfect the art of making dough, and you will have perfected the art of making pizza. Another important thing in pizza making is to have a flavorful sauce. Not a bland unseasoned sauce, nor a strong over-seasoned one, not a runny sauce, and not an extra thick heavy sauce. Pretend you are a politician who has to tread the middle of the political spectrum, and then make your pizza sauce accordingly.  It will not be a middle of the road sauce, it will be a balanced sauce.

So I'll tell you how I make my pizza.  The recipe is tied and true, it makes pizza shop style pizza, and my family and I have been making it for 40 plus years.  It became perfected in the restaurant my parents owned.  I miss that place.  I worked there while going to college... and beyond.  We used 30 pounds of flour to make a batch of pizza dough.  That's a bit much if one is making pizza at home.  I've adjusted the ingredients to come up with a wonderful home version.

Ingredients:


4 cups bread flour
1½  cups very cold water (in summer we used to add ice to the water)
¼ cup vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
a little more flour, cold water and vegetable or olive oil

Directions:


In the bowl of an electric mixer add the water, the salt, sugar, oil and yeast.  Using the paddle attachment mix until the ingredients are incorporated.  Switch to the dough hook and add the flour in 8 batches, mixing after each addition.  Mix until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl.  If it’s too wet and does not clear the sides sprinkle a little more flour into the bowl and mix until done. If the dough starts to wrap itself around the dough hook and looks as though it’s heading out of the bowl on its own, add some water.  You want a dough that is soft and just a little sticky.  
Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough onto it.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly oil the parchment.  Cut the dough into pieces and weigh it:  14 ounces are good for a large pizza that will serve about 4 people, and 8 ounces are good for a smaller one that will serve about 2 people. 
Form each piece of dough into a round and place it on the sheet pan.  Brush the dough with oil, and cover the pan well, using a plastic bag. 
Place the pan in the refrigerator.  It should stay there to rest overnight. Any dough that will not be used the next day can be individually wrapped in plastic and placed in a freezer bag.  It can be kept in the freezer for 2 to 3 months.

To make a pizza, place a dough ball on the counter.  If frozen, let it come to room temperature.  Cover it with flour and flatten it with the palm of your hand.  Let it rest for 20 minutes and then flatten it to the appropriate size by using a rolling pin.

I like to bake my pizza in a pizza pan which is placed on top of a pizza stone. So at this point I place the dough in the pan and I stretch it with floured hands until it has reached the sides of the pan.  If the dough shrinks back from the sides, let it rest for a few minutes and it will become pliable and stay put.  I use a pan with a 14 inch diameter for a large pizza, and a pan with a 10 inch diameter for a small pizza. 

Once the dough is stretched out in the pan, it's time to spread on the sauce. Two tablespoons of sauce for the small pizza, or four tablespoons of sauce for the large one. After that I sprinkle on the cheese.

Why not add a nice touch like sesame seeds?  With just a touch of olive oil sprayed on the seeds...

At this point the dough has to rest again so that it can rise.  Cover it with plastic and let it rise for about 2 hours.  If the pizza will not be cooked after the 2 hours, it can wait in the refrigerator.  When ready to cook add any toppings that will be used.  The oven should be preheated to 500ยบ F. Place the pizza in the oven, on top of the pizza stone.  Baking time will be approximately 8 minutes.

If the top cooks before the bottom, next time move the pizza stone to a lower shelf.  If the bottom is nice and crisp before the cheese and toppings are browned, then next time the stone should be placed on a shelf that sits higher in the oven. 

Take the pizza out of the oven and with the use of a long knife or spatula transfer it to a cutting board.  Don’t slice it yet.  Inhale all the different aromas arising from the pizza.  You will smell the freshly baked dough, the caramelized cheese, the fragrance of roasted vegetables if any have been used.  You will feel the heat rising up from the pizza, and the heat will spin all those fragrances around the room.  Then look at all the lovely colors.  Admire the golden dough, the melted cheese…  or the ham, or the mushrooms or the pepperoni… is it any wonder pizza is the world’s favorite food?  Is there anyone who does not love pizza?  OK, it’s now time to stop admiring.  Your pizza, she is ready to be eaten. It needed a few minutes of admiration so that its beauty could be thoroughly appreciated, but also so that the cheese could set slightly and become easier to slice.  Well, what are you waiting for?  Slice that baby and… you know what to do after that.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

PIZZA QUATTRO STAGIONE for 'A VERY PRIVATE GENTLEMAN"



I thought I knew all there was to know about pizza.  After all, I can make really good pizza, and I have been making it for years. (The secret of good pizza is in the dough.  If you have a good dough, chances are you'll have a good pizza).  But, surprise, I found out something new about pizza.  There exits a topping I didn't know of. No, it's not ham and pineapple.  It's quatro stagione, or four seasons pizza.  Quatro stagione pizza is topped with:

Marinated artichokes for springtime...

