Most summers, I spend a couple of weeks on a Greek island with family and friends. After a day on the beach, the holiday routine calls for everyone to chip in to get the long evening going. There is shopping to be done and plenty of cooking; there are cocktails to make and a table to set; and there are kids to look after before we can all, finally, relax. This year, however, I expect the group to be smaller, the evenings shorter and the sun not to shine quite as brightly, and I imagine I will be reliving my Greek summers remotely, by infusing olive oil with plenty of garlic and oregano, by stuffing filo with greens and by covering the table with sun-conceived meze.
Burnt courgette with garlic, oregano and lemon (pictured above)
Here, I’ve applied the same technique used on aubergines when making baba ganoush to courgettes. It gives them a mellow smokiness and that distinctive flavour of the grill. If you can’t get fresh oregano, use thyme instead. You will be have some of the aromatic oil left over – keep it in a sealed jar and use it for dressing salads or roast vegetables. Serve with bread.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 15 min
Serves 2-4, as part of a meze spread
6 courgettes (1.4kg)
120ml olive oil
1 lemon – zest peeled off in 6 wide strips, then juiced to get 1 tbsp
5 oregano sprigs
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tinned or jarred anchovy, drained and chopped (optional)
15g pine nuts, toasted
1 tbsp dill leaves
Turn the grill to its highest setting. Put the courgettes on an oven tray lined with baking paper, put on the top shelf of the oven closest to the grill, and cook for 45 minutes, carefully turning them once halfway through. The courgettes will look completely burned and blistered on the outside by the end, but that’s fine. Remove from the oven and leave to cool down slightly.
While the courgettes are cooking, put the oil in a small saucepan on the lowest heat. Add the strips of lemon zest, oregano, garlic and anchovy, if using, and cook gently for about 20 minutes, until the garlic has turned golden but not crisp. Turn off the heat and strain, keeping the oil and aromatics separate.
When the courgettes are cool enough to handle, cut a long slit through the skin of each one from top to bottom. Use a spoon to scrape out the flesh, then transfer to a colander placed over a bowl; discard the skins. Stir half a teaspoon of salt into the courgette pulp and leave for 15 minutes to drain.
To serve, spread the courgette over a serving plate and sprinkle the pine nuts on top. Drizzle with the lemon juice, then arrange the reserved garlic slices, lemon zest and a couple of oregano sprigs on top. Spoon over three tablespoons of the aromatic oil and finish with a sprinkle of dill.
Yellow split pea puree with buttered onions and caper salsa
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min
Serves 6 as a dip, or 4 as a side
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
180g yellow split peas, rinsed well and drained
½ tsp ground turmeric
For the caper salsa
2 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 thin lemon slices, pips removed and finely chopped, flesh, rind and all
2 tbsp olive oil
Put the butter, two tablespoons of oil, the onions and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt in a large saute pan for which you have a lid. Turn on the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, for 16-18 minutes, until soft and deep golden. Transfer half the onions, along with most of the oil and melted butter, to a small bowl and set aside.
Put the split peas, turmeric, 1.2 litres water and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt in the pan with the remaining onion and bring to a simmer on a medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes, then cover with the lid and cook for 35-40 minutes more, or until the split peas are very soft and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Meanwhile, mix all the salsa ingredients in a small bowl.
While the peas are still warm, put them in a blender or food processor with any remaining cooking water, add the last tablespoon of oil and blitz smooth.
Spoon on to a plate, and make a crater in the middle. Stir the reserved buttered onions into the caper salsa, then spoon into the crater. Serve warm or at room temperature with lots of bread for mopping up
These were a big hit with my two young boys, who were happy to roll up their sleeves and roll up the cigars. Once baked and cooled, they were repurposed as building blocks for an edible game of Jenga, which was fun, but not to be recommended if you want to avoid a colossal mess. The herbs I’ve used can be omitted or swapped with whatever you have to hand, fresh or dried.
Prep: 20 min
Cook: 70 min
Makes 24 cigars
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
Flaked sea salt and black pepper
1 tbsp sumac (optional)
500g baby spinach
10g mint leaves, roughly chopped
10g dill, roughly chopped
10g oregano leaves, roughly chopped
100g feta, roughly crumbled
50g mature cheddar, roughly grated
50g pine nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp lemon zest
8 sheets feuilles de filo (or regular filo)
160g unsalted butter, melted
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5, and put the oil in a large saute pan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onion, a teaspoon of salt and some pepper, and saute, stirring occasionally, for seven minutes, until the onion begins to colour.
Add the sumac, if using, and cook for a minute, then add the spinach in two batches, stirring continuously, to wilt, then cook for about seven minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Transfer the mixture to a sieve, press to drain off any remaining liquid, then set aside to cool down a little.
Transfer the cooled spinach to a large bowl and add the herbs, feta, cheddar, pine nuts, egg and lemon zest. Fold gently to combine, then set aside.
Working one filo sheet at a time, and keeping the remaining sheets under a damp tea towel so they don’t dry out, cut each sheet lengthways into three strips, around 8cm wide x 35cm long. With the narrow side facing you, brush the exposed side of each strip with butter, then fold each strip in half by bringing the two narrow ends together, leaving you with 8cm x 17cm rectangles.
Brush the exposed side with butter again and, with the narrow end facing you, spoon about 25g-30g of the spinach mix along the bottom edge, keeping a few millimetres of pastry exposed around the edges. Gently roll the pastry upwards, encasing the filling inside a cigar-shaped parcel (don’t worry about encasing the exposed ends). This should make 24 cigars, about 8cm long x 3-4cm thick.
Arrange the cigars seam side down on two oven trays lined with baking paper, brush the tops with more melted butter, and bake for 22 minutes, or until browned all over.
Remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature.