Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gardens and Kittens with Recipe for Eggplant Kebab on Rosemary Skewers (Κεμπάμπ με Μελιτζάνες και Δενδρολίβανο)

Eggplant Kebabs Ready for the GrillCompleting an eggplant trifecta, yesterday we had Eggplant Kebab on Rosemary Skewers. (Eggplant Clafoutis and Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato Sauce make up the other legs of the trifecta.)

Eggplant Kebab came about through sheer serendipity. I was washing eggplant, idly thinking about how to prepare it, when I noticed the vase of rosemary branches on the windowsill over the sink.

Rosemary and JasmineRosemary Bushes and Garden with Blue Jasmine (top left)

Two years ago at Easter we planted two tiny rosemary plants that are now large bushes. The bushes are growing all akimbo, having outgrown the small amount of soil in which they’re planted. The windowsill vase of rosemary contained the trimmings from a branch broken off by the kittens.

Three years ago we began feeding a mother cat with kittens. She’s been back every year since then, each time with a new brood. Over the years, the cat feeding has progressed from once in a while to twice a day, from leftovers in the back yard to cat food on the veranda.

Kittens in the GardenKittens in the Garden

Effie and Nikos, cousins who live nearby, use our yard when we’re not here for their kitchen garden, which they generously turn over to us when we're in the village. In our absence, they’re at our house most every day to weed, water, or harvest. They say the mother cat and kittens disappeared when we did last year and, endearingly, showed up again only the day before we returned.

The kittens are endlessly entertaining. We’re happy to give them a vacation from scrounging food in dumpsters or catching it when they can. Only a curmudgeon would care that gamboling kittens may damage a few plants.

Rosemary makes splendid souvlaki skewers. When I saw the rosemary while my hands were full of eggplant, a picture of Eggplant Kebab on Rosemary Skewers jumped immediately to mind. I had to have them.

Eggplant Kebabs on the GrillI alternated eggplant on the rosemary skewers with onions and green peppers, and would have used cherry tomatoes if I’d had any. Grilled over a medium hot fire, and brushed with garlic and oil while still hot, Eggplant Kebabs are flavorful and very tasty. Rosemary lightly scents the eggplant, while the fresh garlic oil complements the grill's smoky essence.

In the future, if the kittens aren’t around to break off some rosemary, I’ll just have to do it myself. I’m definitely making Eggplant Kebab again.

Eggplant Kebabs on Rosemary Skewers
Eggplant Kebab on Rosemary Skewers (Κεμπάμπ με Μελιτζάνες και Δενδρολίβανο)
Serves 2
Cherry tomatoes would make an attractive addition to Eggplant Kebab. If the rosemary is starting to form new shoots along its length, break these off to make it easier to push the vegetables up the skewers.

4 rosemary branches, 12 inches long
1 large eggplant (about 1 pound), cut in 1 1/2” chunks
1 – 2 red onions, cut in 1 1/2” chunks
1 – 2 green peppers, cut in 1 1/2” chunks
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Garlic and Oil:
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup olive oil

Cut the ends off the rosemary branches at an angle to make sharp points. Alternate chunks of eggplant, onions, and peppers on the skewers, starting and ending with a chunk of eggplant. Brush the vegetables with olive oil and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Puree the garlic and salt together (a mortar and pestle is the best tool for this job, but it can also be done in a blender). Mix in the olive oil.

Grill the eggplant skewers over a medium hot fire. As soon as they’re done, brush them with the garlic and oil. Serve immediately with a fresh tomato and onion salad, a slice of feta, a handful of olives, and crusty bread.

Kittens and Sea UrchinsKittens with Sea Urchins

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano with Recipe for Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato Sauce (Pasta alla Norma) (Μακαρόνια με Μελιτζάνες και Ντομάτες)

Andrea Camilleri, photograph by Pensiero

(From Greece)

English language books are hard to find on the island.

I carefully select those to bring with us, focusing on books we’ll both enjoy and want to reread. After several years, most books recede far enough into memory that rediscovering them is a pleasure. Since airlines have cracked down on weight limits, prudent book selection is more important than ever.