Tomato slices and fresh mozzarella for summer.  Sliced basil goes on after the pizza comes out of the oven.  I enjoyed slicing the basil, it gave off such a wonderful aroma...

Sauteed mushrooms and onions for autumn...

Ham, for winter.  I have three types of ham here.  Some I baked with the pizza, some I put on after the pizza came out of the oven, and some I picked on before I took this picture. So not all three types are clearly visible...

Make the pizza.  Dough, sauce, cheese.  Visually divide the pizza into four sections, and top each section accordingly.  The toppings can vary, as long as each section they are placed on represents one of the four seasons.

Bake and enjoy. Whoever thought of the concept of a four seasons pizza is a certified genius as far as I am concerned. It is a scrumptious pizza, a wonderful excuse for having a multi-topping pizza, except, in quattro stagione pizza the toppings are not piled one on top of the other, which truthfully, I find unappetizing.  Here, the toppings are artfully arranged on the pizza, giving it an air of sophistication.   And I like sophistication. Which is why I really liked reading the thriller A Very Private Gentleman, (1990), written by Martin Booth. As far as thrillers go, it reeks of sophistication. As do I. 

This is my contribution to Novel Food, the literary-culinary event hosted by Simona from Briciole. Read it, and then cook something that the reading has inspired you to prepare.  For this edition of Novel Food I enjoyed reading A Very Private Gentleman.  In one of my favorite chapters the main character takes his mistress to an out of the way restaurant where the two of them enjoy a bottle of wine and a "pizza quatro stagione." I loved the description of the event so, so much, that I wanted to be a patron at the very same countryside restaurant, ordering along with the protagonists.  


This is a thinking person's thriller, aesthetically pleasing, with an unforgettable protagonist. He is signor Farfala, thus called by the locals of the small town where he lives.  He is an artist who paints rare butterflies. Or so he pretends.  That's his cover.  In actuality, Signor Farfala, leads a life so secretive that even we, the readers, don't know his real name or nationality. He is well educated, a man of fine tastes.  He knows how to appreciate nature, art, architecture, good food and wine, good music and books, and he loves good company.  He always moves from place to place, sometimes because of work, sometimes to evade capture.  His real work is done in secret.  He is a gunsmith who crafts made-to-order weapons.  They carry a very high price tag because they are used for high level assassinations. He feels that he has helped to shape history, but now he is getting old and would like to retire.  When we meet him, he is promising that he's working on his last commission.  He likes the small Italian town where he's taken up residence, and he would like to settle there, in the company of Clara, a young student who moonlights as a prostitute in order to make ends meet. (Nothing wrong with that, right?).  Unfortunately, just as signor Farfala makes up his mind to settle down, he becomes aware that someone is after him.  And so the cat and mouse game begins... Booth's writing is clear, intelligent, tense and thought provoking.  A Very Private Gentleman is a first rate psychological thriller, a book that is hard to put down. The movie The American (2010), staring and produced by George Clooney, was based on this novel. The script has some significant differences from the novel, but both movie and book are first rate. With the release of the movie, the novel was republished under the same title as the movie.  So a very private gentleman was forced to become an American.  I don't think Martin Booth (who died in 2004), would have liked this change.  He didn't give his character a nationality, and I enjoyed trying to guess where signor Farfala could have come from.  
Martin Booth's "The American," previously published as "A Very Private Gentleman."
For the curious, that's George Clooney on the cover, aesthetically pleasing as always. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

COOKING THE BOOKS WITH THE BAKER'S DAUGHTER

Have a pretzel roll.  They are slightly salty, doughy, soft and chewy.   The next best thing to a Philly pretzel!  Plus they make a nice snack if you want to take a break from reading "The Baker's Daughter,"  the novel which is featured for this round of Cook the Books Club.


