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Roasted Beets with Skordalia

Skordalia, coyly posing with some of its raw ingredients

Skordalia, draped like velvet over richly roasted beets

This is quite simply one of my very favourite foods. Starchy, oily, garlicky skordalia crowning sweetly concentrated roasted beets. Skordalia, to be absolutely traditional, should be a quite white paste made with potatoes or bread with the crusts removed. Mine is non-traditional. I like to leave the crusts on the bread I use. The stale bread for skordalia is also commonly soaked in water to soften it up beforehand, but I like to soak mine in dry white wine.

To roast the beets, wrap them in foil individually, or place them in a covered crock, and put them in a medium-hot oven for an hour or so. Once cool, their skins should schlup right off. Slice and serve.

 

Ingredients:

Stale bread

Dry white wine

Extra-virgin olive oil

Garlic

Salt

 

Method:

The proportions are pretty rough, but for a large batch you might use 10 oz. bread to 1 cup olive oil and 6-8 cloves of garlic. Soften up the bread beforehand by sprinkling it with wine. You don’t want puddles, just moistness. Chop the garlic and toss it in the blender, followed by the bread and the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Add more olive oil or wine if it appears too thick. Pour and/or scrape it into a bowl. That’s it!

Avgolemono

If simplicity and elegance in the most satisfying dishes is beginning to appear as a theme in this blog, then this is no accident. The Greeks are as devoted to Avgolemono as the Provencal are to Bouillabaisse and the Portuguese are to Caldo Verde, and for all the same reasons; that a few virtuosic ingredients are allowed to play keening music together in one forthrightly orchestrated bowl.

Avgolemono is a simple soup of chicken stock, orzo pasta or rice, egg, and lemon. Smooth and piquant and charismatically persuasive, it rouses the appetite in an assertive, even bellicose way. And what does one do with a lemon-scented stock from a Greek roast chicken but put it to most urgent use as the basis for this most necessary soup.

This takes an hour or two because a fresh stock is made, so this is a good weekend dish. The preparation is straightforward, though, so it will allow plenty of time to put together hummus, souvlaki, and whatever other Hellenic stalwarts might follow this coup de main. This recipe serves six as a first course, but will make a marvelous light supper for four if served with a salad and crusty bread.

 

Ingredients:

1 chicken carcass from a 2kg roasted chicken (with some meat left on it)

2 L water

2 carrots halved lengthwise

2 celery stalks

1 onion, halved (this can be the onion used to moisten a roast chicken during roasting)

2 bay leaves

2 tsp salt

1/2-3/4 C orzo pasta or rice

3 eggs, room temperature

Juice of two lemons, strained

 

Method:

Pick any useful meat from the chicken carcass and set it aside.

Combine the first seven ingredients in a stockpot. Simmer covered for an hour.While this is cooking, mince the meat reserved from the chicken quite finely and set aside.

Remove the vegetables to a bowl and set the chicken aside to glean any meat from the carcass. Strain the broth through a sieve into a large bowl, return it to the stockpot and return to the boil.

Add the orzo and cook for ten minutes until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, whisk the eggs until frothy and then whisk in the lemon juice in a drizzle. Slowly add two or three ladles of stock from the pot, continually whisking, in order to temper the eggs.

When the pasta has cooked, turn the heat down to its lowest setting, add the reserved minced chicken meat, and once it has come back up to temperature, slowly stir in the egg and lemon mixture. Heat the whole for 5 minutes until it begins to thicken ever so slightly.

Serve it forth with a grating of fresh black pepper.

 

Traditionally this soup is served without the chicken meat added, but the minced chicken, in combination with the orzo, adds a toothsomeness to the dish that is irresistible.

 

 

Greek Roast Chicken

Two birds in hand …

The savoury odour of roast chicken and oregano is wafting around, and there is little else than can stir the appetite so effectively, and few things satisfy hunger better than a well-browned bird fresh from the oven. This simple recipe that I lifted from The Guardian has become a monthly staple  – in fact it has entirely replaced the stodgy old stuffed chickens I used to serve. Not only is this an easy dish, but its satisfactions are equal to or greater than the charms of a stuffed chicken served with mash and gravy. I’m now getting used to the lemony chicken stocks that result from cooking the carcass.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F

Ingredients:

A 1.5-2kg chicken

Salt, pepper, oregano

1 small onion, peeled

1 kilo waxy potatoes (Desiree are good)

Juice of a lemon

A glass of white wine

Olive oil

Method:

Peel the potatoes and cut them into wedges. Juice a lemon and save the spent portions. Place the chicken in a roasting pan (I use an oval porcelain dish that holds the potatoes nicely against the fowl) and surround it with the potatoes. Pour the lemon juice and a liberal coating of olive oil over the chicken and potatoes. Peel the onion and place it inside the chicken with the spent lemon halves.

Sprinkle liberally with salt, fresh ground pepper and oregano, then pour a glass of wine into the pan – but taking care not to wash all the seasoning off the bird. Put the pan in the hot oven for 30 minutes, then turn it down to 190C/375F for a further hour. The potatoes will be delightfully soggy under the chicken and browned where exposed. Serve with marouli – a salad of julienned cos or romaine lettuce dressed with salt, vinegar and oil, in that order.