Two years ago my parents sent us the first six volumes of
Andrea Camilleri’s wondrously good Inspector Montalbano series, set in Sicily and skillfully translated by poet Stephen Sartarelli. A few pages into the first book, I realized the series was perfect for the island. I quit reading and put the Camilleri books in my “bring to the island” corner.

Then my head
exploded and I was off reading for longer than I’d planned. Shortly before we left for Greece this year, to my great joy, I finally was able to read books again. I dug out the Montalbano series and packed them for the trip.

I began getting to know Inspector Montalbano our first day on the island. One week later, thoroughly captivated by the cantankerous, world-weary, enigmatic inspector, I finished the last of the six books. I’m already looking forward to rereading them, but first I’ll track down and devour the rest of the series.

Here’s Camilleri/Sartarelli describing the inspector in the opening scene of
The Terra-Cotta Dog (book 2):

To judge from the entrance the dawn was making, it promised to be a very iffy day – that is, blasts of angry sunlight one minute, fits of freezing rain the next, all of it seasoned with sudden gusts of wind – one of those days when someone who is sensitive to abrupt shifts in weather and suffers them in his blood and brain is likely to change opinion and direction continuously, like those sheets of tin, cut in the shape of banners and roosters, that spin every which way on rooftops with each new puff of wind. Inspector Salvo Montalbano had always belonged to this unhappy category of humanity.

Camilleri’s prose brings Sicily’s people, and its highways and byways, vividly to life. In the original Italian, Camilleri uses Sicilian dialect to create colorful characterizations and bring humor to stories that might otherwise be overly dark. Sartarelli effectively captures the dialect’s essence in his creative translation.

Inspector Montalbano loves to eat, and insists on doing so silently, the better to appreciate every nuance in the dishes set before him. He thinks poorly of those who cook badly, and when forced to eat bad food (“… shamefully overcooked pasta, a beef stew conceived by an obviously deranged mind, and dishwater coffee of a sort that even airline crews wouldn’t foist on anyone…”), he heads out for a meal good enough to lift him out of the gloom into which bad food plunges him.

In the course of investigating a disappearance in
The Snack Thief (Book 3), Inspector Montalbano interviews a “well-dressed seventy-year-old lady … in a wheelchair.” When the interview is over, the woman invites the inspector to lunch:

“Well, signora, thank you so much …,” the inspector began, standing up.
“Why don’t you stay and eat with me?”
Montalbano felt his stomach blanch. Signora Clementina was sweet and nice, but she probably lived on semolina and boiled potatoes.
“Actually, I have so much to –“
“Pina, the housekeeper, is an excellent cook, believe me. For today she’s made pasta alla Norma, you know, with fried eggplant and ricotta Salata.”
“Jesus!” said Montalbano, sitting back down.
“And braised beef for the second course.”
“Jesus!” repeated Montalbano.
“Why are you so surprised?”
“Aren’t those dishes a little heavy for you?”
“Why? I’ve got a stronger stomach than any of these twenty-year-old girls who can happily go a whole day on half an apple and some carrot juice. Or perhaps you’re of the same opinion as my son Giulio?”
“I don’t have the pleasure of knowing what that is.”
“He says it’s undignified to eat such things at my age. He considers me a bit shameless. He thinks I should live on porridges. So what will it be? Are you staying?”
“I’m staying,” the inspector replied decisively.

Although food plays only a supporting role in the Montalbano books, Camilleri’s descriptions of traditional Sicilian dishes are inspirational. I read the above passage just before lunch and, coincidentally, had the ingredients on hand to make Pasta alla Norma. So I did.

Montalbano was right to stay for lunch with Signora Clementina. Eggplant and Tomato Sauce with Spaghetti is absolutely delicious.

Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato Sauce (Pasta alla Norma) (Μακαρόνια με Μελιτζάνες και Ντομάτες)
Serves 4 - 6

Pasta all Norma comes from Catania, a city in eastern Sicily, and is named after Catania native Vincenzo Bellini's famous opera, Norma. Traditionally, eggplant for Pasta all Norma is fried, as described by Signora Clementina. Because fried eggplant absorbs a lot of oil, I oven-roast it instead. If you want to fry the eggplant, sprinkle the eggplant slices with a lot of salt and let drain for an hour or so (salt collapses eggplant’s cell structure and helps reduce its oil absorption). Rinse off the salt, pat the eggplant dry, fry in olive oil until the slices are golden brown, and drain on paper towels.

Tomato Sauce:
2 pounds ripe tomatoes or 2 15-ounce cans whole tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup roughly chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or mint
1/4 olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

2 globe eggplants
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound spaghetti
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 - 2 garlic cloves, grated or finely minced (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 – 1 cup grated or crumbled
ricotta salata or myzithra

Make the Tomato Sauce: Put the tomatoes, onions, basil and salt in a large pot and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Put the tomato mixture through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. Return the tomato mixture to the pot with the olive oil and sugar. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Taste and add salt, as needed.

Make the Eggplant: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Slice the eggplant into 1/2” cross-wise slices. Brush the slices on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake the eggplant for 15 minutes or until the eggplant slices are golden brown, remove from the oven, and let cool. Cut into 1” wide slices. Add the eggplant to the tomato sauce and stir gently, being careful not to break up the eggplant slices.

Make Pasta alla Norma: Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until it is al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot and stir in the reserved pasta water, olive oil, garlic, and freshly ground black pepper. Add all but 1 cup of the Tomato and Eggplant Sauce and toss with the pasta. Pour the sauced pasta into a large bowl and top with the remaining sauce and crumbled cheese. Serve immediately.
This is my entry for
Novel Food #5, hosted and created by Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste, both of whom love Inspector Montalbano. You can find the Novel Food #5 round-ups here and here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Recipe for Eggplant Clafoutis (Κλαφουτί με Μελιτζάνες)

Eggplant Clafoutis(From Greece)

Eggplant Clafoutis: I saw the reference in my blog reader and quickly went to find the recipe. Alas, while TS and JS at
Eating Club Vancouver came up with the idea, they deemed their recipe “A. Weird. Failure.”

Though Eating Club hated their recipe, the more I thought about Eggplant Clafoutis, the more I wanted it. My craving was timely; I had an embarrassment of eggplant riches. A sack of eggplant sat in a cool corner of the kitchen (
eggplant shouldn't be refrigerated) and the plants in our garden remain productive.

After two nights of falling asleep to thoughts of Eggplant Clafoutis, I broke down and made it.

Clafoutis (klah-foo-TEE) is a simple-to-make, country dessert from France, in which fruit is baked in a custardy batter. There are a million and one different clafoutis recipes. I’ve tried many of them, some wonderfully delicious and others only pretty darn good. The best clafoutis is light-textured and not too sweet, allowing the flavor of the fruit to shine.

I’ve never made or tasted savory clafoutis before, and couldn’t find an actual Eggplant Clafoutis recipe. Instead of a recipe, I used basic principles of sweet clafoutis-making for my savory version. The first step was deciding how best to pre-cook the eggplant (Eating Club used uncooked eggplant, which they deemed a mistake). Because I planned on serving this dish as a light lunch, I didn’t want it to be oily.

EggplantAs eggplant cooks know all too well, it soaks up oil like a sponge. This is because eggplant flesh has many tiny air pockets just waiting to fill up with oil. According to Harold McGee, America’s preeminent food scientist, “the absorptiveness of eggplant can be reduced by collapsing its spongy structure before frying. This is accomplished by precooking it – microwave works well – or by salting slices to draw out moisture from the cells and into the air pockets.” On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (2nd Rev. Ed.), Harold McGee, 2004. Based on personal experience, I agree with McGee that salting reduces, but doesn’t eliminate, eggplant’s sponge-like qualities.

