Once in a while I feel like Greece, I feel one of those cravings deeply rooted in your stomach that makes you leaf through a written and bookmarked guide, daydreaming. How many times have I been to Greece? Well, let’s see, not counting that time when I came close to it but then I gave up because I couldn’t find a travel mate… more or less… never! Yes, I reckon it sounds a bit weird, but Your Honour and members of the Jury, this love has its good reasons, and if you grant me a little time I can explain you my good reasons!
First of all, I studied Ancient Greek at high school for 5 years. There was the aorist, the perfect and all those hypothetical periods not easy to understand, the Rocci dictionary that made me lose sleep, sense and diopters, irregular verbs and the metric… but along with these terrible threats there were poetry, drama, myth, beauty, culture, humor, deep passions, timeless art and philosophy. This caused a spark of curiosity that crept into my heart and into my head, I became curious to finally see and live that land that had so influenced my teenage years.
This is the noble, dignified and dignifying reason. Then there’s another one… I just feel like Toula Portokalos, but really so much! For those who do not remember Toula, she is the star of My Big fat Greek wedding.
I have seen and seen again the movie, hundreds of times, I know the lines by heart, I laugh to tears and I am touched like a stupid when he says “I love you” “Why?… Why do you love me?” “Because I came alive when I met you“. Ian Miller where are you? I’m just like Toula since I was a chubby little girl with important eyebrows, I used to look at my classmates and their white sandwiches without the crust… I went through that phase too (I was going through a phase up until…now. I was ‘frump girl), with grey-sh sweaters, fuzzy hair, glasses and braces… and then a parade, a dizzying succession of family meals during which you need a wide-angle to make the group photo, and here I am, single at the age of 30, single since an immemorial time, with a large and loud family that keeps asking me when I will finally find a good Greek.. ehm Tuscan man just like all my friends, cousins and relatives, already happily married!
I keep on stumbling, wrapping myself into the telephone wires, serving coffee to the wrong person waiting for Ian Miller to come… Ian Miller or his representative, someone interesting, fun, someone who makes me laugh! One thing is certain, even now I laugh a lot, and I do dream the same!
So you have to take me as I am, with this passion for Greece made up of cookbooks, romantic hopes built on a film, Sirtaki cd played endlessly until someone comes to unplug the stereo, detailed but never realized travel itineraries. I have a mental image that makes me feel good, a little white house on a background of a deep blue sea, a fig tree and a goat, a sun-faded red beach-robe, a straw hat and a kitchen full of Mediterranean flavors.
When I want to get in that kitchen, Tessa Kiros’s cookbooks are my passport. Days ago, captured by the umpteenth craving of Greece, I opened Tessa’s last book, Food from many Greek kitchens, and I focused on a phrase that tasted good:
This is my friend Annette’s recipe. She is very good with dessert, I love the pureness of this pie. Syrup Greek sweets are always served with a glass of cold water. Greeks have always loved making an outing to a café or zaharoplasteio (confectioneries) to have a sweet.
I do not know why this passage hit me so much, but soon after I was stirring the custard of this Galaktoboureko, a milk phyllo pastry pie.
- butter, 120 g melted to golden
- phyllo sheets, 12 at least 30 x 38 cm in size
Ingredients to make the syrup
- sugar, 280 g
- lemon peel, 1 long strip
Ingredients for the filling
- sugar, 225 g
- fine semolina, 75 g
- cornflour, 20 g
- whole eggs, 2
- egg yolks, 4
- milk, 1,5 l
- vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons
- a nice grating of fresh nutmeg
- To make the syrup, put the sugar and lemon peel in a small saucepan and add 185 ml of water. Put over a medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Preheat the oven to 175°C.
- For the filling, put the sugar, semolina and cornflour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add all the eggs and beat until thick and pale. Heat the milk, vanilla and nutmeg in a large saucepan to just below boiling. Add a ladleful to the eggs and mix in. Add another ladleful, mix, and continue until all the milk has been added. Scrape back into the pot and return it to the heat on low f 5 to 10 minutes, whisking often until it is very thick and nothing sticks to the bottom. When it's thickened and is just at the point before boiling, remove from the heat.
- Have the phyllo sheets ready, covered by a tea towel to prevent them drying out. Brush the base and sides of a 22 x 30 oven proof dish with butter. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo on your work surface and brush with butter. Cover with another sheet, brush it with butter and continue in this way until you have a stack of 6 sheets. Lift them up and fit into the buttered dish, covering the base and sides. Press them gently into the corner of the dish to make a nest for the filling. Pour the filling on top and smooth the surface.
- Make another stack of 6 buttered phyllo sheets. Lift this onto the pie, covering the filling. Press the two overhanging layers of phyllo together, trimming these to a couple of centimetres. Ross these edges over on themselves to seal the filling in. Using a sharp knife, gently score the top pastry into 12 pieces, only cutting through the top sheet or two of phyllo. Flick a little cold water here and there, to prevent the phyllo curling.
- Bake until crisp and golden, rest for a couple of minutes the pour the syrup over the top, covering all the pie. Now leave for at least 1 hour before serving to allow the syrup to settle as the pie cools.
- Syrup Greek sweets are always served with a glass of cold water. Greeks have always loved making an outing to a café or zaharoplasteio (confectionaries) to have a sweet.
Aren’t you feeling already better? Don’t you feel on a Greek island? I confess that while I’m writing this post I am listening to the Athenians cd, with Zorba the Greek playing sly. The guide is here at hand, the sweet memory of this simple and pure dessert, as Tessa says, just like the milk and the lemon, still lingers in my mouth and in my head… maybe this will be the good year, what do you think? for what? for a holiday in Greece! or Ian Miller, who knows?