Terroir is a concept almost untranslatable, combining soil, weather, region and notions of authenticity, of genuineness and particularity — of roots, and home — in contrast to globalized products designed to taste the same everywhere. (1)
Terroir was the theme of the family reunion dinner I hosted in Marathon, Greece.
It is a long way from Chicago, Illinois to Marathon!
But my cousin and his family made it, and here we were, having dinner in the piazzetta of my hunting lodge.
I had some ideas about the menu, but my inner voice was telling me to take it easy and not rush to the market with a shopping list. Instead, I was going to get the best produce and ingredient I would find on the day.
What follows is the result of this process that never fails me.
Inevitably, the menu was based on the ingredients and produce of the terroir, comprising air, soil and sea.
To start with the vegetables, Peter likes beetroot. So I got the best from Vassilis in Marathon.
In addition to the bulb, which I boiled and peeled the skin off, I boiled the leaves. Both were served au naturel, with olive oil, salt, chopped garlic and lemon juice as optional dressing on the side. I particularly enjoy the beetroot with the chopped garlic, much more than with garlic dip (skordalia in Greek). It has a powerful taste, and I particularly like the contrast of the sweetness of the beetroot with the uncompromising sting of the garlic.
Vassilis is also producing zucchini, which are unbelievably tasty.
So, zucchini were my second choice for a summer vegetable to enjoy on the table.
I boiled the zucchini and served them au naturel, with the dressing on the side. The taste of the zucchini without anything is so delicious, that sometimes I eat a couple without dressing, and only after I Add some olive oil, salt and lemon juice.
Moving on, I got some green peas from Livanates, a small town near Thebes.
I cooked them with pomodori, onion, chilli pepper, and parsley.
Another one in the bag.
The next round of dishes comes from the sea.
My fishmonger is just fantastic, and one more he proved himself to be one.
When he saw me he pointed at a skate on the icebed and said. “This is for you”.
I do not argue with statements like this.
I just obey. For my own good.
I boiled the fish, took the flesh off the bones and mixed it in a big bowl with chopped garlic, olive oil, a touch of salt, lemon juice and a little chilli pepper.
Then came the shrimp.
Fished from a bay east of Nafplion, they looked fantastic.
I grilled them as they came off the sea. I add a few bay leaves on the side of the grill, for extra flavor.
Last but not least, I got some super fresh sardines, because I love sardines, and Mary likes them too.
My fish monger gutted them and chopped their heads off. I sprinkled coarse salt over them and grilled them.
I always take them off while they are juicy and soft. My new touch was that I added some mint leaves on the side, to enhance the flavor. It worked.
The sardines were sweet, juicy and delicious.
And as Ferran Adria once said “fresh sardine is better than stale lobster”.
We had a great time, the only problem as Peter said was that there was not enough food.
Next time I will get more.
It was nice to see you guys, come again!
1. Vive le Terroir By STEVEN ERLANGER Published: August 31, 2013. The New York Times.