Last weekend brought the end to the meat-eating phase of Apokries (Greek Carnival) and now Greeks are in the homestretch – the last week of Apokries. It’s Tyrini or Cheesefare Week with many Greeks forgoing meat and only eating dishes with cheese…lots of cheese!
Pasta’s popularity goes beyond the happy bellies of Italian diners and besides the many dishes (with so many pasta shapes to choose from), the other key to its popularity has to be its simplicity in preparation.
Anyone can boil water, add salt and cook the pasta according to packet instructions and most can whip-up a quick and delicious sauce to toss said pasta. It’s the everyman’s meal, it’s quick, it’s filling – it’s delicious!
Last night I came home late hungry and as I opened the fridge I prayed that the tub of roasted cherry tomatoes was still waiting for me to use. They were. Late winter/early Spring is still early to be buying good tomatoes but the hot house cherry tomatoes are usually good.
Be it for salads or sauces, cherry tomatoes are reliable and they sing when slow-roasted in the oven with Greek olive oil, garlic and some sea salt. You can toss the cherry tomatoes in a salad, use for appetizers or use in pasta sauce.
Many Greeks love pasta simply tossed in crumbled Feta or in this case, a dry mizithra cheese – generously grated over the pasta and tossed to melt into creamy, buttery consistency.
Dry mizithra cheese is a hard cheese, usually in a ball form and it usually comes from the whey leftover from making Feta cheese (much like Manouri cheese). It’s medium in saltyness and best when freshly and finely grated over pasta. Italian foodie-philes will think ricotta salata as an alternative and I’d say correct! In fact, I was served a similar dish on New Year’s Eve, inspired by a recipe from Lidia.
Boil the pasta, have previously roasted cherry tomatoes on hand, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, some fresh ground pepper and a rub of a dried Greek oregano over the pasta make this dish a wonderful, easy and delicious meal in a pinch.
Spaghetti With Roasted Cherry Tomatoes & Dry Mizithra Cheese
1 – 500 gr. package of Misko no. 6 pasta (spaghetti)
2 pints of ripe cherry tomatoes
8-10 whole cloves of garlic
coarse sea salt
approx. half cup grated dry Mizithra cheese
dried Greek oregano to taste
- Make a batch of roasted cherry tomatoes ahead of time by pre-heating your oven to 350F. Rinse your cherry tomatoes and place in shallow pan with whole cloves of garlic, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Toss to coat and slow roast for about one hour or until they just begin to shrivel and the juices begin to run out of the tomatoes. Remove from the pan, cool and store.
- Place a pot of water on your stove-top and bring to a boil. Season generously with salt and cook pasta according to packet instructions. Bring roasted cherry tomatoes to room temperature.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain and reserve. In the same pot place a handful of cherry tomatoes (one handful for each portion) and mash them with fork to release their juices (add some roasted garlic too).
- Add the pasta, some olive oil and toss to coat. Add fresh ground pepper, some dried Greek oregano and toss again, divide and plate.
- Grate lots of dry Mizithra on top of each portion and serve. Pair with a bottle of chilled Kanenas Rose.
*Mizithra is a traditional Greek whey cheese with Protected designation of Origin (PDO). It has been manufactured in Greece for thousands of years and is considered the ancestor of all Greek whey cheeses. Mizithra is manufactured from whey derived from ewe’s, goats or cows milk or mixtures of milks in the regions of Macedonia, Thrace, Thessalia, Sterea Hellas, Peloponissos, Ionian islands, Aegean island and Crete island. There are two types of Mizithra; Fresh Mizithra which is unsalted or slightly salted and consumed a few hours or days after its manufacture and Dried Mizithra which is salted, dried and consumed as grated cheese. Fresh Mizithra contains up to 70% moisture and at least 50% fat in dry matter, while Dried Mizithra contains 40% and 50%, respectively (from www.expoaid.gr)
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