All posts tagged: summer food

Tart with figs, feta, caramelised onions, thyme and pink peppercorns

Pink peppercorns are not really peppercorns; it is a fake identity. They are the berries of Schinus molle, a tree native in South America. They somehow made the journey in the spice business from west to east – not from east to west. The tree now thrives in several lands and can can be found even in Zappeion in the center of Athens, near the ceremonial guard watch, where we used to stroll daily with our son during the covid lockdown. Of course in their native lands by the Andes they had a long association with costumes and rites. It fact they were not used to spice up fig and onion tarts, but people. Yes, they were used by the Incas for producing chicha, a fermented drink. If you were one of the lucky ones to be offered to the gods, you were first rubbed with chicha remains, then buried alive, then force-fed with more of the drink (think ducks and foie gras). So, pink peppercorns only pretend to be nice – in reality they await …

fig salad

Figs, rocket and ‘xinotyri’ salad

When in Naxos we have more figs than we can handle. Just two fig trees produce such quantities than we do not even have to stretch more than where our arms reach to collect whole baskets. We feel somehow obliged not to waste such glorious fruits and we try to come up with new ways to prepare and preserve them. Two years ago we decided to use them for chutney. I do not remember with how many kilos of dubious fig chutney we ended up. This year we continued to explore. We wanted to combine with other local ingredients. Potatoes, fish and protocyladic art were opted out… but honey and xinotyri    – the local variety of goat cheese – were a hit! We adapted the following salad from Ottolenghi’s ‘The Cookbook’. Serves 4 600g figs ( approximately 8 large figs), washed and cut into quarters 200g xinotyri from Naxos ( or any goat’s cheese of your liking), cut into large chunks 100g rocket leaves (preferably wild) handful of basil leaves 2 Tbsp thyme honey …

eggplants with tomato sauce and feta

‘Mad apples’ with tomato sauce and feta

Eggplants are a staple food of the Mediterranean summer. At the same time they never got rid of an air of mystery. First, the name. The Greeks call them ‘melintzana’, which is a strange sounding word for such a familiar crop. It is a byzantine combination of the Arab ‘bāḏinjān’ and the Greek ‘melas’ – black. The Italians call it melanzana , which sounds close to  mela insana – ‘mad apple’, echoing the origin of the crop from the toxic nightshade species. Then, the origin of the cultivated specie: is it India, China or SE Asia? Perhaps it was domesticated more than once, reminding us of the debate of origin of the homo sapiens. Did we play for eggplants the role nature played on us on our way out of Africa, combining different evolutionary trails, still not fully understood? Then it is the colour of the black variety, unlikely to anything other fruit: black and shiny, ready for interpretation by an oracle – or like a missed opportunity to inspire an Italian art nouveau movement in the early …