I just finished reading "The Baker's Daughter," which unfortunately was a somewhat boring novel. Unfortunate, because it deals with very interesting subjects.  But this stuff has been written about before, and with a lot more suspense and style. Nothing new brought to the table here.  The storytelling is mushy, not even as palatable as overcooked spaghetti.
Novel:  The Baker’s Daughter.  Author:  Sarah McCoy.  Premise: Two main characters, both female.  One is a pretend Nazi, the other is a pretend vegan.  Here’s a question: if you had to, which of the two women would you rather be?  You might answer “I would rather be the pretend vegan,” since upon consideration it becomes clear to you it is the more ethical choice of the two.  Hold on though.  I would recommend that you choose to be the pretend Nazi.  Because, friends, it’s the pretend Nazi character who leads the more interesting life.  For one thing she is a baker extraordinaire. For another, she learns  all about the evils of Nazism and she forsakes them.  Not only that.  She saves the life of a Jewish boy.  Not only that.  She and the Jewish boy get to bake pretzels together.  Lots of pretzels.  Not only that.  She marries an American.  Not only that.  She moves to El Paso, Texas.  Not only that.  She opens up a German bakery.  Her life is filled with adventure and experience.  As for the pretend vegan…. I just could not understand why she wanted to pretend to be a vegan.  But she was really good at it.  Pretending, I mean.  To be a vegan.  Everyone believed her.  Except for me.  I knew it all along.  That girl ate dairy.
So the dairy eating girl is named Reba, and she is a journalist.  While on the job she meets Elsie, the German bakery owner.  They become fast friends and that's when we learn how each one arrived to the point where their lives converged.  It turns out that Reba has a boyfriend, a quite virile one, who is a border control officer.  Oh yes, I wouldn’t mind meeting him, but fine, I know he’s taken.  The virile boyfriend’s job is to locate illegal aliens and send them back whence they came.  It bothers Reba that these people are hunted down and deported.  She understands their struggle to escape poverty.  Eventually, Reba's boyfriend begins to question the effectiveness of his job.  Good for you Sarah McCoy, oh author of The Baker’s Daughter, for spinning a plot that confronts this issue. But you should have tried a little harder.  To make the story telling more interesting.  
While we're on the subject of illegal immigrants, I'd like to comment that it just seems every time our economy slides down the slippery slope there comes an outcry from certain political factions to curb illegal immigration.  As though the presence or absence of illegal aliens is the driving force of our economy. They're actually necessary and good for our economy, but they are not its driving force.  The vociferous bellowing against this minority helps to detract attention from the real problem at hand. Nice political trick.  Solving nothing.  Which is inherent in that sort of politics.
Back to the novel: what McCoy has done is engage her protagonists on a quest to find emotional maturity by coming to the realization that they cannot always follow traditional wisdom.

Sarah McCoy's novel The Baker's Daughter, is the reading selection for this round of "Cook the Books Club."  Read the book and cook something which is inspired by the reading.  In my case, the choice was simple, easy, clear.  I made pretzel rolls, inspired by Elsie's pretzel making marathons. 
PRETZELS! 
I live in the Philadelphia area. Pretzels are a ubiquitous snack here. What else was I going to make but something with the word pretzel in it?  I grew up eating soft pretzels.  At school they used to cost one nickel each, but in the “fancy” shops around town they would sell for one quarter each.  I gladly paid the quarter when school was closed.  One pretzel a day, and all was right with the world.  I liked my pretzel with a thin ribbon of mustard squeezed on top. The big trick was to eat the pretzel without dripping mustard on my clean outfit.  Come summertime, kids and adults alike would line up (and still line up) to buy fruit flavored water ice, and yes, the best accompaniment for water ice was and is a soft pretzel.  It’s a Philly thing. Pretzels were introduced to our neck of the woods in the late eighteenth century by German immigrants who began arriving here at that time. Since then, the soft pretzel became a Philadelphia tradition. Yes, thanks to a large population with German background, Philadelphia and its surrounding counties became the birthplace of the American pretzel industry.  In fact, even to this day, Pennsylvania produces the majority of our nation’s pretzels.  

To make pretzel rolls I used a recipe by Alton Brown from the Food Network.  It's a very good recipe, with a how-to video included.  I made the dough, then shaped it into rolls rather than pretzels. After all, pretzel rolls are quite a popular thing these days. And no, I will not make actual pretzels at home. Why mess with tradition?  I always buy my pretzels at the corner pretzel store.  I don't even mind that the price has gone up since I was a schoolgirl. Now they cost “two for a dollar,”  or seventy five cents for one, but... the mustard is still free.  

