Archive | October, 2011

Eff You, Lasagne! (Oxi Day + Pastitsio)

26 Oct

I nearly wrote a thesis entitled “Same Food, Different Name” about the appropriating, borrowing, and collaborating that has gone on between Mediterranean cultural kitchens for the past 20 centuries.  Take baklava for example–the Greeks do it with honey, Arabs with cheese, and Armenians with berries.  You can denote someone’s political leanings or family origin by the way they spell hummus/hommus/hommos.  And it’s no coincidence that tapas, meze, and cichetti are just a lot of words for very little food.

But this ain’t called “Cucina Kefi,” and as such, I’ve got to remind you that Greeks did it first, and we do it best.  This Friday (and every 28 Oct) marks Oxi Day, which celebrates Greek resistance to Italian and German occupation during WWII (Metaaxas:1 Mussolini: 0).  I thought about expounding on what this national holiday says about the Soul of Greeks, but I instead turn you to Mr. Panos (HYSTERICAL, but contains some totally-justified vulgarity):

And now– in celebration of Greeks telling those pasta-loving fascists where to stick it, I bring you a tricky treat: Pastitsio (or: Greek Lasagne)!

The Sauce
  • 1.5 lbs. ground beef (or minced lamb)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves (yes, you really need these. They make a big difference)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, pureed to make 1.5 c tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup  white wine
  • ¼ cup  extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste (which for me is next to none)
The Pasta
  • 1 lb. ziti
  • 2 tbsp  extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 egg whites, beaten (save yolks for next step)
  • ¼ cup grated Kefalotyri cheese (Parmesan okay if you can’t find this–but please no Kraft!)
The Béchamel Sauce
  • 4 cups scalded milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup grated Kefalotyri (Parmesan okay here too)
  • ½ cup butter (salted is better, but since I am a baker I rarely have salted and have been ok with unsalted)
  • 3 egg yolks (from eggs above), well beaten
  • 1 tsp  ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pan and heat onions and garlic over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Add meat to the pan, break it up and stir constantly until the meat is completely brown and mixed in with the onions (~5 min)
  2. Throw in rosemary, wine, and tomato juice (+salt and pepper if you feel so inclined).  Allow this to boil and THEN add the bay leaves (again–it makes a big difference to add them now).  Turn heat down to med-low and cover with lid slight ajar (this allows some steam out). Stir occasionally and let it sit over med-low heat for about 30 minutes– you know it is ready because the meat will have absorbed the vast majority of liquid.  Once liquid is pretty much absobed, take out bay leave and move heat to warm.
  3. Cook pasta in boiling water until it’s ALMOST ready, but not quite.
  4. Now it is time for the bechamel sauce–this is the hard part but you can do it! Melting the butter in your deepest sauce pan over medium heat.  Once it’s melted, use a whisk to slooooowly incorpoate flour and WHISKING CONTINUOUSLY to avoid lumps. Once you have a lumpless flour-butter mixture, add slowly the hot milk AND KEEP STIRRING. When the milk has been added, remove heat, KEEP STIRRING and add the following IN THIS ORDER: cheese, nutmeg, pepper and egg yolks. You’ll know it’s set when it is smooth and mixed together well.  From here, you can leave it alone–but give it an occasional stir for good measure.
  5. Drain water from pasta, then return the pot to heat.  Add the 2 Tbs olive oil and mix it around well enough so that all the pasta has some oil on it (and won’t stick to pot).  Remove the pot from the heat and let cool for about 2 minutes.  Add the egg whites and remaining 1/4 c grated cheese to the pasta. Mix well.
  6. Grease a 9×13 glass baking dish. Cover bottom of dish with an even layer of about two-thirds of the pasta.
  7. Use meat sauce to make the middle layer–it’s important that this is evenly distributed–no holes!.
  8. Cover meat sauce with remaining pasta in–you guessed it!–an even layer.
  9. Pour bechamel sauce, covering as evenly as possible. Use every single drop you can get–this sauce is your money maker in this dish!
  10. Bake for approximately 30 minutes at 350, or until bechamel sauce is golden brown.
  11. Let cool before serving–then cut up and enjoy!

Muppets Go Greek

19 Oct

Happy Tuesday, good people! Enjoy this little bit of Greek love.


15 Oct

I’m not even gonna play around with words, pictures, or waxing poetic.  Below is my go-to menu for a great, pretty easy fall dinner party. They’re not Greek, but they’re awesome…. and that makes them kind of Greek. Sit back and let the kefi flow!

First course:  Fennel Soup

  • 2 TBS butter (I used unsalted because stock is already so salty- you make your own choices)
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 4  leeks or 2 medium onions, diced (but they do not need to be perfect- you’re blending anyway)
  • 2 stalks of broccoli, chopped (you could also use celery, but that’s gross)
  • 3 fennel bulbs, chopped
  • 1 tsp thyme, plus extra to garnish, leaves off stems
  • dash salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3-4 cups low-sodium stock (low-sod not for taste–I’m looking out for your health here)
  • 3  potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Ouzo (see! it is Greek!–you could also use Pernod or ojen)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • honey, to garnish

In a medium pot, melt butter over med-low heat.  Throw in the leeks, broccoli stalk, fennel and thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes–vegetables should be soft and fragrant but not brown.  Add garlic and  potatoes, then pour in 3 cups of stock. Allow the soup to boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Next, you need to blend the soup–if you’re lucky and have an immersion blender, use that. Otherwise, fill your foodprocessor about half way and do it in batches (just be careful not to overfill it because then it will explode over you like it did me).  Add the Ouzo (seriously– it adds a ton of flavor, don’t skimp!) and the cream. You can add the other cup of broth if you want to make the soup less thick.  Heat again over very low heat and taste–if you want more flavor, this is the time to add more pepper.  Before you serve, drizzle with honey (preferably Greek, natch) and throw some more thyme on there.

