Under the Olive Tree Irini Tzortzoglou
Last Monday, I received my book prize Under the Olive Tree from Irini’s Tzortzoglou winner of Masterchef UK 2019. Anne and I won her Instagram competition and on launch day our copies dropped into our letter boxes. Nothing exciting happens on a Monday and it is so lovely to win a prize and start the week elated.
I have only had a chance to turn each page after dinner and my heart filled with pride. I don’t know Irini nor did I get a chance to watch her full journey on Masterchef, however her warm personality shines through on social media. Hosting talks in lockdown which I enjoyed and they were taped, if you missed them live, by her husband. If you are wanting a little me time, scroll through and listen to an interesting range of talks with phycologist and transformational coach Dr Chloe Mitchell to Simon Rogan, Michelin starred chef, to name a few.
The book Under the Olive Tree is a celebration of all things Greek. Irini explains where her love of cooking comes from, the lexicon of our Greek cuisine, discussing the ingredients we use and where to buy them in the UK. The photos taken by the esteemed David Loftus captures the wonderful range of dishes created by Irini and the essence of Greek life.
The recipes can be easily adapted for midweek cooking, or be used to create a wonderful taste of Greece/Crete experience for friends and family. I immediately wanted to make something, which is rare for me, I often read recipe books and feel deflated. I’ve either got nothing innovative to try or the recipes are that little bit too drawn out to make for a mid week meal. I am all about making the boring routine of cooking daily a little more exciting and struggle to cook for hours, as I don’t have a chunk of time to dedicate to one dish. I often start a dish the night before or in my lunch hour, when I am working from home and finish it at dinner. I know some people like the recipes in their books to be cooked their way from start to finish, every element as it is pictured, you may love that way of cooking too. I love to take an element from a recipe and add it to routine meals, just a little twist you haven’t tasted before, can add joy midweek and this book has a lot of joyful additions. There are also collaborations, with award winning Greek Sommelier who judges for Decanter and a few more interesting reads that I will let you discover for yourself.
I have in the last few days incorporated some of the ideas from the book into my family meals. I earmarked the Grilled Manouri cheese with toasted walnuts, grapes and pears that appears on the cover as lunch the next day. I had all the ingredients indoors bar the rocket. I had a marrow to stuff and used Irini’s recipe for tomatoes and peppers filled with herbed trahans and rice, it was really different and tasty.
For those reading this in the Southern Hemisphere I know the evenings are cold at the moment, the book has wonderful stews and soups that will take you away from the dreary depths of COVID lockdown and the bleak weather. This book can transport you to Crete via your table, I have ordered some Greek wine, there are grape varieties beyond the rather ‘I need to forget that glass of Retsina’ and you too can transport yourself virtually, to sunnier shores.
No spoiler alerts here, ok maybe the dishes above have given you a hint of what is to expect, but even the salad dressing for the Manouri salad had an ingredient that I haven’t added to my salads before and it will be featuring in my salads more often.
Back to the wonderful salad, I had a pear, grapes and walnuts, no rocket came in this week’s shop, but it still tasted wonderful and looked very pretty for a Tuesday lunch. I served some homemade bread, opened a jar of olive tapenade and it was a lovely, made in my lunch hour, treat. When my daughter walked into the kitchen she said ‘what smells so buttery, are you frying crepes’, that is the unique butteriness and aroma of Manouri cheese on my grill. The owners of Odysea posted on social media that Manouri cheese is a by-product of the feta making process, it uses the whey that is released in the pressing of the feta and has cream added to produce this wonderful cheese. If you live in the UK you can find Manouri online and in some supermarkets. I know in the southern hemisphere you may not be so lucky, but when you next have a Greek holiday seek out this unique cheese or perhaps add a twist to the combination of salad ingredients by using goats cheese (I really enjoy Cricket St Thomas’ Capricorn Goats Cheese from Somerset), feta or grilled halloumi work well too.
The book has very usable recipes, I have tried three already and I haven’t even read all the lovely stories yet. There are a lot of clever ideas to magpie into different dishes and desserts that you may already love and make differently, but you want to add a little Masterchef touch too. The book has a variety of recipes that can be adapted for vegans too.
This is not a sponsored advert as Irini said when I thanked her on Instagram when I received the book, Irini said ‘Marissa is not on commission!’ I love my identity, the traditional Greek dishes differ from region to region and island to island and I am just excited that the dishes we know are in the spotlight and the treasured recipes have been written.
For us as a family we should have returned from a holiday in Cyprus and like so many, we were heartbroken to not be able to travel and make memories. However with this book, a few orders placed for delicious ingredients and the recipes made, we healed and filled our souls.