This has been my contribution to "Cook the Books Club."  Read the book, cook something delicious inspired by the book, then blog about it.  Submissions are due every two months, and a winner is chosen from among the participants.  If you like to read and cook, this is the internet club you should join!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

CORN ON THE COB GRILLED WITH FRESH HERBS

Corn on the cob on the grill.  A great way to enjoy summer sweet corn!  This corn was as fresh as it could be.  I bought it just a few hours after it was picked, and at a really sweet price too, 4 for $1.00. I often grill corn.  I love eating it hot, crunchy and slightly charred, but with kernels that are still juicy and sweet below their crispy coat. The best way to grill corn is to wrap it in aluminum foil, and I have been cooking it this way for more years than I can count. I never considered improving on the taste, not until I came across a picture on the Food Network of corn grilled in foil but with lots of herbs added in for extra taste.  Well, go figure. I grow herbs and I have a clear view of my little herb garden from where the grill is set up.  Yet, never once did I consider adding some of those herbs I stare at when I'm grilling to the corn cooking in front of me. OK, thank you Food Network for kicking my brain into gear. 
So pick some rosemary, some thyme, some lemon thyme... 






Don't forget the basil...
Place the corn on a piece of foil and add the herbs...

Yes, go ahead add a little lemon if you like, definitely add the garlic, then drizzle some olive oil on top...
Then add a little butter and some salt and pepper. Wrap the the foil over the corn and form a tight seal.  Wrap in the same manner with another layer of foil.  You'll have a nice sturdy packet, ready for the grill...
Grill on both sides, tear up the foil and pull out the corn.  Bite into it and taste the hints of each herb used.  A fantastic departure from ordinary grilled corn.  Simple, fast, delicious!
  






































Friday, September 6, 2013

BROCCOLI, MUSHROOM AND POTATO SOUP

Creamy but without the addition of cream, this healthful soup is made with a base of potatoes.  Buttery tasting Yukon gold, my favorite. Mushrooms add a woodsy, earthy flavor, and the broccoli contributes green notes.  Some broth, some herbs, a little grated cheese, and in about half an hour soup's on! A delicious soup, a "make you happy" kind of soup.  

I pureed the ingredients until they reached a smooth consistency. Leaving them chunky would have been good too, but maybe next time.  This time I was in the mood for smooth textures. Too many sharp edges in my hurried life lately. It occurred to me that unconsciously, I must have been yearning for a bowl of nourishing soup.  Warm, comforting soup to smooth life's sharp edges. That's why I had to pick up the mushrooms and broccoli at the grocer's. I chopped, sauteed and boiled, breathed in the aroma of the broth, and anticipated my first serving of hot, thick, smooth soup.  Warm, comforting soup, my nostrum for stress. Good to know there's plenty left over for tomorrow. 
Eat this soup when it's really hot. That's when the flavors are at their best. And crunch on some crackers when you're between spoonfuls. Slurping is optional.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
5 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 heads of broccoli, cut into florets (about  pounds)
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 bay leaf
8 sprigs parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
For the garnish, to be prepared when the soup is cooking:
Save a few sliced mushrooms and some broccoli florets, have some chives on hand.  Prepare the garnish while the soup is cooking.
The mushrooms should be sauteed and the broccoli can be boiled, but it needs to be blanched so that it can retain its green color.


Directions:
In a large pot heat the olive oil with the butter.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, broccoli, mushrooms and potatoes.  Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.
Add the broth, water, salt, and pepper, bay leaf, parsley, thyme and vegetable broth.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Using an immersion blender puree the soup. 
Stir in half the cheese and mix well. Serve garnished with chopped chives, sliced mushrooms, tiny broccoli florets and the rest of the grated cheese.
I am sending this post to "Souper Sundays" at Kahakai Kitchen. Each Sunday, Deb, the tireless hostess of Souper Sundays, features a roundup of posts about soup, sandwiches and more. See you there!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

STRAPATSADA FLAVORED WITH PEPPERS

A plate of strapatsada is one of my favorite Greek meals.  It tastes like summer! It's because of the tomatoes, I think. When they ripen and turn bright red they bring that special taste to this dish. The salty feta cools things off, and the eggs bind all the ingredients together. 

There are about as many variations of strapatsada as there are regions in Greece. In the north, peppers are added. In some islands feta cheese doesn't even make an appearance. The most popular version is the one with eggs, feta and tomatoes, and that's the one I prefer. I don't grow peppers, but once in a while friends bring me peppers from their garden.  That's when I like to throw this version of strapatsada together. Just a couple of peppers, one mildly hot and tangy, the other sweet and tender, just two peppers will add an appealingly piquant note to strapatsada. Try it. Use the freshest ingredients you can get, and you'll have delicious, nutritious and economical dish! 



