For all my love of Rome, and promises to move there, the food is actually not my favorite of the Mediterranean cuisines. WHAT!, you gasp. It's true. Though I am a fan of their artichokes, pizza napoletana, and prosciutto, most of the cuisine is too heavy for me. I'm also not interested in pasta or risotto, which is a cardinal sin in Italy. I actually once read an article where an Italian chef stated that he refused to serve anyone who did not eat pasta (save those with a doctor's note). I know what you are thinking. "OH, she doesn't eat that stuff because it's unhealthy". Not true. I simply don't enjoy the texture of pasta and am not a lover of creamy things (i.e. risotto). I think both pasta and risotto, when made with fresh ingredients, can certainly be enjoyed in moderation.
Anyway the point, let it be revealed, is that my favorite Mediterranean cuisine is Greek. So my plan is to live in Italy and vacation in Greece. Sound good? Greek food is simple. Very simple. In fact that's the only condemning word I've heard against it. However, that's the beauty of the food, just like its islands. Clean, fresh, and perfect for enjoying the sun. I've eaten my way all around Greece but the dish that introduced me to Greek food is still one of my favorites.
It was 4 years ago, and Gray and I had just arrived in Athens for our honeymoon. We landed at 10 am so instead of sleeping, which is what I really wanted to do, Gray dragged me around the ancient ruins of the city. We got back around 6 pm and promptly asked the concierge where to eat. Just FYI, when asking a concierge for a recommendation, always ask him or her where they eat. You don't want any tourist trap restaurants. Our concierge recommended a lovely locals restaurant a few blocks away and off we went down the steep streets of Kolonaki to our first Greek culinary adventure. We arrived at about 7 pm to a completely empty restaurant. I would have walked out had it not been for a gigantic, tanned, cigar smoking man who begged us to take a seat. Before we even had a chance to open our menus he said, through a thick smile and yellow teeth, "Do you eat meat?" "I don't. But he does," I said, pointing a quick thumb at my new husband. I was just waiting for the waiter to say, "No meat! That's ok, I'll bring a lamb", a la My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Instead he replied, "A ha! I know exactly what to bring. No menus for you!" With that, he snatched our menus and tromped back to the kitchen. What he brought out was better than I could have imagined!
First of all, I could smell our food before it hit the table. With his giant hands, he placed two plates in front of us. Gray received a side of pork, glistening in unctuous juices with peeled and boiled potatoes. Before me lay a gorgeous pile of Romano beans, slow cooked in fresh tomatoes, oregano and a hearty Greek-dose of olive oil. Gray and I looked at our plates, then at each other, and immediately dove in. The beans were perfectly cooked, soft but not mushy. While the sweet acidity of the tomatoes balanced perfectly against the rich, silky oil. We both cleaned our plates, sopping up any remaining juices with crusty bread. When the waiter returned, he appeared quite startled at how we, two relatively small tourists, polished off the food. "You liked it, huh? You should come back!" We never did but I often think of my dish, and that man with his excited, loving smile, and eagerness to feed an American non-meat eater. That was my first taste of Greek food and hospitality. What can I say, it is mine kind of country!
Briam Fournou- Baked Vegetables
This is an adaptation of my Romano bean dish. Because I couldn't find Romanos, I used zucchini, potatoes, and bell pepper. Eggplant and green beans would also go beautifully. Experiment with different veggies and see which you prefer. Enjoy!
2 pounds potatoes
2 pounds zucchini
2 green bell peppers
1 28 oz AND 1 14.5 oz can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
1 bunch of parsley, washed and chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Feta cheese (optional)
Clean and wash the potatoes, zucchini, onions, and bell peppers. Slice them into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces and place in a large baking dish. Mix in the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Stir until well combined and place in the oven for 1 1/2- 2 hours. Check at 45 minutes to stir. If necessary, add a little bit of water at this point. When the vegetables are done, remove from the oven and sprinkle with feta cheese. Serve and enjoy!