It's a three-and-a-half-hour flight from London to the Greek island of Kefalonia. The return fare I booked was a mere $60 a head. In my excitement at this amazing bargain, I had failed to read a blog that warned, "If you value your sanity and indeed your life, avoid this airport at all costs."
It was late on a blue-skied Sunday morning when our plane landed. The tiny arrivals hall was already heaving with people from another flight, everyone was pushing and shoving around a single luggage belt. No sign of any security, passport checks or customs.
Amazingly our entire family got all our luggage without mishap. Through the arrivals door a swarm of taxi drivers were milling. A woman who looked like a cross between a sumo wrestler and a wild Greek goddess, muscular and stocky with a cascade of curly black hair that fell to her hips, pushed through the crowd and lifted our heavy bags out of our hands. "Taxi," she said as she marched off with the bags. It wasn't a question. She stopped at a big old Mercedes, opened the boot, hiffed the cumbersome bags in as if they were feather pillows, then hopped in the driver's seat to wait for us. Ted sat up front and we three squeezed into the back.
She turned to Ted. "Where to?"
"Poros," I piped up from the back, "on the other side of the island. How much is the fare please?"
She tapped the dashboard. The meter showed no signs of life. Before I could protest we were off, hurtling at breakneck speed through the narrowest of winding roads. A weighty silence enveloped the car. I looked out the window. The mountain we were climbing was blanketed in the deepest green of pencil cypresses, thousands of these regal green spires, blanketing the landscape.
Careening down the other side, we screeched into gravel lay-by in the middle of nowhere. Our driver lifted her sleeve and tapped a flashy watch. "Lunch," she said, getting out of the car, leaving us sitting drop-jawed inside.
A minute or so later another car pulled up and an elderly man hopped out. She handed him her keys, jumped in his car and raced off. The man walked over to our car, hopped in and we were off again, this time at a more leisurely pace. We decided he must have had his lunch.
In Greece, Sunday lunch rules. And why not? After all, it's a Sunday. Light the fires and settle in for the afternoon. Any one of these three delicious make-ahead main courses fits the bill perfectly for a long, lazy, winter lunch.
This aromatic sauce will make the best of any fish or seafood. If you want, you can just use fish and leave out the prawns. The base sambal sauce is easily doubled or trebled and freezes well.
Ready in 35 mins
1 Tbsp neutral oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 x 10cm stalks lemongrass, lightly pounded, or 2 tsp minced lemongrass
1½ cups coconut cream
¼ cup mirin
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sambal oelek or chilli paste or 1-2 long red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
600g boneless, skinless white fish fillets, cut into bite-size chunks
12-24 raw shelled prawn tails
2 Tbsp lime juice, or to taste
1 Tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
1 long red chilli, sliced, to serve
¼ cup chopped coriander, to serve
Lime wedges, to serve (optional)
Heat oil and gently fry onion, garlic and ginger until soft but not brown (8 minutes). Add lemongrass, coconut cream, mirin, soy sauce and sambal oelek or chilli paste or chopped chillies. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Discard lemongrass stalks, if using. The sauce can be made in advance to this point and chilled or frozen until needed.
When ready to serve, bring sauce back to a simmer, add fish and prawns, cover and simmer gently until they are just cooked through (5 minutes). Add the lime juice and fish sauce, taste and adjust, adding more of each as preferred.
Garnish with chilli and coriander and serve with lime wedges, if desired. Accompany with rice.
Coq au Vin Pie
This is a great party pie – hearty, satisfying and suitably spectacular – that can be prepared well in advance. I like to use chicken thighs rather than breasts as they stay moist and juicy. If you prefer you can top the pie with store-bought flaky pastry instead of the homemade crumb crust here.
Prep time 30 mins
Cook time about 1½ hours
6 rashers bacon, diced
2 big leeks, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
500g button mushrooms, halved if large
¼ cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups red wine
400g can diced tomatoes in juice
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 tsp thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
10 boneless chicken thighs, each cut into thirds
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
PEPPERED ROSEMARY CRUMB
2¾ cups self-raising flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
½ cup milk mixed with ½ cup olive oil
Melt 25g of the butter in a large frying pan and cook bacon until fat starts to run (about 2 minutes). Add leeks, garlic and mushrooms and cook over a medium heat, stirring now and then, until just starting to brown (about 10 minutes).
