Corfu, one of the lush green Ionian islands, sits west of mainland Greece. Historically, the island was ruled by the Venetians, so it retains a strong Italian influence in both food and architecture. Pastitsada, one of Corfu’s most iconic dishes, is a pasta dish I grew up on. The tomato-based stew is made with chicken or beef and scented with a warming mix of aromatic spices.
Food is at the heart of every Mediterranean family. All our social gatherings and festive occasions are centred on the dinner table. It’s how we display love and show our family and friends how much we care about each other. Even a casual, unexpected visit to a neighbour or friend is always marked with coffee and a sweet.
Food connects me to memories. Braised pasta sauces like this Chicken Pastitsada are very homey and comforting, and they make the house smell amazing. I have a clear memory of smelling this sauce from the front yard when I was a kid walking home from school. The sauce has lots of beautiful aromas – it’s quite sweet and intoxicating.
Cooking is still central to my identity because I follow a strict gluten‑free lifestyle due to coeliac disease. My diagnosis 15 years ago was the springboard for an entirely new career in food. There weren’t many decent gluten‑free options on the market, so I started developing and sharing recipes – now I’m on to my third cookbook.
4 chicken marylands
sea salt flakes and freshly ground
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 fresh bay leaves
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cinnamon sticks
6 allspice berries
3 whole cloves
250ml (1 cup) red wine
400g can crushed tomatoes
320g gluten-free casarecce (or other chunky pasta)
handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
grated myzithra cheese or parmigiano reggiano, to serve (optional)
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. (You can replace the marylands with six skinless chicken thighs if preferred.)
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes until browned all over. Set the chicken aside in a bowl.
Reduce the heat to low, add the onion and a generous pinch of salt to the pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes to soften. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and a pinch of black pepper, and sauté for 2 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with the red wine, stirring to release any caramelised bits caught on the base, and simmer for 2-3 minutes until reduced by half. Tip in the tomatoes and 125ml (½ cup) of water and stir to combine. Return the chicken and resting juices to the pan, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan and simmer for another 30 minutes to thicken the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning with extra salt or pepper if required.
When the chicken is almost ready, cook the pasta according to the packet directions until al dente. Drain, then tip the pasta directly into the sauce (save some pasta water in case you need it to thin out the sauce). Gently stir to combine. Scatter on the parsley and cheese (if using) and serve.
GLUTEN-FREE MEDITERRANEAN BY HELEN TZOUGANATOS IS OUT NOW.
Published in ed#683