Friday, February 27, 2009

Pastitsio Me Damaskina apo tin Syro--Pastitsio with Prunes from Syros

Pastitsio is one of my favorite foods, so when I heard that the latest A Taste of the Mediterranean event hosted by Tony Tahhan and Peter Minakis was going to focus on Greece and more importantly, pastitsio, I was thrilled. I have to admit though, I was almost all pastitsio-ed out as I recently used a bit of creative energy to put together this version for the Royal Foodie Joust. But then again, I don't think I can ever get sick of pastitsio ...

Pastitsio is a rustic dish with plenty of comfort-food appeal and it's one I quickly associate with family and friends as it so often graced our table for Sunday family meals, holidays, parties, etc., growing up. Every Greek family--living abroad or in Greece--has a recipe for pastitsio similar to others but perhaps slightly different (say, with a varying herb or spice or even a slightly different technique).
My family's recipe which my mom gave to me seven years ago when I was first married, was an instant hit with my husband who was thoroughly impressed by my pastitsio-making ability--for him a tell-tale sign of a good wife ... too bad I never roll out my own phyllo dough, then maybe I'd be perfect?!

Getting back to the recipe: our original family recipe features a cinnamon-flavored meat sauce between layers of long Greek noodles topped with a rich and creamy bechamel scented with nutmeg and sprinkled with cinnamon before baking. For the ATOM event, however, I wanted to post about something a little different. So I adapted a recipe I read in Aglaia Kremezi's Foods of the Greek Islands (I know, I know; I have to stop discussing recipes from this one book) in which she features a pastitsio from the island of Syros. What's interesting is Kremezi notes she found the original recipe in a book published in 1828 in Ermoupolis, the capital of the Greek island of Syros, and written by an unknown author.

I made a few changes to Kremezi's original recipe, which itself sounds quite good and will definitely be one of my next party foods. The original recipe calls for a meat sauce of ground veal or beef flavored with bacon (she had me at bacon!), onion, bone marrow, sweet wine, cinnamon and prunes. I omitted the bone marrow and--although not included in the original--I added a couple tablespoons of tomato paste to the sauce. Kremezi then combines the meat sauce with cooked ziti, grated cheese, milk and nutmeg and packs the mixture in a casserole dish lined with puff pastry. I layered the meat sauce with long noodles and topped it with a lighter version of my family's bechamel since the meat sauce includes that ever-so yummy, but quite fatty, bacon.

Kali Orexi!

Pastitsio me Damaskina apo tin Syro/Pastitsio with Prunes & Bacon from Syros
(Adapted from a recipe in Aglaia Kremezi's Foods of the Greek Islands)
Makes a 13x9 inch pan

1/4 pound bacon, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds combination of ground veal, pork and beef
1/2 cup Mavrodaphne, Marsala or Sherry
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cinnamon sticks
15 pitted prunes, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 pound of Pastitsio No. 2 Macaroni

4 1/2 cups milk
4 tablespoons butter
8 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup grated Kefalotyri or Pecorino Romano
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 eggs
Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling

In a large skillet, brown the bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate and set aside. Add the onions to the skillet and saute until soft. Stir in the ground meat and saute, stirring, until no longer pink. Add the wine to the skillet and boil for a minute or so. Reduce the heat, add the water, tomato paste, cinnamon sticks, salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon sticks and stir in the prunes. Set aside.

Heat the milk and butter in a large saucepan. Once the butter has melted, begin whisking the flour in a little at a time, stirring constantly. Once the bechamel has thickened, stir in the grated cheese, the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and whisk in the eggs one at a time, incorporating well after each addition.

Meanwhile, boil the macaroni until al dente. Drain the pasta and begin layering the pan first with macaroni, then the meat sauce, then macaroni and finally the bechamel. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake in a 375 degree oven until golden.

