Well I have calmed down a bit since the excitement of yesterday. And as hard as it was to see them go, my precious stash of white zucchinis found their purpose today – two purposes in fact! Baked Stuffed White Zucchini (Papoutsakia), and a White Zucchini, Avocado and Cos salad which I will post in the next day or so.
One of the very few Greek dishes I remember my very non-traditional Greek mum cooking for us as children was stuffed zucchinis. It was a dish she also enjoyed as a child in her equally non-traditional upbringing.
I think not having a whole lot of Greekness drummed into us as kids has only made me more keen to know about my Greekness now. I appreciate and love my culture in a way I may not have wanted to if we'd been brought up differently. I've seen the same phenomenon happen with my own father, and even my you'd-never-believe-she's-Greek mother.
My dad's new-found Greekness started around ten years ago when he developed an interest in a family house that he had a small share in on the island of Limnos.
The 150-year-old house had seen many years of neglect, weather damage and bad renovations, and the once-beautiful, neoclassical house was reaching a point where it was on the verge of collapse. The roof of the three-story building was caving in, the ceilings were sagging and the floor boards were buckling. It was a lost cause, or so it would seem, until my dad came up with the brave and ambitious proposal to bring it back to its former glory.
After years of negotiating with 30 or so family members all claiming to be share-holders of the house (I'm sure many Greeks can relate to this familiar story), in 2008 my dad acquired the final share to become the sole owner of the property.
He now spends eight months each year in Limnos with his wife Julia, dedicated to the restoration of the house and its beautiful mediterranean garden.
It is because of this connection with his homeland and living at the family house for the last ten years that my dad has rediscovered everything it means to be Greek, the good, the bad and the ugly. And he's more Greek now than I ever remember him being when I was growing up.
I will tell you more about the house in future posts as Tony and I have also built quite a connection with both Limnos and my dad's family house.
My mum's own new-found Greekness has mostly come about from now being able to listen to Greek radio, direct from Greece on the internet. It thrills her to bits to hear a Greek voice speaking Greek words, coming from Greece. She tells us often how much she now misses hearing a Greek voice – a longing she's only developed recently, and probably because Greek-speaking was kept to a minimum in our house when we were growing up.
Tony is learning Greek at the moment and mum even delights in hearing him speaking Greek, Australian accent and all. She's also pretty excited about me doing this blog – it's made her think a bit about her childhood and about the food she used to cook for us as children.
It may have been a rare occasion to eat Greek food at home when we were kids, but Papoutsakia stands out as one I remember well. Literally translated to "little shoes", the dish is named this way because the vegetable when sliced lengthwise resembles the shape of a shoe. Often made with eggplant, my mum used to make them with short, fat zucchinis, and I thought my newly acquired little white zucchinis would make the perfect Papoutsakia.
They are traditionally stuffed with a minced meat sauce, then topped with bechamel sauce and baked in the oven. My recipe uses a rich tomato and onion sauce with grated cheese on top. It's so simple but tastes so yum.
Baked Stuffed White Zucchini (Papoutsakia)
Serves 4 (4 zucchini halves each)
- 8 small white zucchinis*
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 400g can of chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup of grated hard cheese**
- 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
* White zucchinis are smaller than regular dark-skinned zucchinis, and tend to be relatively fatter which makes them suitable for shelling out. The ones I used were only about 10 to 12 cm long. If you can't find white zucchinis, regular zucchinis will work just as well, but look for shorter, fatter ones.
** Many hard cheeses are made with animal rennet. You might want to check the label for a non-animal rennet cheese.
- Cut the zucchinis in half lengthwise and place cut side up on a greased baking tray. Coat zucchini well with olive oil spray and bake in oven for 30 minutes at 200 degrees celsius.
- While the zucchinis are cooking, fry onions in oil until soft. Add garlic and fry for a minute or so. Add chopped tomatoes, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove zucchinis from oven and allow to cool. Using a sharp knife, score around the edge of the flesh of each zucchini, about 2 to 3 millimetres from the skin, then use a spoon to scoop out the flesh and add the flesh to the tomato mixture.
- Lay each zucchini shell in a baking dish and fill with the tomato mixture. You will have some tomato mixture left over but this can be served in a separate bowl as a side sauce. It goes great with crusty bread too!
- Top each stuffed zucchini with grated cheese and carefully pour water into the tray, not allowing the water level to come above the zucchinis. It should be about 1 centimetre deep.
- Cook in oven at 200 degrees celsius for around 20 minutes, or until cheese is golden.
- Serve sprinkled generously with chopped parsley.