While we’re on the subject of salting, some people recommend pre-salting eggplant to draw out its juices before cooking to remove alleged bitterness. Over the years, I’ve done repeated side-by-side tastings of salted and unsalted eggplant and have never detected bitterness in either version. It may be the bitterness meme is a holdover from days when eggplant was more bitter than it is today (McGee: “Farmers and plant breeders have worked for thousands of years to reduce the bitterness of … eggplants…”).

McGee says modern eggplants can turn bitter when they’re grown in dry conditions, which North American supermarket eggplants are not. Interestingly, McGee says salting doesn’t actually eliminate bitterness, but may reduce “our perception of the alkaloids” thus “suppress[ing] the sensation of bitterness.”

In any case, I rarely bother with pre-salting eggplant. The best ways to avoid oily eggplant are to “steam-fry,” oven-roast, or grill it. I use steam-frying for eggplant chunks, oven-roasting at high temperature for slices, and grilling whenever we have a fire going. To steam-fry, eggplant is briefly sautéed, which helps develop its flavor, and then steamed in a covered pan until the eggplant is fully cooked. I like letting steam-fried eggplant char a little as it cooks, the smokiness adds wonderful flavor to the finished dish.

Since I wanted chunked eggplant in the clafoutis, I steam-fried it. This worked well; it brought out eggplant’s subtle flavors that are sometimes masked by too much oil or tomato sauce. After spreading the cooked eggplant over the bottom of a springform pan, I topped it with cheese, sautéed onions, and a batter flavored with basil and garlic.

The finished dish was full of flavor, and slices of it, paired with a tomato and onion salad, made a delicious, warm from the oven, lunch. The next day I served Eggplant Clafoutis cold, cut into diamonds, as part of an appetizer table (mezedes – μεζέδες) and it disappeared quickly. Like its sweet siblings, savory clafoutis is equally good served warm or at room temperature.

This recipe for Eggplant Clafoutis was “A. Great. Success.” Many thanks to
Eating Club Vancouver for the inspiration.

Eggplant ClafoutisEggplant Clafoutis (Κλαφουτί με Μελιτζάνες)
Serves 4 – 6 as a main course or 12 – 16 as an appetizer

1 pound eggplant, peel left on and cut into 1” chunks
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup grated graviera, kasseri, or asiago cheese
2 cups diced onion, 1/2” dice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup strained yogurt
3 tbsp. minced fresh basil or mint
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Steam-Fry the Eggplant: Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the eggplant chunks, lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and quickly stir the eggplant to brown it. When the eggplant starts sticking to the pan add 1/4 cup of water, stir to distribute, cover the pan, and reduce the heat to medium high. Let the eggplant steam until you can hear it sizzling (which means all the water has cooked off). Add 2 Tbsp. of water, stir to distribute, and cover the pan. Repeat until the eggplant is just cooked through. If the eggplant chars a little in between doses of water, all the better; the char adds good flavor to the finished dish.

Make the Clafoutis: Grease the bottom and sides of a 9” round springform pan or 9”x9” square pan (if you want to serve the clafoutis upside down, in addition to greasing the pan, line the bottom with greased waxed or parchment paper. Arrange the cooked eggplant on the bottom. Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the eggplant.

Sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until the onions soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the red pepper flakes, if using, and cook for one minute. Evenly distribute the onion over the grated cheese.

Sift the flour and whisk in 1/4 tsp. salt. Whisk in 1 cup milk, yogurt, basil, garlic, and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Whisk in the eggs and remaining milk, and continue to whisk until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter over the ingredients in the pan.

Put the clafoutis on the preheated oven’s center rack. Bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until the clafoutis is puffed up and golden on top. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This is my entry for
Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Zorra from Kochtopf.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sea Urchins with Tips on How to Open Them (Αχινός)

(From Greece)

Spiky sea urchins may be a bather’s bane, but their freshly gathered roe tops my list of favorite foods.

Urchin roe tastes unmistakably of the sea and has a unique sweetness that can’t be duplicated or satisfactorily described in words. If you love seafood and have access to fresh sea urchins, put aside any trepidation about their prickly spines and jump at the opportunity to enjoy their wonderful flavor.