Note: Pastitsio is not a dish you serve immediately upon baking. In fact, bake your pastitsio as early in the day as possible, let cool completely (uncovered) and then re-heat before serving. This will ensure your pieces stay intact. (I let the pieces shown here cool for an hour before cutting, yet I think they could have used a bit more cooling as they were still very hot when sliced and the bottom layer didn't hold up as well as I would've liked.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ladokouloura me Mastiha kai Glykaniso Kai Pasta Elias--Savory Bread Rings w/ Mastic-Anise and an Olive Tapenade

Ladokouloura are an oil-based Greek biscuit/bread ring/biscotti that can take on a multitude of forms from sweet to savory. The sweet kind pair perfectly with a steamy cup of coffee or tea, while the savory are an ideal snack to offer up with some light meze or various dips and spreads.

Aglaia Kremezi's Foods of the Greek Islands features a flavorful recipe for ladokouloura, which I adapted here. Kremezi's recipe is fairly simple enough (requiring the dough to merely make a few turns in the food processor followed by a little kneading by hand), but I wanted to simplify things even further. So I simply mixed all the ingredients in a large bowl, didn't knead at all and kept my fingers crossed.

The results ... crispy, savory bread rings perfect for dipping, munching and enjoying any which way you like. Kremezi's original recipe calls for using water infused with cinnamon and cloves (I used only cinnamon) and then adding some ground mastic (mastiha) and anise seeds (glykaniso) to the dough. The licorice-like flavor imparted by both the mastic and anise are a great combination. And I must say that these ladokouloura tasted even better two days after their initial baking, when their flavor mellowed out and provided for the perfect accompaniment to a tangy and fresh olive tapenade.

I'm sending these lovely ladokouloura to Ivy of Kopiaste who is hosting this month's Think Spice event (created by Sunita of Sunita's World) highlighting the ever-magical mastic gum, a unique ingredient produced only by trees on the Greek island of Chios. Please visit Ivy's site for more intriguing information on mastic gum and remember you have until Feb. 28th to submit your dish for this event, so ... Think Spice!

Ladokouloura me Mastiha kai Glykaniso--
Savory Bread Rings with Mastic and Anise

(Adapted from a recipe in Aglaia Kremezi's Foods of the Greek Islands)
Makes 32 rings

2 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
2 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds, finely ground
1 tablespoon mastic
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup olive oil

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the mastic and salt into a fine powder; set aside.

In a small saucepan bring the water to boil along with the cinnamon sticks. Boil for five minutes until reduced to about 1 1/2 cups liquid. Let cool slightly and discard the cinnamon sticks.

Combine the water, yeast, flour, oil, anise and mastic mixture in a large bowl and stir until the mixture resembles a unified, smooth dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest about 2 hours, until doubled.

Oil two large baking sheets. Divide the dough into 4 sections. Working with one section at a time, tear each into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope then shape into a ring. Press the ends together well to seal (use a bit of water as a sealant if necessary). Arrange on the baking sheets about 1 inch apart and let rise for another 30 minutes.

About 20 minutes before baking, heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake the rings for 5 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake 20 to 30 minutes more. Remove rings from baking sheets and arrange directly on your oven's middle rack, reducing the oven temperature to 175 degrees. Bake until bread rings are dry, about 2 hours. Cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to six months.

Pasta Elias--Olive Tapenade

2 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine the olives, oil, garlic, vinegar and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients resemble a coarse mixture. Season with additional balsamic vinegar or pepper as necessary and serve with ladokouloura, crackers, toasted pita or use as a spread n your favorite sandwich.

Friday, February 20, 2009


I can hardly believe that we've begun celebrations for Lent when it seems we've just finished with Christmas/New Year celebrations. I know, I know: it's middle of February already and I should get a grip. But I just don't know where the days go.

Yesterday Greeks in Greece and abroad celebrated what is known as Tsiknopempti (pronounced tseek-no-PEMP-tee). Literally translated as the "Thursday of meat grilling," Tsiknopempti is a celebration of the meat many will forgo for the 40 days of Lent. In Greece, city and town governments arrange barbecues and grills in central squares while musicians walk the streets playing traditional instruments. Here in New York, some gather in local tavernas where they enjoy music and a variety of grilled meats while others celebrate at home. We enjoyed a more low-key celebration--or recognition of the day--at home where we grilled some lamb chops and sausage on the stovetop and served them with some pan-fried potato rounds, braised red cabbage with caramelized onions and grilled pita.

