Today I ate the most delicious stuffed tomatoes, aubergine and peppers, with a filling of rice, herbs and local Greek cheese. They were cooked by Katy, my sister’s Greek mother-in-law, who we all know as Yia Yia (which means granny in Greek). I’m sure you’d like me to pass on the recipe, but it’s a bit of a long story, so here goes.
First you need to know that the Greeks are rooted to the land and every person on the island of Zakynthos where we stay has a field on the island or a vegetable patch at the back of their house, or has someone in their extended family who does. The Greeks are very particular about the provenance of what they eat. They may feed the tourists produce which is imported to the island, but for themselves, they reserve the best – and that normally means what they or their family grow, catch or raise themselves.
So to make your perfect stuffed tomatoes, you will first go out to the vegetable patch at the back of the house and pick your ripest red tomatoes that been baked in the sun and watered lovingly every day of the hot summer. While you’re at it, pick some of those shiny purple aubergines and the green peppers also growing out back.
Next go to your shed and take a few of the onions that you grew through the winter, harvested in the spring and left drying in bunches. Cut the lid off all the vegetables and scoop out the flesh of the aubergine and tomatoes and cut it into small pieces. Cook it up in your own olive oil with the chopped onions, some mint and oregano from your garden and seasoning. Add some dry rice and cook gently in the pan until the rice has swollen up, adding a bit of extra water if necessary.
Now add some pieces of local cheese, which you bought from the farmer in the spring and matured yourself covered by olive oil in a barrel lined with stones from the beach to keep the cheese from sitting in the residue. You wouldn’t trust the shop-keeper to mature the cheese, as they might not take care to use fresh oil each year, but if you’re unable to get such local cheese, you could use fetta.
Use the rice, vegetable and herb mixture to stuff your vegetables and add in some pieces of peeled potatoes, also from your vegetable patch. Pour some olive oil liberally over the vegetables from the olive trees on your land that you pressed in the autumn by shaking the trees over nets and taking the sacks of olives to the local co-operative to be pressed.
Cook the pan of stuffed vegetables in a moderate oven for 45-60 mins until they are all soft, tender and delicious.
Eat it all for a late lunch on the veranda in the shade. Finish your meal with some chunks of watermelon from your watermelon patch. Complete with a siesta for a couple of hours.
I think you’ll agree that eating at home in Greece gives new meaning to eating local produce.