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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Spaghetti with pesto and calamari

I've taken the remaining days of my annual leave at this period, which has given me the chance to cook more creative dishes than the usual rotating menu in our household (which is something like bean stew, spaghetti bolognaise, pita, freezer dish and leftovers). I had bought some calamari when it was on sale at the supermarket and finally got round to cooking it the way I had wanted to for a long time now. My creation involved getting quite a few pots and pans dirty, so it definitely isn't the kind of dish you want to make when you are feeling tired or you don't have much time to cook.

Cooking makes your kitchen dirty and intidy - mine is always a very busy-looking station. 

For this dish, you need a lot of olive oil. You can make it with much less if you really want to. But I find it difficult to admit how much olive oil I actually used, but I could see the oil disappearing from the litre-capacity bottle and I refilled it at least once. I live in Crete, where we use the most olive oil per capita in the whole world; we only use extra virgin olive oil, and this year's bounty from our own fields brought in 250 litres. We had about 50 litres remaining from the last time we bought olivesome olive oil (olive trees produce enough fruit to produce olive oil every second year and our trees did not produce enough oil in the previous season), which means that we have about 300 litres of olive oil to last us for the next two years. Considering that Cretans consume 30 litres of olive oil per year per person, that's just enough to last us until the next harvest. We're rich.

Green gold - we bring the oil rom the press in the press's plastic containers and pour them into our own terracotta barrels (mimicking the clay urns of our ancestors).

The 250 litres we produced this year cost us €270 to produce, as we hired an Albanian immigrant living here in Crete for many years with his family. He harvests 1300 trees per year and gets to keep some of the oil that is produced from them. But we decided not to give him the oil, and paid in cash instead. Either way, he would have sold the oil (as he gets a lot of oil in this way form the trees he tends on behalf of others). We preferred to keep this 100% organic EVOO for ourselves, knowing that this quality (0.7% acidity) and quantity will keep us well fed until harvest time in two years. 

It's true that olive oil is best kept for no longer than 18 months, according to experts who believe that the quality deteriorates after that. But that is not the way Cretans think of their olive oil - they know it's good for as long as you need it, as long as it's stored appropriately. And if you think about the cost of this olive oil for us, here's a small breakdown: 250 litres @  €270 for 5 people for 2 years - that's less than €0.07 per day. 

The Albanian worker (he's been living here with his family for nearly as long as I have) who harvested the olives for us was also paid very well. He gets a share of the oil - 50% of the oil produced, for the work that he did. Since we're not giving him the oil, we pay him for the value of the oil; right at this moment, fresdhly produced olive oil is being paid at 2.16 by the olive press (125 litres at €2.16 = €270). He and his wife worked two full days harvesting our trees. From the money they receive from this work, they will also pay their taxes and health insurance (altogether, about €1 per day per person). If we had been more scrupulous, we could have hired him (and his wife) at labourer's wages for €35 a day (each). He gave us the choice - we chose the more expensive option; we appreciate the work he puts into our fields every year, because we're working people and we don't have the time to do it ourselves (the last time my husband harvested his own crop was just before the trees were burnt to the ground, about 20 years ago). 

For all the above reasons, I don't skimp on olive oil - or fresh vegetables, because we have a plethora of those too. With some bread and cheese or a small piece of low-cost meat, we can keep ourselves fed very well during these difficult financial times. The added bonus: this kind of eating keeps us healthy, which means more savings - it may help on reducing doctors' bills.

You need:
some cleaned calamari, chopped into chunks (I needed about 800g for 4 generous servings)
a bunch of fresh parsley (Greeks rarely use basil in their cooking - I used parsley for my pesto)
3 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
spaghetti (I used about 400g for the 4 of us)
flour for dusting
as much or as little olive oil as you can afford


Mince the garlic. Place some olive oil (I used about half a cup) in a frying pan and saute the garlic without cooking it too much. Chop the parsley super finely (I place it in a bag in the freezer, and then crush it so it becomes as fine as dust). Add it to the garlic, salt and pepper mix well and add some more olvie oil (another half a cup should be good). 

Drain the calamari in a colander. Dust each chunk with flour (I placed half a cup of flour in a plastic bag and then added the calamari and shook it, to coat all the pieces evenly). Fry the calamari in very hot oil on high heat, for about 8-10 minutes. (If the calamari is already prepared and was bought frozen, you won't need much more cooking time, and it will tender when cooked.) Remove the calamari with a slotted spoon and place it in the pot with the parsley/garlic pesto. Allow the pesto and calamari to blend well and heat through (about 5 minutes). 

In the meantime, boil the spaghetti al dente. Drain it while hot and place a serving of pasta on a plate. Scoop up a portion of pesto/calamari and pour over the plate. Sprinkle (if liked) with grated parmesan (my chidlren loved it like this - I preferred it plain). Eat while steaming hot. And don't forget some good white wine to go with it. 

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