Ms Marmite Lover: This pistachio and quince baklava is all Greek to me
- Credit: Archant
Kerstin Rodgers looks to the Mediterranean country for inspiration to showcase fresh quality ingredients in simple dishes.
This year, Greece has been in the news primarily because of the financial crisis, the endless elections and referendums and as the gateway to Europe for thousands of desperate Syrian refugees. But let’s not forget happier associations with Greece - sun, sea, white washed buildings and, of course, the food. It seems to me that Greek cuisine needs revisiting; it’s more than kebabs and tzaziki. The best Greek food relies on simply cooked, fresh ingredients.
I’ve visited various parts of Greece over the last months: Athens on the mainland and the islands of Crete and Chios. Visiting food markets in Athens was a joy: buying bergamots, heaps of wild greens (horta), chubby spiky artichokes, dried pulses such as gigantes.
Nobody can cook fish like the Greeks: a memorable meal in a local restaurant in Athens was a grilled sea bass fillet, a salad, and a glass of retsina. Greek wine was for a long time regarded as cheap resinous plonk for people on package holidays but, for the last thirty years, they’ve been working on improving the quality. For instance, do try Assyritiko, a fine white wine from the volcanic island of Santorini, using a native grape not grown elsewhere and cultivated in basket-shaped vines low to the ground due to the wind.
One of my favourite Greek ingredients is filo pastry, also popular in Turkey and Azerbaijan. It’s incredibly versatile. You can use it in both savoury and sweet dishes, rolled to make cigar shaped or triangular pastries, deep fried or baked to a crisp.
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Quince is in season right now. We know it best for the Spanish membrillo, a russet-hued slab of grainy fruit cheese that is perfect with a cheese board. If you can get hold of some, local corner stores are your best bet. Haringey in particular has a plethora of Greek, Cypriot, Turkish and Kurdish food shops that are wonderful for all those gorgeous seasonal vegetables, plus the nibbed pistachios that the larger supermarkets don’t carry.
My only problem with baklava is that it is sometimes far too sweet. Adding fruit, particularly a floral, slightly sour fruit like quince, rather than the classic honey and nuts, renders it perfect for our British palates. Start this the day before. The quince can take a while to cook and in fact baklava is better the day after when the syrup has soaked through.
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Pistachio and quince baklava
Blender or food processor
A baking tray of 25 x 25cm
A fine sieve or chinois
4 quince pears, peeled, cored and halved
3 star anise
1 vanilla pod
250g of filo pastry (around 8 to 10 leaves)
150g pistachio nibs
In a large saucepan on a medium heat, cover the quince halves with water and add the sugar, cinnamon, star anise and vanilla. Simmer until the quinces have gone a ruby colour and are cooked through when prodded with a fork. Remove from the heat.
Reserve the liquid and remove the spices, place the quinces into a blender or food processor and whizz for a couple of minutes until it becomes puréed.
Then pass the quince purée through a sieve, grinding it through with a wooden spoon, into a bowl. This can take a little while but keep working at it. The liquid, which should be fairly syrupy, will be used to drench the baklava.
Preheat the oven to 180ºc.
Melt the butter in the microwave or in a small pan. Taking your baking tin, brush a little butter on the bottom and sides.
Drape a sheet of the filo over the tin, scrunching it up or folding over the sides if it’s too big. Using a pastry brush, brush the surface with the melted butter. Do three layers like this.
Spread the purée all over the pastry.
Add another couple of sheets of filo and sprinkle a layer of pistachio nibs (reserving 50g for garnishing). Continue until you’ve used the rest of the sheets of filo and brush each layer with the melted butter. Glaze the top with butter then, using a sharp knife, cut the baklava into diamond shapes.
Put it into the oven for 50 to 60 minutes.
Remove from the oven and pour the syrup over it all. Scatter the rest of the pistachio nuts.
Eat warm with cream or leave overnight.
This can be eaten as a tea time pastry or as a dessert.
Note: Do not let filo dry up, only take it out of the packet when you are about to use it. Keep it covered under a clean damp cloth, taking out each leaf as you go.
Follow @msmarmitelover on Twitter. Kerstin Rodgers blogs at msmarmitelover.com
Upcoming events at MsMarmitelover’s supper club:
Nov 29th: Secret Garden Club: grow your own curry.Grow lemon grass, ginger, curry leaves, and all the spices then have a curry Sunday lunch with msmarmitelover.
Book here: Tickets £40 BYO
31st December 2015 Swedish Julbord New Year’s Eve With guest chef Swedish supper club hostess Linn Soderstrom
Book here. Tickets £75 BYO or order your champagne from winetrust100.co.uk to be delivered directly here.