INGREDIENTS:

6 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 long green hot pepper, seeded and sliced into thin rings
1 sweet Italian frying pepper, seeded, sliced in half lengthwise and chopped
4 or 5 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
dried oregano
feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons milk 
2 tablespoons olive oil

Get some nice, fresh, organic eggs...

DIRECTIONS: 

In a skillet, heat the olive oil and add five of the tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper, add the garlic, oregano and peppers, stir to combine and cook over medium heat until the liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated. Add the reserved tomato and mix. 

Add the milk to the beaten eggs then pour the egg mixture onto the tomatoes.  Cook while constantly stirring the mixture in a folding motion. The eggs should become incorporated with the tomatoes but they should not get overcooked or burned. 
   
Just as the eggs are about to finish cooking, add the feta cheese and continue cooking and folding for about another minute or so.  


Plate the strapatsada and serve it hot with toasted bread as accompaniment.



Monday, July 29, 2013

WHEN YOU'RE EATING TO LIVE TRY THE POLENTA: REFLECTIONS ON READING MFK FISHER'S "HOW TO COOK A WOLF"

Strapatsada, a Greek tomato and egg dish, is a delicious and economical choice... 
“By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.” That’s what Socrates said, and it’s well known that he had an unhappy marriage. So he became a philosopher. I imagine his wife was a horrible cook because soon after Socrates became a philosopher he said: “Eat to live, do not live to eat.” I think what Socrates meant was not to be a glutton or engage in debauchery. Keep to the middle of the road, don’t go overboard. 

I like to remember the “eat to live, do not live to eat” quote every time I go to the supermarket. Everything there is strategically arranged to tempt the buyer! That’s what you call marketing (pun intended). Before you know it, you’ve bought a whole host of things that you have no use for. That’s excess, and that's not a good thing. Socrates would be disappointed as would be MFK Fisher; MFK eschewed excess. Of course, when times are hard, excess is difficult. When the "wolf is at the door," meaning when one is faced with difficult times, ingenuity must come into play. 

MFK Fisher’s book “How to Cook a Wolf,” written during World War II, is devoted to giving ideas on how to eat well during hard times. The book's premise is how to master the proverbial wolf rather than let him threaten. Keep calm, be ingenious and persevere. That's "How to Cook a Wolf!" Clever title, enjoyable book. This was my introduction to MFK Fisher (Thank you, Simona)Fisher was a bohemian, a cook, a gourmet, a journalist and a pioneering food essayist.  In her book, she discusses food shortages, rationing and other difficulties faced in the US during the war.  

Her observations about food contradicted what was commonly believed at the time, but she was right on target: Eat lots of fresh vegetables she said. Have a nice, big salad. Don't forget about seafood. Use wilted vegetables for soup. Make sure your eggs are fresh, even if you have to pay a little more. It will be worth it in the end. Make your food stretch by adding rice or potatoes to it. Save on gas: your oven can accommodate more than one dish at a time. Add the dessert in there along with the main course ... Her ideas about fresh food and food economy are conveyed in a clever, appealing manner. One of these days I may have to try baking her tomato soup cake. Tomato soup? In cake? It's been heard of. It was a pretty common Depression-era and wartime addition to spice cake. Tomato soup was the "mystery ingredient" which allowed cooks to economise on the use of oil/butter, milk, eggs, and sugar. MFK doesn't tell us, but tomato soup makes a cake moister and sweeter. Of course, you know ... don't add it when making a genoise ... 


 MFK Fisher's "How to Cook a Wolf" is the entry for COOK THE BOOKS CLUB, this round hosted by Simona from BRICIOLE.  Read the book, cook what inspires you from the reading, then blog about it.  That's the objective! 

I would not have been able to praise Fisher had I not decided to write what follows, some of my thoughts concerning food shortages in wartime Europe. Once I had those thoughts on paper, I felt a sense of relief and was able to go back and reread "How to Cook a Wolf" with enjoyment. It was Fisher's chapter on how to manage during blackouts that brought back memories of stories heard from relatives concerning how they dealt with blackouts. And with curfews, too. And with fear. During World War II, my family lived in Greece, which was under nazi occupation. Things there were just a tad more serious than in the US (of course, if not for US soldiers, who knows what Europe would look like today). 

