Friday, April 03, 2009
I grew up in the inner west of Sydney, a working class area, and our neighbors were a combination of so-called 'new' Australians, mostly Greek, but also Italian and Lebanese, along side the anglo Australians whose parents immigrated a couple of generations earlier and felt this made them slightly superior to the newer ones. Bigotry was rife amongst my parents generation, but to me, these European neighbours were a delight and an education to a world of delicious food, music and parties where children should be seen and heard and men danced with hankies. I was immediately in love with the culture and their difference and longed to be something other than the 'white-bread' anglo that I thought I was, even though my immigrant past was also German and French, two world wars had ensured these facts were lost to the Scottish influence.
My neighbours welcomed me into their homes and taught me to cook this delicious food, baklava, galactoboureko, pastitsio, bbq lamb cooked with lemon and rosemary. These women made their filo pastry from scratch, pounded their walnuts in mortar and pestles, grew their own herbs and veggies. They opened my eyes to the world of different foods and different tastes and I was swooning with adoration for these culinary delights. They took me to the the smelly but fascinating Greek delis filled with olives, salamis, herbs, spices, meats, olive oil, fruit pastes, fresh made cheeses, un-sliced bread, a world away from Franklins and the milk bar deli that my mum shopped at. I am the woman I am today because of these kind and friendly women, whose English was minimal but their ability to share their culture and love for food wasn't.
Whenever I cook a greek influenced meal I remember them and I thank the goddess that I had such a delightful childhood and yesterday was no different when I decided to use the organic chicken in the freezer to make a chicken casserole. I hunted through my Introduction to Greek Cookery from the Adelaide Hellenic Lions Club, hand typed recipes, on foolscap, the pages now yellowing and brown with age, no pictures, but the recipes are authentic, written up by women who learnt to cook in Greece. Sadly nothing for chicken, too expensive a meat for the early '70's I suppose, there was a nice rabbit dish and I thought about adapting it but continued my hunt. My Greek Meze Cooking by Sarah Maxwell from the early '90's (not a very Greek name really) had a chicken and tomato casserole - Kotopoulo Kokkinisto which I have prepared before and knew would be good, so I went with that. Sarah notes that Kokkinisto is the name generally given to any meat which is casseroled in a rich tomato sauce.
I adapted the basic recipe of course, and I'll point them out as I go.
50 ml olive oil
1.6 kg chicken, cut into portions (I used an organic, free-range chook)
flour, for dredging
2 large red oinons, sliced
2 x 400g tins tomatoes (I used a 700g tin)
3 garlic cloves
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
85 ml boiling water (replaced this with white wine)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
chooped fresh parsely for garnish
I also added fresh green beans and organic kalamata olives, de-seeded
Preheat oven to 190oC (I used my slow cooker). Dredge your chicken pieces with the flour. Heat oil in a large, flameproof casserole and cook chook pieces until nice and brown, don't overcrowd your pan, do it in batches. Set the chook pieces aside. Add the onion to the casserole and cook till soft. Return chicken to the casserole, add chopped tomatoes, garlic and season with salt and pepper. Add boiling water (or wine), green beans if using, cover and cook for 45-55 minutes or until chicken is tender and the sauce is thickened.
In the last five minutes of cooking time, stir in the red wine vinegar, olives and a little extra boiling water if you think it is too thick. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley. If you've used the slow cooker there will be much more juice and you can choose to take out the chicken and reduce your sauce on the stove, but I don't bother with this, we just serve it in soup bowls.
We served ours with mashed potato and carrots, but you could equally use rice or polenta. Our unexpected guests declared it delicious and I have to agree with them. All thanks to the Greek women from my earlier life - efharisto!