The celebration of meat will continue until this Sunday, known as Meatfare Sunday, while the following week will be centered on cheese and dairy products, culminating with Cheesefare Sunday which falls on March 1st. The Great Lent begins with Kathara Deutera (Clean Monday) on March 2nd. In Greece, people will enjoy this day in parks and along the countryside, flying kites and having picnics. The food served on Kathara Deutera is simple and traditional as it is an important day that symbolizes the start of the Lenten period and the abandonment of meat, cheese and dairy. Meals include taramosalata (fish roe dip), lagana (a yeast-less flat bread), dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with rice), calamari, octopus, mussels and other seafood, salads, halvas in the form of a semolina pudding and Macedonian Halva in the form of candy-like blocks made from tahini, honey and sometimes with swirls of cocoa, chopped almonds or pistachios.

Easter and all the traditions and preparations leading up to it (from the start of Lent through Holy Week), have always been a favorite of mine, both as a small child and as an adult. Memories of Easter preparations and celebrations are my most vivid memories of all and an integral part of my family's culture. My grandparents and parents held tightly onto these sacred traditions of the Great Lent and Easter they brought here with them from Greece and I am eternally grateful for having been raised with this knowledge and hope to teach my children just as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sausage Ragu over Ziti

I love dishes with tomato sauces and there are weeks when it seems that tomato can easily make its way into each and every one of our meals. There are some dishes for which I can make a larger batch of tomato sauce, that I can then ration accordingly and refrigerate or freeze for future use. This sausage ragu came about from some tomato sauce I had saved upon making this Chicken Stuffed with Trahanas, but I also provide a quick recipe for the same sauce below.

Nothing fancy here; just a simple sauce with some sweet Italian sausage served over ziti. An ideal weeknight meal that pairs well with a green salad ... and a glass of red wine, of course.

Kali Orexi!

Sausage Ragu over Ziti

5 links of sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
Small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups chopped tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Grated kefalotyri, pecorino Romano or parmesan

1 lb. of ziti
1/3 to 1/2 cup of the pasta water (in case sauce needs to be thinned)

In a large skillet, brown the sausage over medium high heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go. Once browned, remove the sausage to a bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet. Saute the onion until soft. Stir in the garlic, oregano and the red pepper flakes. Add the chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil. Stir in the sugar, reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the sausage to the sauce and simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in half the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, boil the ziti in a large pot of salted water until just cooked through. Save 1/2 cup of pasta water in case you need to thin out your sauce. Drain the pasta well. Add a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and heat until the butter is brown and nutty. Stir in the pasta and toss to coat. Divide pasta among plates and top with the sausage ragu. Sprinkle with parsley, grated cheese and some freshly ground black pepper.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kotopoulo Youvetsi--Chicken Baked with Orzo

In the last couple of weeks, I have come to realize what food blogging is really supposed to be about: Sharing good food with new-found, generous and truly sincere friends.

Personally, I find myself regularly looking forward to my peers' posts, not to criticize their cooking methods and the food that graces their tables, but to share in their insights and thoughts; to have a sneak peek at their lives in Athens, Crete, Sydney, Alaska, Canada, Malaysia, India, Italy, Spain, England, France and so many other places around the world.

I have found blogging refreshing and fulfilling--a way to combine my writing career with my passion for cooking, without the pressure of deadlines, editors’ notes, etc., etc. Even better, since I first began blogging last September, I've found myself making many a new friend whom I await to hear an encouraging comment from and whom I try hard to leave an encouraging word for as well. Incidentally, however, I have also found myself wondering why some bloggers would feel the need to criticize others' ways of approaching a dish and repeatedly assert that their way of cooking is the only way ... indeed, it is not.

Cooking is a truly personal experience. There are traditional dishes that are passed down from generation to generation and these traditional dishes, although alike in their basic ingredients and general concept, may differ slightly due to geography, due to family economics or even due to a cook's/family's personal likings. There are recipes throughout Greece for various dishes--from kokkinisto, to stifado, to fassolada, to fakes, to kakavia, to phylla (or dolmades as known to everyone other than those from Kalymnos!), to bougatsa, to ravani, to youvarlakia, or even pastitsio--that inherently vary slightly. The recipe used for four and five generations within my own family for phylla, ravani or, yes, even pastitsio will very likely vary from fellow Greek bloggers' family recipes and yet, each and every one of these recipes, may wholly and entirely be a traditional Greek recipe passed down within their family from generation to generation. It is not my place, nor anyone else’s for that matter, to claim that such a recipe is not a “traditional” recipe, or that it is a lesser dish, because it includes this herb or that spice while my family’s recipe does not. Period.

And now onto a lighter and definitely yummier subject … below you will find my family's recipe for youvetsi, a very traditional Greek dish most often made with lamb baked in a tomato sauce flavored with bay leaves and cinnamon (and some other herbs depending on where in Greece it is being made; in Kalymnos, for instance, cooks often use what is known there as "thrimbi"--or dried savory--to compliment the cinnamon and bay leaves). The meat is accompanied by kritharaki (orzo) that is baked in the same sauce.

To make this a quicker weeknight meal, and a lighter one at that, I used whole chicken legs in place of lamb. The resulting dish was really quite good--all the flavors of youvetsi in a lighter form--with meaty tender chicken complemented by the flavors of cinnamon and bay and a sauce that effortlessly steals the show.

Kotopoulo Youvetsi -- Chicken Baked with Orzo
Serves 4 to 6

1/3 cup olive oil
4 whole chicken legs
1 large onion, chopped
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound orzo
Grated kefalotyri, myzithra, pecorino or parmesan (for sprinkling before serving)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Season chicken with salt and freshly ground pepper.

In a dutch oven (or other ovenproof pot with lid), heat the oil over medium-high heat and brown the chicken well on both sides. Remove to a plate and set aside. Stir in the onion and saute until soft. Stir in the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves and add the chopped tomatoes.

Dilute the tomato paste with one cup of the water. Add the diluted paste and 1 cup of the chicken stock to the dutch oven and bring to a boil. Place the chicken back into the pot (the sauce should come up at least 1/2 way to 2/3 of the way up the chicken, so add a bit more water or stock as necessary). Cover the dutch oven with its lid, place it in the oven and cook the chicken for 45 minutes or so.

Uncover the pot, remove chicken to a plate and keep warm. Add the orzo to the dutch oven with the remaining liquid (and more if necessary) and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Place chicken atop the orzo and bake 15 minutes more until the orzo is tender and the chicken nicely browned.

Serve sprinkled with grated cheese.

***I'm sending this dish over to Ruth of Once Upon a Feast as she is celebrating the 100th edition of Presto Pasta Nights this week. Congrats Ruth and here's to many more yummy pasta round ups!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Troufes (Frozen Chocolate Truffles) for BloggerAid

Troufes are a Greek version of frozen chocolate truffles. They are a simple, sweet treat that can easily be made ahead and stored in the freezer to have on hand for any unexpected guests dropping by for an afternoon coffee/tea.

I remember devouring these little chocolate confections as a kid when a friend of the family would make them for every birthday or holiday gathering she hosted. So, I recently decided to try my hand at Troufes and came up with this quick recipe, a tad different from those I ate as a child, but no less scrumptious. Want this recipe? You'll have to wait as I am quickly sending these over to Ivy of Kopiaste, Val of More than Burnt Toast and Giz of Equal Opportunity Kitchen who, with the help of a number of dedicated bloggers, are so valiantly working on publishing a cookbook for BloggerAid, a forum created to shed light on the issue of hunger around the world. All proceeds from the cookbook will be donated to specific programs of The World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations frontline agency devoted to alleviating world hunger.

The cookbook is expected to begin selling on Amazon by November/December 2009. There is a great deal of work involved in delivering this project and the troops over at BloggerAid are relying on all of us to help in any way we can. The deadline to submit a recipe is tomorrow Feb. 12th!! If you haven't already, please send an original dish you'd like to contribute over to Ivy, Val and Giz who are anxiously awaiting to include these yummy contributions in the BloggerAid cookbook.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Biftekia Gemista--Stuffed Beef Burgers

The last week has been a hectic one for a couple of reasons and as such has called for some quick, no-frills, family meals. Having made more than my fair share of saucy tomato-based dishes the last month (many of which I have yet to post), the night before found me wanting to use the ground beef I'd defrosted to make a fresh, simple and flavorful dish without employing even a tinge of chopped tomatoes, strained tomatoes, tomato paste or the like. After mentioning my ground beef "dilemma" to Peter of Kalofagas that evening, he quickly started sounding off some ideas--all of which were tempting, some with tomato (ugh!) and some without. And then he said, "What about biftekia gemista?" And I thought, "Why not?"

