A Dip in the Aegean – At this time of year, I have normally been to one of the Greek Islands on holiday or am looking forward to visiting one in September. Not this year of course! But if you, too, are missing the Aegean, then I have just the ticket – and this one only cost £26, and you won’t need your passport! Aegean: Recipes from the Mountains to the Sea by Marianna Leivaditaki has just been published by Kyle Books and is fabulous. Illustrated with great photos by Elena Heatherwick, Marianna’s love for the food of her childhood (spent helping out in the family-run tavern in Chania), on Crete, shines through on every page. The book offers achievable, yet delicious, dishes that celebrate the wealth of seasonal, fresh food that is abundant in the Aegean (but also, luckily usually here as well). I’ve chosen a few recipes from the book to whet your appetite – you can buy Red Mullet from most fishmongers (fresh and frozen).
Pan-fried Prawns with Metaxa
This is an excellent dish for real seafood lovers who have no fear of tucking into whole prawns and no hesitation when it comes to sucking all the lovely juices from their shells. My only advice is: don’t be shy, but you may want to consider finger bowls.
100g (31/2oz) salted butter
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
500g (1lb 2oz) fresh whole prawns, shells on
4 tbsp Metaxa (Greek brandy), or another good-quality brandy
Juice of 1 lemon
1 handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Serves 4–6 as a sharing plate
Heat a large pan over a medium heat and add the butter and the grated ginger. When the butter begins to take a light golden colour, add the prawns and turn the heat to high.
Toss the prawns in the butter by shaking the pan until they turn a shade of pink, which means they are ready. Add the brandy, lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and give the pan a final shake. Remove from the heat, transfer to a plate together with all the juices and sprinkle over some freshly chopped parsley.
Pan-fried Red Mullet with Rosemary, Tomato and Sweet Vinegar (Serves 4)
This rosemary and vinegar sauce is an all-round winner and very versatile. I love it with fish, but in Crete you often have it with land snails when the season is right. It’s definitely one my favourites.
4 medium red mullets (about 800g/1lb 12oz), scaled and gutted
200ml (7fl oz) extra virgin olive oil, for frying
Plain flour, for dusting the fish
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 tbsp chopped tomatoes
100ml (31/2fl oz) aged white wine vinegar, such as moscatel
Sea salt, to taste
Wash the fish thoroughly under cold water and keep them in the fridge if you are not going to use them immediately.
Heat a wide frying pan over a medium heat. When it’s hot, add enough olive oil to cover the sides of the pan by about 1cm (1/2in). Generously salt and dust the cleaned red mullets in the flour and carefully place in the pan.
Add the sprigs of rosemary. Cook until golden brown and crispy on one side, turn and do the same for the other. When you turn your fish to cook the other side, add the tomatoes to the pan. This should take about 4 minutes in total.
Just before you remove the mullets from the pan, add the vinegar and turn off the heat. Place the fish on a plate and serve with some of the juices in the pan. You just need a slice of very fresh bread for this and a cold beer.
Oven-baked Potatoes with Capers and Anchovies
Serves 4–6 as a sharing plate
This dish is simple and so delicious. It’s perfect on its own with a leafy salad, and a great accompaniment to lamb or fish. If you fancy making it even richer, you can always add a dash of double cream.
Slice the potatoes on a mandolin very thinly and place in a colander with a touch of salt for 15 minutes.
Fry the peppers in 1 tablespoon of olive oil for a few minutes until soft.
Blitz the tomatoes, peppers, capers and anchovy fillets to a paste.
Transfer the drained potatoes to an oven dish and add the wine, remaining oil, oregano, black pepper and anchovy paste to the dish. Mix everything really well with your hands and check the seasoning. Flatten the potatoes and cover with baking parchment. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes and then check whether the potatoes are nice and soft. When this is the case, remove the parchment and put back into the oven until a nice golden crust has formed on the top layer.