Saturday, August 18, 2007

Giada Goes Greek

Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis
Greek Fusion

Greek Caponata
Orzo Stuffed Peppers
Simple Baklava
Crispy Smoked Mozzarella with Honey and Figs

To get the recipes:
Click here

Giada looks just stunning against the Greek backdrop of a white-washed building set against brilliant sunshine. Of course, she'd look beautiful in a dusty old shed in the middle of a hailstorm.

She tells us that "the flavors of Greece and Italy complement each other in some surprising ways." Why is that surprising? When you think that the Romans have been borrowing from the Greeks (sorry, Giada), since they took Zeus and turned him into Jupiter, and Aphrodite and Ares became Venus and Mars, you'd think there would have been even more intermingling of the 2 cultures, not to mention cuisines. But I guess that when you have two proud peoples, they like to keep certain aspects of their heritages separate.

(According to some olive oil producing Spanish friends, Italians do like to pass off Greek olive oil as their own. I'm staying out of that feud. I like to use Spanish olive oil, sent to me by these same friends. It is awesome.)

Anyway, in the spirit of neighborliness, Giada is borrowing from both cultures to make her dishes today. She gets beautiful orange and red peppers ready for stuffing. She cooks 1 1/2 cups of orzo in 4 cups of chicken stock, just for 5 minutes, because it's going to cook longer in the oven.

She breaks up canned whole tomatoes with scissors, reminiscing about when she was a child and she and her siblings used to squoosh the tomatoes through their fingers. Ah, the memories of a fine Italian kitchen. (Sometimes, my mother let me measure the Minute Rice. Just kidding. Well, not completely. My mother WAS a fine cook, but she did avail herself of various anti-fine cuisine shortcuts.)

Giada grates zucchini on a box grater. Ok, if I'm sitting in Tuscany, surrounded by rolling hills and sun-kissed produce, I'll use a box grater. But if I'm home, I'll let it rip in the food processor. She adds the zucchini to the bowl of tomatoes. The orzo gets lifted out of the pot, reserving the stock that's left behind. Giada adds the orzo to the toms and zucc. She also adds some chopped mint. "Mint is to the Greeks as Basil is to the Italians."

Ooh, I love analogies! They don't have those on SAT's anymore, do they? Donkey is to Linux systems what Pacific Ocean is to Tom Arnold. (Okay, WHERE in the world was my mind there?)

Garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and cheese (an Italian one) gets thrown in too. Giada mixes it all together. Why aren't you using a fork? (The FN should give a seminar to its hosts to explain that grains and pastas get mixed with a FORK.) She fills the peppers all the way to the top, because there is some shrinkage. She pours the reserved chicken stock into the bottom of the dish and covers it with foil "to keep the peppers moist." It goes into a 400 deg F. oven for 45 minutes and then she sprinkles more pecorino on top and it goes back in, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

How do I feel about this dish? To be honest, I don't think ANYONE really likes the PEPPER part of stuffed peppers. Why not just have the stuffing part? I know they make attractive vessels for food, but it's such a waste of a good pepper. What you're really doing is virtually steaming them, which is what happens when they're baked under foil. It's just not the best to cook them. I'd rather slice them into strips and sauté them quickly in olive oil, garlic and salt. (Throw in a red onion for added punch.)

She starts on her Greek Caponata. She tells us how the Greeks and Italians have been influencing each other for centuries and then begins to prepare a JAPANESE eggplant! She explains they have smaller seeds and are less bitter. I prefer them myself. To the eggplant she adds zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, garlic and A POTATO. Really? That's odd, isn't it? She finishes off the mixture with extra virgin, olive oil, salt and pepper, oh, and dried oregano - Oregano is to the Greeks as ___ is to the Italians?*

She adds a can of tomatoes to the bottom of a baking dish. She spreads her veggies over and covers with foil. She bakes them for 400 deg. F for 20 minutes then uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes.

To serve with the caponata, Giada is grilling plain bread. She places that on a platter and the caponata goes next to it. See? It's being served on bread. I'm not getting why she added a potato to the mixture.

For her quick version of Baklava, Giada DOES use the food processor. She mixes together walnuts, almonds, dried apricots, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and a secret ingredient she learned from a fine Greek baker - fine breadcrumbs. Then she mixes in honey and melted butter. (I think honey is one of those ingredients where you get what you pay for. If you try a finer honey just once, you'll be hooked. It's more delicate and not quite a syrupy sweet as the standard brand.)

Giada is using phyllo dough for the next recipe. She covers it with a damp cloth to keep from drying out. She stacks up 6 pieces, brushing melted butter between each one. She cuts the stack into 12 equal pieces. She presses each rectangle into a mini muffin cup. A spoonful of filling goes into each one and then she presses the top edges closed. They look like adorable little pouches. She bakes them at 350 deg F. for 20 minutes.

To top off her next dish, Giada heats up some honey and adds dried figs to it to rehydrate them. She places a sheet of phyllo on work surface and cuts smoked mozzarella into 1 inch slices. She wraps each slice of mozzarella in a phyllo sheet like a burrito. She gets her oil ready. "Who doesn't like fried cheese?" I'm with you, G.

WOW!!! They look brown and melty and crispy and good! She plates them and spoons over the honeyed figs. (That's a great serving idea for a slab of bleu cheese, too.) The final touch is a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. She tastes it. It should get the gold.

Merging Greek and Italian elements isn't hard, when you take the best from both worlds. And when you have Giada putting them together, she's bound to make the gods, Greek OR Roman, happy.

*Parsley, Says Giada.


Emilie said...

Shrinkage...heh heh heh. I love Seinfeld! :-)

Sue said...

Hi Em,

Yup. There's nothing better.

Cynthia said...

Sue I agree with you about the stuffed peppers. I made some for a blog event and yes they looked great in their vessels! When it came to eating, everyone just had the stuffing, that is why I put some in a ramekin and baked it.

When I served the stuffed peppers people were asking (with eyes pleading: please say no), do I have to eat the pepper itself? I told them no, just eat the stuffing. And you're right, it's such a waste of peppers. But that's not to say that I am not going to be making them again, and again (lol)

Sue said...

Hi Cynthia,
I know exactly what you mean. It's hard to find a substitute that's as attractive AND edible. If I think of one, I'll let you too. Ok?

Carol said...

If you make stuffed red bell peppers the authentic Greek way, they're actually very good. I was shocked -- I have a Greek, unfortunately, but you can use the same recipe for stuffed tomatoes. You use uncooked rice, which is interesting.

Sue said...

Well, duh, I'm so slow...OF COURSE tomatoes are the perfect substitute. I'm embarrassed I didn't think of that.

Could the peppers be better with the uncooked rice, because you have to cook them longer and they get softer? Interesting.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Honestly, I was not thrilled with this show. I am Italian and I am obessed with Greek food. I teach mediterrranean fusion at most of my cooking classes. I felt she could have done a little more with this. Been a bit more creative with her crossovers.

First, I was annoyed by her caponata. Caponata is NOT caponata BY definition unless it has both vinegar AND sugar! It is the agrodolce (seet & sour) that makes it special.

Now although she did not use ice cream for her baklava recipe....don't you think it is kind of similar to this:

Ever feel like you have a celeb stalker?!?!

Sue said...

Hi Jenn,

Your recipe looks fantastic!!! And much better than Giada's.

I think you're right. She didn't put too much thought into these recipes. I think her best shows are when she goes to her huge storehouse of family recipes. Sometimes it feels as if she just put something together quickly, because she had a show that day.

I was so thrown when she added potatoes, I should definitely have noted the absence of sweet and sour. Thank you for noticing that.