Thursday, 15 May 2008

Courgette flower boureki (Κολοκυθοανθούς μπουρέκι)

We've been harvesting about three zucchini flowers a day from our summer garden. The traditional way to cook zucchini flowers in Crete is to stuff them with the same filling for vine leaves; delicious, yes, but we ate that last week. Zucchini flowers do keep in the fridge, but if you are collecting them daily from a small garden, the first to be collected will need to be used by the end of the week. I've collected 11 since Saturday, including today's.

Zucchini flowers are very often used fried in Italian recipes, either as they are (empty), dredged in batter and fried, or stuffed. Here's another filling that originates from Italy, although I've changed it a little to include local ingredients, which may sound rather boring; you're all probably thinking there she goes again using whatever she finds growing locally. In our house, we don't actually use just local produce; where would we be without our coffee, or soy sauce for our stir-fries? I even bought some cheddar cheese the other day, not to substitute Cretan graviera, but because I like it.

I also like to think that through my use of local products, I am eating more organic food. When you forage ingredients, they are less likely to be contaminated. When you live in a fertile village where most people produce a significant proportion of the fresh produce they use in their own garden or fields, it is more likely to be produced organically than with large doses of chemicals. This is why I make the effort to cook our own (or relatives’) produce.

As a masters graduate working with both biogenetics and sustainable agriculture students, I don’t actually trust BIO labeled goods in Hania unless they come from one source: GAIA. This is because GAIA does regular checks on all the produce they sell, and they have presented themselves with a no-nonsense approach to bio-organic produce. I don’t even trust the laiki produce at all – how on earth are eggplant and zucchini so HUGE and BLEMISH-FREE in the middle of winter!?! And as for supermarket produce labeled BIO, that’s a load of nonsense, since there are only 3 designated BIO labels in Greece from which all organic produce MUST pass – if they don’t carry that label (supermarket BIO-labelled produce don’t always carry it), then I don’t trust it.

Because of my work environment (I’m an English teacher at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania), I take the organic business quite seriously. We have a garden full of produce every year – it’s only natural I take a healthy interest in it. Whenever I can, I cook organic. When it’s not possible, I don’t. I’m sure most informed people are like me (notice I don’t say educated). We are all being more and more informed about this serious issue, and it’s not as though we haven’t been given clear warnings: mad cow disease, bird flu, and the latest - imported sunflower oil tainted with lubricant, of all things.

"Marketing Trends for Organic Food in the 21st Century" (edited by George Baourakis) contains a number of articles discussing various issues concerning organically produced food. The key factor involved in preferring organic food is basically food safety. Consumers are more likely driven by factors such as food safety, healthy eating, sensory factors, environmental concerns and animal welfare as O'Reilly and colleagues note in Ireland about organic food consumers. What usually stops us from eating more organically is price and availability, as Eves and colleagues point out. Arvanitoyannis and Krystallis found through a survey that the people MOST likely to buy organic produce are women (NOT men), young (ie more educated) people, those who can afford it, and ESPECIALLY people with families. I think I belong to all those categories.

Last, but not least, comes the saddest reason why I would like to try to eat my local food if I believe it's healthier: both my mother and father died of cancer. Since no one has actually found a way to prevent it from ever occurring in one's life, I would like to try at least to eat a decent meal and not invite cancer into my own life, even though I obviously carry a heavy weight on my shoulders and have already borne two children who have inherited my medical history.

Gordon Ramsay also thinks it's a pretty good idea to use only local produce in his UK haute cuisine eateries (thereby saving the environment from excess CO2 emissions), so I'm just waiting for the invitation to rustle up a recipe or two for his restaurants using only local UK products. It should be a marvelous way to use up the nettles growing in his garden...

This recipe reminds me very much of Cretan boureki pie. The same ingredients are used, and they're basically all locally grown. Some people are simply not prepared to eat only local produce, which is their prerogative; they are privileged to have a choice, as all knowledgeable people know. I still commend Gordon for making a point of eating locally (it's miles better for you, if you get what I mean). If everyone were given a chance to discover what locally grown products are edible and a few ideas on how to prepare and cook them, I'm sure people would start eating more of them. Here's what one person said about using more UK local produce:

"Since signing up for a weekly organic fruit and vegetable box last year, I've had the pleasure of enjoying seasonal food. I've been introduced to some unfamiliar items (celeriac, kohl rabi, globe artichoke) and learnt to cook them, thanks to advice on the supplier's website. I've found new recipes for familiar items like beetroot and carrots and eaten better than ever before. To my surprise, I've really enjoyed the switch to varied, seasonal veg and recommend it highly..."

Admittedly, this was not the general opinion of the forum. It was more like: "I'll eat what I want, when I want." We all have this right, even if it is only in theory for many people of the world. Poor Gordon - he probably meant something like: "By all means, eat what you like, but at least try to include more local produce rather than imported foodstuff." Sometimes, it's better to stuff your mouth with food than open it to speak...

To fill a dozen zucchini flowers, you need:
1 large potato, boiled and mashed
1 medium courgette, scalded in hot water and grated finely
2 large tablespoons of mizithra cheese (ricotta to the uninitiated) (the recipe stated parmesan reggiano and grana padano - even if they can be bought in my local supermarket, they'd be mass-produced and low quality)
1 teaspoon of semolina
2 tablespoons of olive oil
a small sprig of parsley finely chopped
1 salt, pepper and oregano (the original recipe states marjoram, which I simply didn't have at the time)
1 clove of garlic
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly to make the filling. Stuff the flowers and close them. Don't worry about their opening - the pointed parts of the flower ends stick together. Take care not to tear the flowers, so that the filling does not spill out. (I found that the starch from the potato helped to keep them intact, even if they did break open.) Fry the flowers in boiling oil, drain them, put them in a baking dish and cook them for 10 minutes before serving. This last step can be performed before you are ready to serve them.

Serve them with a fresh green salad and feta cheese. Unused filling can be formed into patties or used to fill blanched tomato shells; both of these can be cooked in the oven rather than fried.

This is my entry to this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by a scientist in the kitchen.

Picking courgette flowers
Spiral pie