In her book, Fisher explained such things as how to cook a tough cut of meat. During the war, my family felt they were rich if they could eat bean soup for dinner. My grandfather was imprisoned and nearly shot because he bought meat from someone who butchered a cow without having gotten permission from the authorities.  Needless to say, the man who butchered the cow (his own cow), was shot. Shot dead. Knowing all these stories, plus lots more, I initially reacted to Fisher’s book with commingled feelings: interest, because this is a charming book, but disdain also because I knew and sympathised with people who had it a lot worse than Fisher's intended readers: Plentiful albeit rationed eating in wartime America, compared to virtual starvation in wartime Greece. Tell me MFK, how do you make a nice meal out of just a handful of raisins? I really don't think MFK, knowledgeable as she was, would have had an answer.



But if during World War II my relatives considered beans to be a rich meal, polenta was their staple meal. They would eat polenta nearly every day. My grandfather was the polenta guru of the clan, cooking it over an open fire in the yard, and stirring it all the long time it needed to be stirred. Then he would take it to my grandmother who poured it onto a platter and flavored it either with petimezi (a syrup made from grapes), or with feta cheese. Polenta made either sweet or savory. My mother has told me that she loved the sweetened petimezi polenta.  

Fisher has a very nice recipe for polenta in the chapter "How to Pray for Peace," and she aptly describes the starchy cornmeal concoction that is polenta as "a sturdy... mixture, the kind that has survived centuries of loving obedience from hungry, simple peoples."  
   
 My version for polenta, cooked in the oven and with feta cheese added.  

I would like to dedicate this post to the persevering spirit of my relatives and the like minded spirit of all war torn families.  For this entry of Cook the Books Club, I cooked two dishes that I heard lots about from my mother: Strapatsada, a dish made with tomatoes, eggs and feta cheese, something of a luxury food during the war. Strapatsada is reminiscent of Fisher's recipe "eggs in purgatory," known across the pond that is the Atlantic Ocean as "uova in Purgatorio." I also made polenta, which was my family's wartime staple. After the war, polenta all but disappeared from Greek dinner tables, but strapatsada is still a favorite.

I cut the polenta into triangles (and for some reason felt compelled to provide olives for eyes), toasted it lightly and served it along side the strapatsada.  A truly summery and enjoyable combination!  

Here is a pertinent war-time story: my cousin Socrates was born during World War II. I am very fond of Socrates, he is a righteous dude. He is named after Socrates, the philosopher.  This is how that happened:

Soon after he was born, the yet unnamed baby Socrates was taken to church, ready and willing to be christened. It’s a Greek tradition to name the newborn after his or her grandparents. And there was the problem. The baby's mother wanted her son to have her father’s name, and the baby's father wanted his son to have his father’s name. For days, the back and forth had been: 

"It's going to be Nicholas!"
"No, it's going to be Constantine!"

Husband and wife could not agree (sound familiar)? They arrived at church still arguing about names. Now the godmother of the baby was to be my mother, who at the time was about 12 years old. Godparents in Greece have special powers. They can execute a coup, and give the baby a name of their own choosing. My grandfather saw that the argument between the baby’s parents was not going to be settled anytime soon, so he approached my mother. 

“Tell the priest to name the baby Socrates,” he whispered in her ear. 

As a compromise, grandfather decided to have the baby named after one of the famous ancient Greeks. You know, Socrates, the philosopher who said “eat to live, do not live to eat.” So the ceremony started, and when the priest asked:

“What is this servant of God going to be named?” my mother belted out: 

“Socrates!” 

So Socrates it was, and Socrates it is. After every christening, there always follows a big celebratory dinner. That’s the point of this story: what do you serve when there is nothing much to be had? Vegetables! My grandparents grew tomatoes in their yard. Plus they had some chickens they kept for the eggs, plus they always managed to get feta cheese. (How they got feta cheese during the war is a very long story. I can email you the details). With those ingredients on hand, they made strapatsada. Lots and lots of strapatsada. And the sweet kind of polenta. And a salad too. A really big salad. Plus they had homemade noodles flavored with olive oil and more feta cheese. Then, there was fruit for dessert. My mother always spoke about that dinner. In the midst of deprivation such a feast made a big impression. I think MFK Fisher would have been pleased with the results. 

Thank you for reading my post, but I am not finished. Reader, hang on. I have one more thing to add: 

Socrates, I love you! 

To make strapatsada, see my recipe here  or  here,   It's delicious and economical.  Serve some and enjoy!  




Sweet Almond Tree says:  How lovely, and thank you so much!