September is the mediator between summer and autumn. For the most of us it's the beginning of the school year or the return to work from summer holidays. The mornings are crispier and days already a bit shorter but the sun still shines, for the most part. After days spent by the seaside or the country, with a good book and a glass of wine, letting the summer breeze carry your everyday worries away, September comes and everything seems to fall back into it's usual routine. The ground appears again underneath your feet and it's time to dust off the sand. For the most of us. But then there are places that seem to be forgotten by the seasonal change or at least it seems to be delayed. Places that continue to beat in the rhythm of the waves and that still sparkle in the golden rays of sunlight. Kind of a celebratory last hurrah before the autumn really takes over.
For me September has always seemed more of a beginning of a new year then January. For a long time it meant the beginning of school, people rush back to the city, batteries loaded to face the upcoming cold. Also as my birthday is in September, so for me it literally is a new year. This year it was a round number and we decided to take some time off from our everyday schedules and for the first time since becoming parents go away just the two of us. We both fell in love with Greece a long time ago but so far hadn't been there together. Now it was time to correct that. Greek mythology was what originally sparked my interest for history and later went on to study it in university. It still holds a special place in my heart, so this trip was something we had to do together. We chose the island of Naxos for our destination. As the biggest island of the Cyclades it was the perfect base to stay but also to visit the surrounding islands. To conclude my long introduction, we had the most inspiring holiday filled with history, beautiful beaches, charming villages, incredibly welcoming people and clearly the best Greek food I've ever had. Here are 3 recipes inspired by our time spent in the Mediterranean paradise.
The first recipe is for butternut squash latkes. This dish found me, in the sense that I didn't even know to look or ask for it. The estate where our tiny appartment was located had heaps of butternut squashes piled up every here and there. Neatly piled under the olive trees, next to the hammock, stuffed in the pita oven. I was mesmerized by these curvy beauties, casually leaning against each other. The lady who managed the place must have found my interest strange, maybe understandably so, as I kept taking photos of them. We often fail to appreciate the charm and beauty of our surroundings only because we are so used to it. After another day discovering the island we were sitting on the terrace enjoying the setting sun when the same lady walked towards us with a plate in her hands and a clever smile on her face. She had made butternut squash latkes and thought we might like some, as I seemed to be so interested in them. Yet another example of the warm hospitality of the people we met during our stay. I had made zucchini fritters before but these latkes were on another level. It's the butternut squash that makes them crisp and golden on the outside and so soft and sweet on the inside.
Butternut squash latkes
Ingredients (makes about 13-16 latkes, depends on the size of the butternut squash used and how big patties to form):
Half a butternut squash (graided)
1 tsp nut meg
2 small shallots (or 1 bigger shallot)
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp fresh parsley (chopped and some more for serving if desired)
2 tbsp flour
Olive oil for pan searing
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until the mixture is even. If you feel the mixture is a bit runny, add a bit more flour but not too much, you don´t want the latkes to be too heavy. Once the mixture is ready, heat the oil on the pan over medium heat. Using a tablespoon form small patties, about the size of a tablespoon each and fry them for 4-5 minutes on both sides until golden brown and crunchy. Serve with crème fraîche and fresh parsley.
This is one of the Greek dishes I had had before our trip and was looking forward to revisiting. No one does comfort food like the Greek, in my opinion, and this is a perfect example of it. Spanakopita is a spinach and feta pie traditionally rolled in filo dough. In this recipe I used puff pastry instead and it´s because I couldn´t bring myself to make filo dough (which is the hardest to prepare when it comes to the complexity of doughs) and I didn´t find it at my grocery store. I basically wanted all the comfort without putting in any effort and so I turned to puff pastry. This pie works as wonderfully with puff pastry as is does with filo and since the weather in France was already cold and rainy when I was preparing this, puff pastry felt right and comforting with all its buttery goodness. So to not disrespect the authenticity of Spanakopita, let´s call this a spinach and feta pie inspired by Spanakopita.
My version of Spanakopita
Ingredients (serves 6-8):
1 tbsp fresh parsley (chopped)
1 tbsp fresh dill (chopped)
1 tbsp salt
250g Puff pastry
Butter for the baking dish
Preheat the oven at 180C. Put the spinach (cleaned leaves) into a colander, sprinkle evenly with salt and leave it for 10 minutes. Meanwhile mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl. Gently squeeze the spinach of the excess water, chop it roughly and add it to the bowl. Mix everything together until even. Prepare the oven dish, butter it and cover with the rolled puff pastry so the edges come over the dish. Gently pour the filling on the puff pastry, spread evenly with a spoon and fold the edges of the puff pastry on the filling to cover everything and meet in the middle. Close the gaps of pastry with your fingers so everything stays nicely closed. Cover the top of the pie with eggwash. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until the pie is golden brown.
Honey roasted grapes with Greek yogurt
This is as easy as can be. Simply wash and separate the grapes, put them in an oven dish, pour over with 2-3 tablespoons of honey and leave them in the oven for 40 minutes at 180 C. At 20 minutes turn the grapes around a bit with a spatula and it´s as simple as that. I used smaller red grapes, more on the sour side. The result is such a treat, specially with creamy but not overly sweet Greek yogurt. Something a bit more special and delicious without making a big effort.