Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Prunes Stuffed with Aromatic Ground Meat
Inspired by Chef Nena Ismirnoglou
(PHOTO: Vassilis Stenos)
If you are ever in Athens with some time to spare for a cab ride north to Kifissia (about 30 minutes from downtown), make it a point to try the restaurant Gefseis me Onomasia Proelefsis. OK, that’s a mouthful! It means “Appellation of Origin Flavors.” The food is great and the venue, an old house built during the reign of King Otto in Greece, is a throwback to another, grander era. The rooms are filled with lovely antiques, the wine cellar is visible through a glass-covered ceiling, and the garden, if you are there in spring, summer, or early fall, is a lush oasis. The food is elegant Greek mama fare, produced by one of the few women chefs in Greece, Nena Ismirnoglou. The recipe that follows is inspired by one of her dishes.
1 pound/440 g dried pitted prunes
200 ml Greek
3 thyme sprigs
8-10 black peppercorns, whole
For the Filling:
3 tbsp. extra virgin Greek olive oil
1/2 pound/220 g ground lamb
½ pound/220 g ground beef
3 large red onions, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
6 allspice berries
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, washed and finely chopped
4 tbsp. olive oil for the pan
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic
1. Place the prunes in a wide pot with enough water to cover. Pour in the wine, add the 2 cloves, thyme and peppercorns. and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes, until the prunes are soft. (Greek prunes are a lot tougher than California prunes, so judge accordingly.) Strain and reserve the cooking liquid.
2. In another large, wide pot, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and sauté the onions over medium heat until soft, about 12 minutes, stirring. Add the two ground meats to the pot and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and bay leaves. Add ½ cup water mixed with the tomato paste and continue cooking over low heat until there is no liquid left in the pot, for about 30 more minutes. Remove from heat and remove the bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves. Stir in the chopped parsley. Let cool slightly.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F/180°. Pour the 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a baking pan large enough to hold the prunes in one layer. Stuff the prunes with a tablespoon or so of the ground meat mixture and place, open side up, in the pan. Pour in 6 tablespoons of the leftover liquid from cooking the prunes. Cover and bake for 10 minutes.
4. While the prunes are baking, reheat the reserved cooking liquid. Add the sugar and balsamic and cook over high heat until the liquid is reduced by at least half and has become thick, almost like syrup, in consistency. Remove the prunes from the oven, serve several at a time, and drizzle a little of the wine-balsamic reduction over them.