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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Self-crusting spanakopita (Πισπιλιτα - πλαστό)

Mariana from History of Greek Food recently wrote:
"Forty years ago, a typical woman from Greek rural area spent all day cleaning the house, preparing meals, baking, sewing, milking, making butter and cheese, raising poultry, rabbits, sheeps, goats, pigs, gathering olives, harvesting greens and fruits, cultivating small vegetable gardens, preserving food for year- round consumption…. being wife, mother, guardian of her children’s health and moral purity. In the beginning of 20th century the situation was even worse. Food preparation was labor intensive and time consuming as based on cooking over an open fire or on wood stove or in wood fire oven. Since few houses had indoor plumbing, water for cooking and cleaning was carried in from outside."

Mariana then provides a recipe for a wild-greens pie which doesn't need a lot of time to be spent on spreading the dough, making it an easy recipe for those busy women of yesteryear. Not that the average modern Greek housewife of today has fewer jobs; she simply enjoys more conveniences. Here's what her typical day is like:
"First, she wakes up the children, prepares their breakfast, drops them off to school, makes a quick dash to the supermarket, takes the shopping back home, then goes to work. During the day, she has the mobile phone close at hand just in case a child is taken ill and the teachers want to inform her about the child's condition. At the end of a working day, either she picks up the kids from school (or someone else may do that for her because she may finish work much later than the children finish school), goes home, sets the table, heats up the meal she cooked last night, has lunch (with or without the family), then clears the table. While she's doing the dishes, putting on a load of laundry, hanging out or bringing in clothes on the washing line, ironing and/or cooking the next day's meal (if there are no leftovers), she's helping the kids with their school homework. As soon as they're done, she's done too. While the unwatched pot boils away, she then starts her taxi-driver yo-yo rounds: fencing, tennis, chess, football, language lesson, dropping one child off the minute the other child has to be somewhere else. While the children are at an after-hours lesson, she will either stay in the car, remain in the foyer, or nip into the supermarket to pick up more last minute supplies she ran out of. After picking up the children from the last of their activities and going home, she'll carry on where she left off from the activities after lunch, not forgetting to prepare tomorrow's school lunches."

The moral of the story is that a woman's work is never done, which is why I can't live without a deep freeze full of frozen summer meals prepared from garden fresh produce, and at least one day in the week when we eat leftovers.

pispilita plasto pispilita plasto

Pies with leafy greens have become a staple in my family all year round. We have them for snacks, they go into the children's school lunches, they make a great midday meal, they smell beautiful, their aroma wafts in the air and makes everyone hungry. I make hortopites on a regular basis, and since I don't have the time to make and roll out my own pastry, I found this method of making a pie perfectly paired with my lifestyle. A large pie will last at least two days, and will be used at various meals.

pispilita plasto

Another first in my cooking is to use cornmeal as the only flour in my pie pastry. Cornmeal is very different to flour, in that it soaks up moisture very easily, without leaving a sticky mess like regular wheat flour. It also make an unusual crispy dough; the combination of its texture and flavour makes the crust quite unique in this self-crusting pie for a leafy greens filling. Although cornmeal is well known all over the world, in my town, it is not used as much as in other places, given the fact that I couldn't find it in one of the supermarkets I went to; in the other, there were only two different packagings available, while the range was much wider for ordinary flour.

The recipe for this pie - called pispilta - is on Mariana's site. It appealed to me because it uses ingredients that I could easily find in my local stores and my own garden. Mariana uses very unusual greens to make her one: sorrel, nettles and beet leaves. I had spinach on hand, and was saved the trouble of harvesting the nettles from our garden, which has been slightly overrun by them. Laurie also makes this kind of pie under a different name, plasto; each region of Greece has its own dialectal name for their own special version of this easy-to-make pie. I preferred Mariana's pie because the pastry pulp used very few ingredients, but both are as tasty as each other. To see how much TLC goes into making such a pie, check out Elly's yiayia making it. It will make you realise just how important it is to have a yiayia like hers.

xinohondro wheat and milk rusk

Spinach and leafy greens, combined with creamy mizithra (a ricotta type cheese), sometimes make a squidgy filling that may retain too much moisture in the pie, which is why flour, semolina, and even rice are added to the filling to soak up the excess liquids. I used the crumbs from a locally produced dried milk-wheat rusk called xinohondro. It enhanced the pie flavour by taking away the sweetness of the spinach and mizithra cheese, making it more savoury.

If I had to name one food that I would miss sorely in the world, it would have to be a pie made with wild leafy greens.

This is my entry for this week's Weekend herb Blogging, hosted by Ivy from Kopiaste to Greek Hospitality.

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