A taste of Crete in an unseasonally warm English autumn

Paleochora crocodile

Although it’s now nearly 4 weeks since I returned from my late autumn sunshine week in Crete, it’s hard to believe that temperatures in London yesterday were in the early 20’s, yet crisp, golden leaves were falling all around. Crazy weather! Very pleasant, though, for planting out the last of my spring pots with bulbs and violas, and continuing with the autumn tidy-up. I even found some alarmingly fat caterpillars on the shredded stalks of my purple-sprouting broccoli this afternoon when I made a hasty visit to gather some spinach and salad leaves for tonight’s dinner. It was too dark to do much more than puff a little organic pyrethrum dust over them and pick off the most obvious offenders, but I shall definitely be taking a closer look tomorrow – not what you expect at this time of year!

Other jobs on the agenda tomorrow, after a few weekends being too busy socialising to do much at the allotment, include clearing the beds of squash, courgette and sweetcorn plants, general weeding after all this warm and humid weather, and planting my broad bean seeds to overwinter for an early crop next spring. I’ve not planted any spring or winter cabbage this year as they always seem to get decimated by the combined forces of slugs and caterpillars, plus they take up an awful lot of room in the ground when there’s only me to eat them. Kale and broccoli provide a crop over a longer period, especially in March/April when there’s not a lot else around, and seem less affected (usually!) by pests as long as you net them from the ever-hungry pigeons. I’m giving garlic a miss too – the last three years have been blighted by fungal rot, so I can only conclude there are spores throughout the soil, despite careful crop rotation. The elephant garlic I trialled this year didn’t seem to be affected, but the individual cloves were far too big for one (or even two), so not really practical unless you have a large family to feed. Fortunately, Mr Waitrose does a nice line in organic garlic, so I think I’ll manage!

One thing I loved about Crete was the huge variety of vegetable dishes on offer. My hotel had its own vegetable garden and each evening we were regaled with a range of different and unusual vegetable side dishes, including okra, aubergines, peppers and pumpkins – delicious! I ate out at some lovely restaurants at lunchtime too, including a lovely find in Anidri, a tiny village above Paleochora, where my cousin lives. The Old School Café serves fabulous home-cooked food and the two of us dined like queens for the princely sum of €23 including wine and raki! My favourite dish was a pear and Graviera tart, closely followed by stuffed and baked aubergines in a tomato sauce, but it was the pear tart that intrigued me – I’d never thought of using pears in a savoury tart, although I adore the classic French combination of pears and blue cheese as a starter.

anidri cafe

I couldn’t find any similar recipes to recreate the dish when I got home, so I’ve experimented with my own and was delighted with the results. Graviera is a hard Greek cheese and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it here, so I opted for Gruyère instead, to give it that mature, tangy flavour – a good Cheddar might work too. See what you think:

Pear & Gruyère Tart

Shortcrust pastry case, 7-8” diameter

1 red onion, sliced

1oz butter or olive oil

2 pears (I used Conference, not too hard)

Juice of ½ lemon

2 eggs

1 small pot natural yogurt or crème fraiche

Fresh nutmeg, grated

Few sprigs fresh thyme, stripped from the stalks

2oz Gruyère (or to taste, plus extra to sprinkle on top)

Pre-bake the pastry case as usual.

Cook the sliced onion slowly in the butter or oil for about 15 mins, then add the pears, peeled and cored, then sliced thinly lengthwise (sprinkle with lemon juice while preparing to stop browning). Cook gently for a further 15 mins, then remove from heat.

Beat the eggs, then add small pot of natural yogurt, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, chopped thyme and seasoning. Stir in 2oz grated Gruyère and mix. Place the onion and pear mixture at the bottom of the pastry case, distributing evenly, then pour over the egg mixture. Sprinkle with extra Gruyère.

Cook at 180°C/Gas 5 for 25-30 mins or until golden brown. Serve with salad and enjoy!

Pear tart and salad

I served mine with fresh leaves and tomatoes from the garden, along with roasted beetroots and a splash of balsamic vinegar – the earthy taste of the beets really complimented the sweet, yet savoury taste of the pear tart.

I imagine the recipe would work equally well (if not better?!) with blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola or Blue Stilton, and perhaps with walnut pastry rather than standard shortcrust. Certainly worth a try next time…

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