***Full disclosure: this recipe is adapted from a Tastespotting recipe.

The Main Event: Champage-Braised Pork Chops

These are wildly easy–I am a vegetarian and made them for some serious carnivores on two occasions to great regale.

  • 2 TBS flour (gluten-free: rice flour is best choice)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 4 pork chops (about 6 oz each, if your chops are bigger, add cooking time)
  • ~2 TBS olive oil
  • 1/4c chopped fresh parsley (this is optional, really, but a nice touch)
  • 1/2c broth (chicken has best flavor, if you’re asking me)
  • 4 tbs champagne (absolutely ok to use a $10 mini-bottles from the corner liquor store)
  • 2 tbs dijon mustard (for plate)

Mix together flour, cumin, pepper and salt on a dinner plate.  Lightly coat each side of the pork with some of this mixture.  Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over med-high heat.  Once the oil is hot (~1 min), put the chops in and cook them for ~6 min on each side (if you want to do EXACTLY as I do, I cook for 6 min on the first side and 5 min on the second).  Mix together the broth and the champagne while the meat cooks.  When the pork is cooked through (and I can’t really tell you when that is…word on the street is that the juice runs clear), turn off the heat and put each chop on the plate it’s going to be eaten off of.  Pour the broth mixture into the pan, let it get warm and carefully tip the pan around to get up all the left over pork pieces.  Pour the “sauce” over each of the chops on their plate.  Sprinkle with parsley and put a dollop of dijon mustard on each plate (very worth it).

The Sides: Chef Kefi’s Honey Parsnip Cornbread Dressing (featured in the Washington Post!) and a Roasted Beet and Butternut Spinach Salad

Honey Parsnip Cornbread Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, minced (3 to 4 tablespoons)
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed and coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 pound parsnips, peeled, trimmed, cored and coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced rosemary leaves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 8-by-8-inch pan of baked corn bread (store-bought or homemade), cut into 1/2-inch cubes to yield 6 cups

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and reduce the heat to medium; cook, stirring, for a few minutes, until the garlic has softened. Don’t let it burn.
Add the carrots and parsnips, tossing until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionallly, for about 20 minutes.
Add the butter, rosemary, honey and corn bread. Toss to combine, then cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are glazed. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve warm.

Roasted Butternut and Beets Salad:

  • 1 bag or head of spinach
  • 6 beets
  • 16 oz butternut squash, chopped
  • Olive oil and diced garlic to taste
  • Pine nuts, about 3/4 c
  • 1/4-1/2 c Feta cheese

Roast the beets (I had never done it before–but it’s easy:  When they’re cool, skin them and cut them into quarters.  While the beets cool, roast the squash with olive oil and garlic on 350, about 35-40 minutes or until soft all the way through.  Just before serving, mix spinach, cooled beets, cooled squash, pine nuts and feta together.  Serve with vinaigrette of choice.

Dessert: Pumpkin Bead Pudding with Rum Raisin Sauce
I can’t take any credit for this INCREDIBLE dessert: it’s a Food & Wine recipe that’s a sure crowd-pleaser.  It’s a few steps–but they’re easy ones, so give it a whirl.

Bread Pudding

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, crushed
  • One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 loaf of brioche (3/4 pound), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon 
  • Rum raising sauce (recipe below)

    In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and cream. Add the cinnamon sticks, ginger, vanilla bean and cloves and cook over moderate heat until just steaming; do not let the milk boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover and let stand until the milk is fragrant, about 30 minutes.
    Preheat the oven to 375°. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. On a rimmed baking sheet, toast the cubed brioche in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until dry and golden. Spread the brioche cubes in an even layer in the prepared baking dish .
    Rewarm the spiced milk over moderate heat until steaming, then strain it into a heatproof medium bowl.
    Meanwhile, in another medium bowl, combine the eggs, egg yolks, pumpkin puree and salt and whisk until blended and smooth. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the sugar. Gradually whisk 1 cup of the hot milk into the pumpkin mixture, then whisk the mixture back into the remaining milk.
    Pour the pumpkin custard evenly over the brioche and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand until the brioche has absorbed the custard, about 30 minutes. Discard the plastic wrap.
    In a small bowl, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle over the bread pudding. Set the baking dish in a large roasting pan and add enough hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the side of the baking dish.
    Bake the bread pudding, uncovered, about for 45 minutes, or until puffed and set. Let cool slightly, spoon into bowls and serve warm, with the Caramel Rum Raisin Sauce drizzled on top.

    Rum Raisin Sauce

  • 3/4 cup dark rum
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup heavy cream

    In a small saucepan, warm the rum with the raisins. Remove from the heat and let soak for 20 minutes.  In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water and cook over moderate heat until a deep amber caramel forms. Remove from the heat. Slowly and carefully add a little of the heavy cream to stop the cooking. Add the remaining heavy cream and stir in the raisins and rum. Serve warm.


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