On the island, urchins are best gathered in February, March, and April. In these months, the sea is cold by Aegean standards and the coral urchin roe, the edible part adhering to the inside of their domed shell, is plump and ripe. Urchin roe is especially prized as a superb and permissible treat during the long Lenten fast.

We’ve enjoyed several springs on the island, but we’re usually here at summer’s end. The days are still hot, gardens are abundant, and the sea is warm. We wait with the parched land for the change of seasons and the fall rains. It’s not prime sea urchin time, so it takes three times as many to make a satisfactory serving. No matter, we still gather enough urchins to remind our taste buds of their exquisite flavor.

Last night the winds were calm, the moon was full, and cousins Giorgos and Tzani invited us on a nighttime urchin expedition.

Agios ErmolaosOur destination was a small church overlooking the sea. On arrival, the men changed into wading gear. Armed with a “louks” (λουξ - a bright kerosene lantern), and “kalamis” (καλάμι – a long bamboo pole split on the end and spread to form two springy fingers that can be pressed over the sea urchins’ spines to pluck them from the water), they entered the sea.

Tzani and I spread out a picnic dinner on the church veranda: perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes, slices of homemade cheese, olives, anchovies, fried peppers, fresh bread, homemade wine, and ouzo. Tzani confided she’d brought extra food in case the men had no luck. We chatted in the moonlight, catching up on the year’s happenings.

Rocks at Agios ErmolaosWe watched the bright lantern light slowly move in the shallows along the rocky fingers that reach out to sea from the church. Men’s voices and snippets of conversation rolled over the water, “be careful, a ledge here…”, ”it's slippery there...”, “that’s a big one…”, “bah, that one’s no good…”, “Wait… Wait… don’t move! An octopus… its legal! Got it.” “Bravo Kapetanio!”

After an hour or so, the men were back, puffed with pride and their catch: two tubs full of urchins, two octopus (about which I will write later), and an incidental cuttlefish. The extra food that Tzani tucked into the picnic bags wasn’t needed last night; the men had been lucky and there were plenty of sea urchins to open.

On the still warm night, under a full moon, with a sky full of twinkling stars and lights from distant jets ferrying strangers across the world, we set upon a meal superior to any served at the finest four-star restaurants.

Opening Sea Urchins Step 1Opening Sea Urchins - Step 1

Opening Sea Urchins Step 2Opening Sea Urchins - Step 2

Opening Sea Urchins Step 3Opening Sea Urchins - Step 3 (Sping-gathered Urchin)

There are several ways to open urchins. The simplest is to plunge one tine of a dinner fork through the shell near the urchin’s mouth and work the fork around in a circle, like an army-issue can-opener. When the circle is complete, the entire bottom falls away.

The urchin’s insides, mostly partially digested seaweed, are usually shaken-out and discarded, though some like to sip the liquid inside the shell. Any remaining membranes are carefully teased away with the back of the fork.

Some people prefer to use an old knife or specially designed urchin-opening scissors to get to the roe, but a simple fork works just fine. If, like me, you have soft hands and don’t want to risk being impaled by urchin spines, wear a sturdy glove on the hand holding the urchin.

Most islanders drizzle opened urchins with few drops of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon or dash of vinegar. Then, with the spiny delight upturned in one hand, they take a square of freshly cut bread in the other and in one swift swirling motion mop up all the savory goodness and pop it into their mouth. I prefer sea urchin roe plain, so lift out each little tongue of colorful roe with a teaspoon, the better to enjoy sea urchins’ unadulterated flavor.

In Greek seafood tavernas, one can sometimes order fresh sea urchin salad (Αχινοσαλάτα), a plate of sea urchin roe dressed with a dash of oil and unobtrusive squeeze of lemon. If you close your eyes when you place a bite of sea urchin salad on your tongue, you can spirit yourself to the veranda of a tiny countryside church, with moonlight sparkling off dark waters, and savor one of the world’s most delicate and complex flavors.