Lift vegetables and bacon from pan and reserve. Add remaining butter to pan and, when melted and sizzling, add flour, stirring over heat for about 1 minute. Add stock, wine, tomatoes in juice, parsley, thyme and bay leaves.
Stir well to release pan brownings, then add chicken and simmer until cooked through (20 minutes). Discard bay leaves, stir in reserved vegetables and bacon and season to taste.
The filling can be prepared ahead until this stage, chilled for up to 2 days and reheated when needed.
To make peppered rosemary crumb, combine flour, salt, pepper and rosemary in a mixing bowl. Use a fork or your hands to quickly mix in milk and oil to form a crumbly dough.
When ready to assemble, preheat oven to 200C fan bake. Transfer chicken filling to a large (minimum 14-cup capacity) casserole dish or 8 individual ramekins.
Crumble the topping over the chicken and bake until the top is golden (about 40 minutes).
Slow-cooked Spiced Lamb
A lamb shoulder is one of the most succulent meats imaginable and a spice rub makes it even more aromatic. To effectively remove fat from pan juices, allow to cool a little then drop in a few ice cubes. When the fat coagulates around the ice, lift it out and discard it.
Ready in about 4 hours
3-4kg bone-in lamb shoulder
2 fat cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp salt
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 cups fruity white wine
1 cup water
1 handful of mint leaves, to serve
Pita breads, prepared couscous, green salad (to serve)
Preheat oven to 140C fan bake. Place lamb in a deep roasting dish and cut several deep slashes on both sides. Crush garlic, cumin, coriander, fennel, salt and lemon juice to a paste in a mortar and pestle and rub over the skin and into the slashes.
Pour wine and water into the roasting dish around the lamb. Cover tightly and bake for 3½-4 hours, until very tender.
Transfer lamb to an ovenproof serving dish. Skim fat from top of cooking juices and discard, then return juices in roasting dish to stove top, bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half.
The lamb and sauce can be prepared to this stage up to 48 hours ahead and chilled until needed – bring to room temperature before finishing.
When nearly ready to eat, preheat oven to 220C fan bake. Brush lamb with reduced juices and cook until golden and crispy (about 10 minutes). Drizzle with some of the reduced juices and garnish with mint leaves.
Serve the rest of the juices in a jug on the side. Serve with warmed pita breads, couscous and a crisp green salad.
Yvonne's picks ...
As a child, I was certain that quicksand was going to be a bigger issue in my life than it actually is. Who'd have thought that the thing that'd save me from many a sludgy situation would be gewurztraminer? I'm loving the Linden Estate Hawke's Bay Gewurztraminer 2020 ($20) because it's one wine that pairs perfectly with the chilli, coriandery, coconutty, garlicky, gingery, lemongrassy, fishy goodness of this spicy dish. Lightly styled and beautifully balanced, it's not a massive head-thwack of syrupy sweetness like some overblown examples.
(Coq au Vin Pie)
Holy leek and bacon, Batman! Settling in for a large steaming serving of this rib-sticking, cockle-warming coq au vin requires a large goblet of the organically-farmed Doctors Flat Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 ($52) pronto! For this wine, a portion of whole clusters (bunches) went into the ferment to inject a softer, fruitier layer because they essentially ferment inside their own skins. When combined with solid tannins and dried herb notes, the result is a wild and woolly wine erupting with baked tamarillo, black tea and cherries. Saucy spices and a tweak of truffle on the finish adds to its sexiness.
(Slow-cooked Spiced Lamb)
While you're being asked to find two cups of "fruity white wine" to glug into the recipe, get out the good glasses and pour yourself a large slug of the sensational Stone Paddock Hawke's Bay Syrah 2019 ($20) to serve with this O for orsum ovine. Glossy, garnet-coloured and gorgeous, it's perfumed with white pepper, smoked blueberries and dark cocoa. To drink it's slippery, silky, spice-saturated and slips down dangerously easily. Crafted by Jason Stent from Paritua Vineyards, it's superb value.
vineonline.co.nz or pointwines.co.nz