Memories of a Greek Family Gathering

As we head towards Christmas, I am reminded of gatherings many years ago at our Grandparents house with all the extended family.  I can almost taste my Grandma Kalliopi’s chicken pieces in fragrant spiced tomato sauce.  Grandma would add chicken wings and necks for flavour, but they weren’t removed, these would be nibbled on just as a nice addition to the legs and thigh pieces.  Grandpa Anthony’s snake beans would be picked from the garden, they were around 40 cm long, and tied in bundles with string. They were prepared, boiled until tender and drizzled with olive oil.  Smoky flavoured lamb chops and sausages were cooked on the home built barbeque.  There were also great Aussie prawns, Greek Salad, preserved sardines in oil, black and green olives, cheeses and boiled greens. Added to the table were beer and wine, and of course bread, there was never a meal served without it.

When we had our fill, there would be fruit and dessert.  We always brought a cake to these celebrations (you can’t ever go a Greek house empty-handed) and I would often be encouraged to cook something.  My signature dish became Caraway Seed Cake, made with olive oil and light and fluffy.  It was tough presenting this cake to my two uncles, both of whom owned restaurants in Sydney at the time.  The cake wasn’t very sophisticated, but no one seemed to mind.

Kokkinisto Tomato Chicken Braise with Pasta

Kokkinisto means “reddened” and refers to the rich tomato colour and flavour of the sauce.  This recipe is made with chicken pieces and is often served as a sauce with spaghetti pasta, but feel free to use any pasta you like.  It is also an economical dish to make for the family.

Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
2kg (4 pounds) chicken pieces, including legs, thighs, wings (tips removed)
5 chicken necks, optional
1 large onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
400g (13 ounces) canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups water
500g (16 ounces) pasta, uncooked
grated parmesan, to serve

Heat oil in a heavy based pan and cook chicken pieces and necks in batches, until browned all over.  Remove chicken to separate plate. Season chicken with salt and pepper.
Add onion and garlic to pan and cook briefly. Add paste, tomatoes, spices, salt, pepper, wine and water and stir to incorporate.  Add chicken and juices back to pan and cover.
Bring to boil and then lower heat to simmer for approximately 1 hour.  The chicken should be tender and starting to fall off the bone.
Cook pasta according to packet directions.
To serve, sprinkle some grated parmesan on a warmed plate. Top with a portion of cooked pasta and chicken pieces.  Spoon some of the sauce over the top and sprinkle with additional cheese.

Note:  The chicken may be cooked earlier in the day and cooled in the refrigerator.  This will allow the flavours to meld.  Remove any excess fat which may rise to the surface.  Reheat gently until hot to serve with cooked pasta.

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