So here's my take on biftekia gemista (Oh, sorry! That would be Greek for "stuffed burgers" or beef patties, if you will). I often make biftekia simply using lots of fresh parsley, oregano, eggs, breadcrumbs and onion in the ground beef mixture; forming it into patties; and baking those in the oven surrounded with some thinly sliced potatoes tossed in olive oil and oregano. But having some fresh cilantro on hand, I omitted the oregano; and instead of the usual breadcrumbs or plain bread soaked in milk, I added some trahanas to give these moist biftekia an entirely new dimension of flavor. In addition, I didn't use an egg in the mixture as it was moist enough--just stuffed small cubes of two Greek cheeses (feta and kasseri) into the center of each patty and gave the burgers a good sear in a hot grill pan before placing them in the oven to finish off the cooking.

I served these biftekia with some sauteed spinach and a warm potato salad (as opposed to oven roasted potatoes or fries) and we had a fresh tasting, quick and healthy meal on our table in just minutes.

Biftekia Gemista--Stuffed Beef "Burgers"
Makes 12 patties

1.5 pounds ground beef
1 scallion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1/2 a small-medium onion, grated
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup trahanas
4 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Feta, roughly "cubed"
Kasseri, also cut into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Add the trahanas to a small bowl and pour the milk over (use a bit more milk if all the trahanas isn't moistened by the 4 tablespoons). Set aside.

Combine the beef with the scallions, onion, parsley, cilantro, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and the trahanas soaked in milk. Mix briefly with hands to incorporate and place in the refrigerator until your grill pan is heated through.

Heat a stovetop grill pan, or a large skillet, over high heat. Begin forming the beef mixture into patties. Holding a patty flat in the palm of your hand, press a small cube of feta and kasseri down into the center, then begin to pinch the beef up around the cheese to seal it in. Pat the beef to even it out and place in the heated grill pan to brown each side well (about 3 to 5 minutes per side). Once the biftekia are well browned, place the grill pan in the heated oven and cook the biftekia another 10 minutes.

Serve hot with a warm potato salad and some sauteed spinach.

Warm Potato Salad

6 medium-sized potatoes, washed, peeled, quartered and boiled until tender
1 lime, juiced
1/2 lemon, juiced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
3 scallions, chopped

Whisk together the lime juice, lemon juice, salt and pepper and slowly add the oil in a steady stream. While the potatoes are still warm, pour the dressing over and let stand for a few minutes. Sprinkle with the scallions and some finely chopped parsley or cilantro and serve still warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chicken Stuffed with Trahanas

So, I picked up some trahanas from one of the many Greek specialty shops here in New York last week and decided that aside from the traditional soup I often make, I wanted to do something more with these tasty, tangy tidbits.

I should note that there are two types of trahanas, sour and sweet, and to be honest I have only ever had the sour type. I don't believe the sweet version is used differently and am pretty sure, although labeled as "sweet," it is just not as sour as the other variety.

In case you are wondering, which some of you probably are by now, trahanas is a pasta of sorts made of ground whole wheat grains that are cooked or soaked in sour milk or a mixture of milk and yogurt, then dried in the sun and coarsely ground until about the size of large breadcrumbs. Used primarily in soups, trahanas occasionally makes an appearance in Greek stews or even stuffings, which is the route I took here.

After bringing the trahanas home, I recalled reading--and being thoroughly intrigued by--a recipe for eggplant slices stuffed with trahanas on Food Junkie not junk food. I'd never used trahanas as such and decided my first foray into the world of stuffing with trahanas would include the thinly sliced chicken cutlets I'd purchased the day before, rather than the scrumptious in-season eggplant slices Johanna used a few months ago.

I made a pretty basic tomato sauce, much of which I had a good amount of left over and got to use in another pasta dish. Make sure your cutlets are quite thin and if necessary pound them until they are. Serve alongside some steamed asparagus, green beans, or even just with a salad, and you're good to go. Kali Orexi!

