Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Pasta tricolore (Μακαρόνια τρίχρωμα)

Stand up and be counted; don't be afraid of the big bad wolf. 

I am spending a lot of time these days cooking family meals, rather than dishes that I personally would like to try. These two things don't always coincide - not everyone in my house eats new greens on the market, nor does everyone want to be the guinea pig and be the first to try something totally different, but we all have to eat something, so I have to continue cooking. But every now and then, in order not to bore myself silly with the regularised Greek family meals that I am always cooking (that's usually when I start to cook badly), I like to try something new, at the risk of hearing all manner of whining and winging at the lunch table.

coloured peppers

I was recently tempted to buy these colourful bell peppers, which are nearly always imported to Greece. The imported ones are usually produced in Israel (a strange place to grow water-needy crops, since Israel has a serious water shortage) or Holland (another strange place to grow anything, since Holland has a shortage of land; most of their exported crops - and they do export a lot - are grown hydroponically). Both these countries have a high level of technology, which is how they can grow their fresh produce - and a more powerful network of trading partners, so that they can sell their produce profitably.

Israeli produce imported to Greece consists mainly of familiar food items that are being grown or distributed out of season (Israeli pomegranates and loquats are commonly found on the shelves of Cretan supermarkets), so it's highly unlikely that I would need to buy such produce, since I would have had my fill of these in their season. When the time comes for endives to be cultivated in Greece, I'll probably stop buying Dutch products too. There's a growing awareness of food origins in today's society, and since we generally like to know where our food comes from, it pays to know that many products labelled as Israeli may actually be grown in Palestine (both by Palestinians and Israelis occupying the West Bank). Food labels also make political points, as the following contributor to a BBC Have Your Say discussion states:
"I'd rather know where everything came from, be it food, clothes, electrical goods etc. At the end of the day if I'm opposed to Israeli settlements then I should know if someone is trying to sell me food from them."
In the same vein, one of Europe's greatest citrus importers is, surprisingly, Holland - but she grows none herself. Holland picks up the produce from other countries and then re-distributes them, making her look like an exporter. People generally like to make informed choices for their purchases. Food labelling by country of origin doesn't just reduce sales; by labelling the origin of food correctly, it could also increase sales.

Getting back to those colourful bell peppers, they are most often sold at the supermarket pre-packaged, each packet containing one pepper of each colour: red, orange and yellow. Why they hardly ever include the green bell pepper in that packet is another of life's marketing mysteries: Is it that it adds to the price that the consumer is willing to pay for this kind of thing? Isn't the number four a classic food marketing number?

So when I found these bell peppers all being sold singly, AND bearing the label 'ΚΡΗΤΗΣ' (and not israel or Holland), I exhaled a sigh of relief - now I feel justified to buy and use these peppers.

coloured peppers

Having said this, slice those peppers in half and take a closer look at them. The green pepper (commonly produced all over the island) has a thinner flesh than the red-orange-yellow varieties - that's partly a sign of the method used to produced the coloured varieties. They probably get more chemical fertilisers, they are probably more sensitive plants and they are more likely to be grown in greenhouse conditions. They are also more expensive than the green ones. They tasted sweeter than the green pepper, but the latter smacked of pepper flavour, whereas the other ones had a sugary water taste to them. And worst of all, they were more vulnerable than the green ones - they began to soften too quickly, before I could use them all up. Their high water content made them go mushy in some parts very quickly - this kind of mould spreads very quickly on vegetables.

coloured peppers spaghetti sauce coloured peppers spaghetti

You can't really win when you buy new varieties of crops, even if they are local. Eventually these varieties will adapt to Greek soil, but it will all take time. Till then, you'll just have to enjoy what's on the market. I used my peppers in a simple pasta sauce made with olive oil, onions and garlic, and a seasoning of salt and pepper. There were too many to go into the pasta dish, so the remaining were used as an addition to a cabbage salad, and spaghetti bolognaise.

spaghetti bolognaise

Whatever the politics that went into these dishes, the outcome was very appealing.

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