Sea Urchin Salad - Achinosalata (Αχινοσαλάτα)Sea Urchin Salad (Αχινοσαλάτα) at Logia tis Ploris seafood taverna in Athens
(Photograph from Logia tis Ploris Website)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Greek Cookbooks: Summer Tomatoes in Greece with Historical Information and Recipe for Strapatsada (Greek Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes) (Στραπατσάδα)

(From Greece)

Summer tomatoes are a glory of Greece. Red and juicy, warmed by the sun and simply seasoned with salt, Greek tomatoes explode with flavor, bathing taste buds in their sweet-yet-tart goodness.

We arrived in Greece this (and every) year during tomato season. Our relatives, friends, and neighbors greet us with food, which always includes lots of luscious fresh tomatoes. Right now, there are at least ten pounds of gorgeous tomatoes sitting on the counter, and the refrigerator is packed with grapes, okra, peppers, and other seasonal vegetables. It’s the best possible welcome home gift. We happily use the bounty.

Horiatiki Salata and KebabOne of the best ways to eat summer tomatoes is in Horiatiki Salata (Village Salad), a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green pepper, and feta cheese, dressed only with olive oil and salt. This most beloved of Greek salads appears on taverna menus throughout the country. During tomato season in Greece, we eat a variation of Horiatiki Salata every day.

Many Greeks like salad tomatoes when they’re still slightly green. I prefer them at their peak of ripeness. When I’m eating salad with Greek relatives, this balances out perfectly. I snag the reddest tomato bits. They go for the greener parts.

It’s hot on the island during tomato days. I’m not a hot weather aficionado, but appreciate that heat helps give Greek tomatoes their superior flavor.

At this time of year, light, flavorful, quick-cooked foods are welcome. They help avoid spending too much time in hot kitchens. One favorite such Greek dish is Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes. In some places it’s called Strapatsada, in others Kayianas, Menemeni or Sfoungato Politiko, and in many it’s simply Eggs and Tomatoes (Avga me Domates/Αυγά με Ντομάτες).

Sliced TomatoesThe Greek name “Strapatsada” derives from the Italian for “scrambled eggs” (“uova strapazzate”).
Some say the dish was originally brought to Greece by Sephardic Jews. If true, given the Italian name, a plausible route is via the Venetian Jews to the Jews in Corfu and the significant Jewish population that used to exist in Thessaloniki. (Most Greek Jews died in German concentration camps during World War II; today the entire Jewish population of Greece is about 5000.) Certainly, Strapatsada is consistent with Jewish dietary restrictions.

some debate the Jewish connection, it’s commonly accepted that Strapatsada as a Greek name for Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes originated in the Ionian Islands (including Corfu) during their years of Venetian rule (1401 – 1797). See also Voice of Corfu: “… tomatoes … were brought to Corfu by the Venetians.” It’s documented that after the Venetian conquest, Corfiot Jews developed close relations with the Venetian Jewish community and its many international merchants and traders. Cookbook of the Jews of Greece, Nicholas Stavroulakis (Lycabettus Press 1986).

According to food historian
Claudia Roden, the 16th and 17th century Jewish merchants of Venice “traded with their relatives and co-religionists around the Mediterranean … [and others] in South America.” Roden says the Jewish merchants “introduced New World food products such as tomatoes…” throughout the entire Mediterranean Jewish community.

Roden points out “a tomato sauce in Venice is called ‘alia giudia’” (Jewish Style). In her history of Italian Jewish cooking, The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews: Traditional Recipes and Menus and a Memoir of a Vanished Way of Life (Giro Press 1993), Edda Servi Machlin says: “In the 18th century, the first people who used tomatoes in their cooking were Jews.”

See also, “[S]ome of the [Sephardim] … traveled as merchants to the New World, bringing back a whole new range of vegetables which were quickly adopted into the Sephardic kitchen. These were adopted, in turn, by the others among whom they lived, especially as the Sephardim were dispersed through the Mediterranean basin, into the Balkans, and parts of Western Europe.”