Chicken Stuffed with Trahanas
Serves 4 to 6

8 thin-sliced chicken cutlets, seasoned with salt and pepper on both sides
1/4 cup, plus 3 tablespoons, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup divided)
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups trahanas
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup crumbled feta
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 26.5 oz. box of chopped tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated parmesan
Salt and freshly ground pepper


In a large saucepan begin making the tomato sauce by heating the 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Add all but the 1/4 cup of onion set aside and saute until soft. Stir in the garlic, oregano and the red pepper flakes. Add the chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil. Stir in the sugar, reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Add half the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a separate saucepan, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high-heat and stir in the reserved 1/4 cup of chopped onion. Saute until softened then add the white wine and allow to boil for a few seconds. Stir in the trahanas and begin adding the stock; stirring constantly until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add half the crumbled feta and the parsley and remove from the heat.

Place a heaping tablespoon of trahanas filling towards the end of one chicken cutlet and roll the cutlet up, securing with a toothpick as necessary.

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. In an ovenproof skillet, heat the last two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat and brown the rolled chicken on all sides. Spoon some tomato sauce over, sprinkle with the remaining feta and the grated parmesan and bake for about 10 minutes.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pork with Quince -- Hoirino Kydonato

A couple of weeks ago, while at my local fruit and vegetable market, I spotted some quince (kydonia in Greek) and having recently seen recipes featuring quince on a number of yummy blogs I follow, (namely Kopiaste, Food Junkie not junk food, Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska and Kalofagas), I decided to give this versatile fruit a go.

Quince, related to apples and pears, are somewhat pear-shaped and yellow in color. According to sources, the quince likely preceded the apple and is more likely to have been the oft referred to "golden apple" in Greek mythology. In fact, sources say, in Ancient Greece the quince was considered "the fruit of love, marriage and fertility."

It's botanical name, cydonia oblonga--and, of course, its Greek name kydoni--come from the ancient town of Kydonia in Crete, now known as Chania, where the fruit was once famed for growing (please read more on Chania on the ever-so-entertaining and informative blog of Mediterranean Kiwi).

Now onto the dish--I adapted a recipe from Aglaia Kremezi's The Foods of the Greek Islands in which she uses veal to make a stew with quince over the course of two days. I would love to try her original recipe when I have the leisure to allow the meat to marinate (partially cooked) in some of its cooking liquid overnight before then stewing it with the flavorful quince. But for now, this version I made using a juicy center-cut, bone-in pork loin--and just a couple hours of precious cooking time--turned out amazingly well.

Pork with Quince -- Hoirino Kydonato
Adapted from a recipe in Aglaia Kremezi's The Foods of the Greek Islands

3 lb. center-cut, bone-in pork loin
1/4 cup olive oil
2 quince, peeled and sliced
Juice of half a lemon
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
12 pitted prunes
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Season the pork loin with plenty of salt and pepper and set aside.

Fill a bowl with water and add the lemon juice. Peel and slice the quince thick, dropping pieces you've already sliced int he bowl of lemon water as you work.

In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Pat the quince dry and saute in the oil until nicely browned. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Evenly brown the pork in the same dutch oven. Once browned on all sides, remove to a plate. Add the onions to the pot and cook, stirring to scrape up all the juicy brown bits, until softened. Stir in the wine and boil for a few seconds. Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaf and allspice and give it all a good stir.

Return the pork back to the dutch oven; add 1/3 of the quince, all the prunes, the chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste and give the dutch oven a good shake to combine it all. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 50 minutes, basting the roast occasionally with some of the sauce. (Add some more chicken stock if you feel there is not enough liquid during cooking.)

Uncover the pot and place the remaining quince pieces around the pork loin. Cover and simmer until the newly added quince pieces are soft, about 20 minutes or so. Remove the lesser cooked quince to a plate and keep warm. Remove the pork loin and let rest. Season the sauce in the pot with the balsamic vinegar and additional salt and pepper if necessary and keep warm.

Slice the pork loin and serve, topped with the sauce, alongside a couple of quince pieces and--if you like--some rice.