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Greek Dinner at the Chef’s Table

Last night I took an unusual cooking class that was two parts food-history lesson and one part cooking class. Maybe you could say it was food theater but it seemed more like eating at a great restaurant and being able to ask the chef as many questions as you wanted. In short, it was brilliant.

The class was conducted by smart and sassy Susan Eckis, a local chef and contributor to Richmond Home. She’s fun and funny and proved extremely knowledgeable about the origins of Greek cuisine. Some basic bits: Seafaring countries have more diverse food because it can be imported more easily. In Greece’s case it’s between Europe and the Middle-East, therefore contains attributes of both. (O.K. there were also great wine parings so I don’t remember all the details.)

Eckis has been honing these classes for years. She started them out of her own kitchen and now she runs them out of KDW Home, a local kitchen showroom, and is sponsored by Wolf and Sub-Zero. Not bad. With two helpers cooking and cleaning in the background, Eckis was able to engage the 11 guests who were propped up at a raised bar facing the kitchen. But lets get to the food.

After several appetizers including a hot-pink beet tsatziki dip, we feast on this tasty and light salad.

Farro and Arugula Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette and Pomegranate Marinated Grilled Prawns & Calamari (for 4)
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
1 whole lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 pound squid, cleaned
1/2 pound sweet shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup pearled farro
2 cups arugula leaves
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper

Whisk the pomegranate molasses, lemon juice and zest, grated onion, parsley, 2 tablespoons of the oil, salt and pepper together and place in a zip-lock bags with squid and shrimp (keep them separated). Marinate 30 min to 3 hrs. Remove from marinade and dry before cooking.

Toss the squid and shrimp (still separate) with the oil, or brush it on then grill.

In a saucepan over high heat, bring 3 cups of water to rolling boil. Add the farro, reduce the heat to low, cover partially, and simmer until the farrow is tender but still firm, about 20 minutes. Drain well.

Combine the farro, arugula and tomatoes in a bowl. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve at once with shrimp and squid on top.

Next up the main course pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top, a nice surprise adding brightness to the earthy meal.

Roast Pork with Rosemary Avgelemona Sauce Stuffed with Chestnuts, Figs, Celery & Sage
served with Vegetable Moussaka (for 8-10)

3 pounds pork loin, boneless
3 tablespoons butter, melted or softened

Filling:
3/4 cup dried golden figs, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds, whole
3/4 cup brandy
3 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3/4 cup celery leaves, chopped
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 pound chestnuts, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cups coarse breadcrumbs (like Panko)
3/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Make the filling: place the figs, anise seeds and brandy in a covered bowl or jar and set is aside, covered, in the refrigerator overnight, or for several weeks. Drain, reserving both the fig mixture and the liquid.

Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery leaves, and the drained figs and anise seeds. Asute until the onions are well wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.

Place the pork, pine nuts, chestnuts, bread crumbs, parsley, sage, salt, pepper, and reserved brandy in a medium-sized bowl. Add the onion mixture and mix well. Use right away or cover and store in the refrigerator for as long as overnight. Bring to room temperature before using.

Spiral cut the pork to unroll like a jelly roll into a flat rectangle. Place a large piece of plastic wrap over the cut surface and gently but firmly pound to a generous 1/2 inch thickness, forming a triange about 10×12 inches. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the filling across the center of the loin, being careful to distribute evenly, and all the way to the ends. Fold one long side of pork over filling, then the other. Snuggle it gently into a tight cylindrical roll, being careful not to squeeze the ends so much that it shapes into a football. Cover the ends with aluminum foil or parchment to enclose the filling. Or stuff foil or parchment into the ends. Wrap string lengthwise around pork roll to secure the ends, and weave the string crosswise.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Salt and pepper the pork roll and brush it thoroughly with butter. Place in a roasting pan and cook 10 minutes.

Reduce oven to 375 degrees and continue roasting until center reaches 145 degrees, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and stand 10-15 minutes.

Rosemary Avgolemono Sauce (2 cups)

1 cup rich chicken stock
3 large eggs, beaten until frothy
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Heat the stock in a medium sized nonreactive saucepan over medium high heat. When it is beginning to boil, remove the pan from the heat. Beat the eggs in a bowl until frothy, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the lemon juice. Then very slowly add the stock, whisking vigorously.

Pour the mixture back into the pan and set it over low heat. Cook, whisking gently, until it has thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in rosemary and salt to taste. Use right away, or hold in a warm place for up to 30 minutes.

If made ahead, keep refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before reheating carefully (it is subject to curdling) in a microwave for 1 minute.

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