The Jews were also among the first to bring tomatoes to England and America. In his 1753 supplement to A History of Plantes (Thomas Osborne 1751), John Hill documented the use of tomatoes “eaten stewed or raw” by Jewish families in England. The tomato-eating 18th century English Jews “were of Portuguese or Spanish descent and … maintained contact with Jewish communities in the New World who consumed tomatoes.” The Tomato in America, Andrew F. Smith (University of South Carolina Press 1994). Smith says “at least one English-born Jewish physician introduced tomatoes into Virginia during the mid-18th century.”

If the conventional wisdom is correct that Strapatsada came to Corfu during the Venetian years, and we accept the historical record that Jews adopted tomatoes into their diets by at least the mid-18th century (and probably earlier), it isn’t too far-fetched to believe that Strapatsada was originally a Jewish creation. Indeed,
Cookbook of the Jews of Greece and Γεύση από Σεφαραδιτική Θεσσαλονίκη: Συνταγές των Εβραίων της Θεσσαλονίκης (Tastes of Sephardic Thessaloniki: Recipes of the Jews of Thessaloniki), Νίνα Μπενρουμπή (Φυτράκη 2002), which document the traditional foods of Greek Jews, both have recipes for Strapatsada.

It could be that tomatoes weren’t used anywhere in Greece
until the 19th century. And, as with all simple food combinations, it’s entirely possible that each version of Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes was created independently and spontaneously by creative cooks making use of seasonally fresh foods.

No matter its origin or name, Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes is easy to make and very flavorful. It’s especially good when made with sun-ripened summer tomatoes.

StrapatsadaScrambled Eggs and Tomatoes (Strapatsada – Στραπατσάδα)
Serves 2
When I make Strapatsada with fresh sweet summer tomatoes, I use mint to season it. Mint’s flavor enhances the tomatoes’ sweetness and goes well with eggs. Made with canned tomatoes, dried oregano makes a better seasoning for Strapatsada. In our house, three eggs are plenty for two people, but eaters with hearty appetites may prefer four eggs. I like the finished egg curds to be smooth-textured so skin the tomatoes. Skinning is not necessary; the Strapatsada will taste great if you leave on the skins. To make the simplest version of Strapatsada, cook tomatoes in olive oil until their water evaporates, then scramble in the eggs, seasoning only with salt and pepper.

2 cups diced tomatoes (1 pound tomatoes) or 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup diced yellow onion, 1/8” dice (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced (optional)
1 tsp. sugar (use only if needed)
3 - 4 eggs
1/2 cup crumbled feta (optional)
1 Tbsp. minced fresh mint (or oregano, dill, basil, or parsley) (optional)

If starting with fresh tomatoes and you want to skin them, cut a shallow “X” on the bottom of the tomato. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 20 seconds. Remove the tomatoes and drop them in cold water. Drain and slip off the peels. Cut the tomatoes in 1/2” dice.

Peeling TomatoesSauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the diced tomatoes, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes or until most of the water in the tomatoes has evaporated, stirring regularly to prevent scorching and to break up the tomatoes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Taste; if the tomatoes are too acidic, add 1 teaspoon sugar.

Whisk together the eggs. Stir eggs, cheese, and mint into the cooked tomatoes, and continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, until the eggs are cooked and form small curds; the eggs should be served when they’re still a little juicy. Eggs cook faster at a higher temperature, but taste better if cooked over lower heat for a longer time.

- Use grated kefalotyri, kasseri, or parmesan instead of feta.
- Add chopped sausage, smoked pork, or ham.
- Add diced green peppers.
- Substitute puréed roasted red peppers for half the tomatoes.
- Substitute green onions for the yellow onion.
- Add Aleppo or crushed red pepper flakes.
- Add cinnamon stick to the sauce and omit the herbs.
- Add cumin or allspice to the sauce and omit the herbs.
- After mixing in the eggs and tomatoes, quit stirring and let the eggs set, then flip and cook on the second side (as for a frittata).
- When the tomatoes are cooked and saucy, turn the heat to low, make indentations in the sauce, crack an egg into each indentation, cover, and cook just until the egg whites set and the yolks are still juicy.
This is my entry for
Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Gretchen from Canela & Comino.