Last year during my vacation in Greece, I spent a couple of days in Naxos for a traditional Greek island wedding and then my plan was to visit the island of Sifnos for the first time. Oh yeah, I got to Sifnos but when one is in Greece, one should always expect a little adventure when it comes to transportation.
All the islands of the Cyclades are close to one another and logic would dictate that each island can be easily visited from the other, right? WRONG. I quickly found out that clusters of islands are tied to each other. Paros, Naxos and Antiparos seem to be a happy trio with regular ferries daily. Sifnos is not part of this three-island clique.
In Naxos at a tourist bureau, I quickly learned that if I wanted to get to Sifnos, I had to either go to Athens and then take another ferry that served an alternate ferry-run that included Sifnos or go to Paros, spend a night and then catch a small ferry boat (now out of commission) to reach Sifnos. I chose the latter option and I was kind of bummed that Greece’s infrastructure through a wrench in my itinerary (again).
I had visited Paros back in ’95 and one day and night would be a good one (as I recall from my blurred memory ofÂ over a decade ago). Upon landing in Paros, I was(we all were) greeted by throngs of islanders barking offers of accomodation, complete with binders showcasing their properties. You will find this ritual taking place at almost every island in Greece. Hotel/pension operators know the ferry schedules very well and they drop off outgoing tourists and await, haggle and snag the latest tourists looking for a place to stay.
If you’re a Greek or you’re traveling with Greeks, this spontaneous form of hotel/accomodation booking can & will get you a decent room for a fair price. If you do not speak Greek or know the island’s geography too well, I suggest booking your room in advance. There are good and bad people in the tourist industry everywhere and having a language barrier exposes you even more to this fact.
After settling on a room, I plopped my bags on the floor, changed into beachwear and walked back into the town center to catch a bus to one of Paros’ many lovely beaches. This time, I settled on a quiet beach called Santa Maria, just yonder from Naoussa (there’s another Naoussa in Macedonia, Greece). I spent the whole day sitting on my deck chair, getting up to take a dip in the warm Aegean sea, lay back and then swim again. The only break in my beach routine was to get up and buy a baguette with ham, cheese and some vegetables. My dessert was a huge wedge of watermelon. Us Greek love our watermelon.
When in Greece, the highlight of my day is the beach but in Paros, one of the most memorable dining experiences was about to take place. My room was on the outskirts of Parikea, the maintown and port of Paros. All along the “limani” or port were tourist shops and tavernas catering to foreigner and Greek alike.
I settled on a taverna called Katerina’s. It was quiet (not too close to town), it was busy, I saw Greeks and Italians eating there (a good sign) and the waiter invited me to kitchen to see the day’s specials. Not too long ago, the majority of eateries employed the “open kitchen” concept where an array of specials were prepared for the day. The selection of dishes was determined by the seasonal ingredients that were available, quality and price.
As you can see from the two photographs, Katerina’s had much to choose from (which did not include the regular menu items). I opted for a Greek salad that had some the tastiest tomatoes I had eaten all summer, a plate of Tyrokafteri (Htipiti) and a main of their baked octopus and pasta.
I’ve had baked pasta with octopus before but NEVER anything this delicious, so aromatic and so delicious. Could have been that I was really hungry? Could it have been that the octopus was freshly caught on that day or was it that Katerina’s prepared this dish to perfection? I think all three factors were true. I washed this satisfying meal with some of Paros’ red wine. Most restaurants in Greece have “xima (pronounced heema) , barrel wine on their menu and if you’re not too snotty to forgo labeled wines, this is a wonderful way to enjoy good Greek wine at an affordable price.
At Katerina’s, large baking trays of elbow macaroni and whole, large octopus were served. Usually, this Greek island classic is served with “kofto macaronia” or as we know it, ditali. For nostalgic reasons, I’ve kept the use of elbow macaroni but I opted to use these baby octopus that I just adore. I think they are perfect for this baked pasta dish.
Nothing gets wasted here. The octopus are braised in their own liquid, the concentrated liquid from the octopus becomes an intense stock that becomes the undertone for this complex, flavourful sauce: add a mire poix, some bay leaves, a cinnamon stick, some dry red wine and chopped fresh dill and you’ll be transported to the Greek island of Paros, watching the sunset and savouring each moment of your vacation in Greece.
For this Octopus and Pasta Bake recipe and more, please purchase my Everything Mediterranean cookbook.
More info on Paros can be found HERE.
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