In honour of our upcoming World Pasta Day, and subsequent week of gastronomic getaways, we’ve taken the opportunity to dive into the culinary pasts of each of our chosen cuisines to bring you a cultural banquet of these rich histories.
Where it all began: The first ‘cookbook’
Archestratus was a Greek writer prolific around 350 BC, who, (rather fittingly considering that this week’s dish is an act of Greco-Roman fusion) lived on the island of Sicily just off the coast of the Italian peninsula. Although modern records would suggest that he was not a cook himself, he had a deep appreciation for good food and eating.
Archestratus wrote a poem called Hedypatheia (roughly meaning ‘Pleasant Living’), in a style that parodied the works of classically venerated Greek poets. Of course, Greek societies had been cooking long before the advent of writing, and it is for this reason that Archestratus’s poem is sometimes considered to be one of the first examples of a “cookbook”; at the very least, it is certainly a comprehensive account of ancient food practices. His culinary compendium advises the reader on how to source the best food and emphasises the importance of cooking simply, with minimal ingredients. He even abhors the addition of cheese to fish dishes, a dislike that modern-day Italians also tend to share.
So what is it exactly that Archestratus loved so much about Greek food and why has this cuisine established itself as one of the world’s most popular?
A Land of Plenty
Plunging headlong into the many millenia of Greece’s culinary heritage is like biting through the layers of a filo pastry covered spanakopita: a dense but nonetheless satisfying endeavour. The diet of ancient Greece was based on three main cornerstones of Mediterranean cuisine, notably bread, wine and the economic foundation of its civilisation: olive oil. Although this triptych of sorts remains in many ways the base of the country’s modern food culture, the farming nature of ancient Greece meant that it was also able to produce an abundance of home grown products such as cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. The Minoans were the first known residents of Greece and widely used grains, goats, and sheep in their everyday cooking. Carried on the back of wooden carts pulled by cattle, honey was eventually also ushered into the mainland.
Having been credited with the invention of the Olympic Games, the Greeks were of course no stranger to strenuous physical activity. They liked to reward sporting participants for their efforts with a trophy, which, most interestingly, is a word than in both modern and ancient Greek simply translates into English as ‘food’. Even in the vernacular, food in Greece is clearly something to be celebrated.
Greek cuisine however not only tells us a story of its country’s past; it is equally a cuisine of the present. The reason why its culinary heritage is still so well preserved today is not because it is showy or brash, but simply because it focuses on maximising the quality of basic, natural ingredients. Today, Greece's sun-drenched climes are perfect for supporting the growth of citrus fruits and olive trees, as well as spices, garlic and other aromatic herbs.
The relatively fractured geography of the Hellenic archipelago has also given rise to a remarkable variety of regional cuisines. Around 20% of Greece is made up of islands, and, with no part of the Greek mainland being more than 150km from the sea, fresh fish are found in abundance. Following in the footsteps of the first Minoans, meats such as lamb and goat are still held in high regard and often used in celebratory dinners during holidays and festivals.
Our chef’s special for World Pasta Day draws on Greece’s thousand year old love affair with the humble food of the land; together the combination of feta and sundried tomatoes pays tribute to the Greek tradition with a slight nod to our very own Italia. It’s something we’re sure the Greek and Roman gods could both agree to like. Read more about our inspiration below:
Ελλάδα 🇬🇷 | Feta & Sundried Tomato Mezzelune with Oregano Butter
If you walk along the whitewashed villages of idyllic Santorini, next to the inky waters of the Aegean Sea in the peak of summer months, you may witness locals drying their tomatoes in the Greek sunshine before passing a thread through each one and hanging them up in a large storage room. Sun-dried tomatoes are the taste of summer which, when combined with feta, the emblematic cheese of Greece, provides an authentic taste of the Mediterranean.
Feta, literally meaning ‘slice’ in Greek, is made from sheep’s milk, or a combination of sheep & goats’ milk and its name likely refers to the slices of feta transferred into large barrels for the 2-month long process of maturation it undergoes before being packaged. Feta and the history surrounding this cheese dates back further than most ingredients we’ve come across! For example, according to Greek mythology, the gods sent Aristaios, son of Apollo, to teach the Greeks the ancient art of cheese-making. Additionally, the cheese prepared in Homer's Odyssey (800 B.C), by Cyclope Polyfimos, is said to be one of the ancestors of Feta.
We’ve used half-moon shaped mezzelune pasta to transport these pockets of sun-dried tomato & feta, with an oregano-infused butter to serve.
Why not try it for yourself as part of our special World Pasta Day menu?