A while back I wrote, "I've never eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant so I can't tell you what a Michelin starred dish tastes like". This is not true any more. During this week, I had the pleasure of dining with friends at a one-Michelin starred restaurant in The Hague area and now I can say that I know what such dishes taste like. The experience was, for the most part, everything I was expecting and more.
As soon as we walked through the door, we realised that this was a unique place. It had a warm and welcoming atmosphere, not at all stuffy or too formal as one might expect. The décor of the restaurant was an interesting mix of modern design with touches of classic elegance and once we were shown to our table we got to enjoy the wonderful view of the restaurant garden. The service was exceptional. Polite waiters and waitresses with smiling faces were always present, filling our wine and water glasses and swiftly clearing our table. We had a three-course menu and everything came promptly without having to wait a long time between courses, something that almost always happens in Dutch restaurants, making it one of the reasons I don't like eating out in Holland.
The most important thing at a restaurant is always the food. That's what I was looking forward to the most. The restaurant served French cuisine with Dutch influences and seasonal local fresh ingredients. There was the element of surprise, pleasant surprise, which is always good, with the two small plates of hors d'oeuvres that were served to us shortly after we arrived. A spectacularly tasty cake with octopus ink and a crème fraiche filling and an assortment of chutneys, olives and cheese and mustard croquettes. We definitely started on a high note.
The first course came, which was a scrumptious green salad with white asparagus, cured ham and a hollandaise sauce and even though I've always hated the taste of white asparagus, that salad made me rethink my relationship with those white chubby spears.
We were anxiously awaiting our meat course. Roasted lamb on a bed of aubergine compote with a star-anise flavored lamb jus, polenta cakes and roasted cherry tomatoes. That was when we had our first hiccup. I loved everything on that plate except the most important component, the lamb. Actually not one of the four of us liked it. It was overly chewy, it was sinewy, it lacked any kind of flavor and it was extremely disappointing.
An unexpected pre-dessert milk shake with blueberries and blueberry liqueur, that was the most amazing milk shake I've ever had in my life, came to save the day or more correctly, the evening. A splendid dessert of curd mousse with balsamic-marinated strawberries and a yoghurt-basil ice cream followed. The ice cream had an incredibly fresh yoghurt flavor with a subtle hint of basil that was very different and exciting; I've never tasted such an ice cream before. If that wasn't enough, our coffee was served with the cutest petits fours that were quite delicious and that surely satisfied my never-ending desire for chocolate.
My first Michelin starred restaurant experience came to an end, leaving me and my friends wanting more. Even though I was not completely satisfied with the food, I'm certainly willing to give it another shot. Soon I hope.
From a one-Michelin starred kitchen to my little expat kitchen. From French cuisine to Greek cuisine. From Dutch seasonal produce to Greek Kalamata olives. Kalamata is a region of southern Greece that produces not only these sumptuous olives but also olive oil of excellent quality. Kalamata olives have such an extraordinarily pure and rich taste that is incomparable. Most of the olives are slit before being brined in sea salt or soaked in wine vinegar which marinates them, allowing the flavors to penetrate their flesh. They are usually sold packed in olive oil, brine, or vinegar. This natural, dark brown gem of an olive is one of the most famous Greek exports and they are coveted worldwide which is only natural, since they are one of the most flavorful olives in the world and my own personal favorites. Using them in this recipe of Greek pie rolls was a revelation.
A bite of Greece is a phrase that one can use to describe these pie rolls. Dough with olive oil and freshly squeezed orange juice, succulent olives, fresh fragrant mint, slightly caramelized onions, sesame seeds. Can it get healthier than that? It can. These pie rolls are baked in the oven as opposed to being fried which is the norm with small individual pies in Greek cuisine.
Making my own dough for any kind of pie is essential. Nothing tastes like the homemade stuff and in this case, it is more than true. Apart from being healthy, it is also quick and easy to make. Using olive oil rather than butter makes the dough lighter, shinier and more luscious and what's more important is that olive oil doesn't make the dough greasy. That seems to be the problem with most types of dough that include butter.
The filling of these pie rolls is superb, with gorgeous flavors. Biting into one of these, you can taste the slight saltiness of the Kalamata olives along with their fruity flavor which pairs perfectly with the herby mint and the sweetness of the lightly caramelized onions. The dough is fluffy but firm and melts in the mouth, and the taste of orange zest in the filling brings out the flavor of the orange juice in the dough, giving a sweetened citrus flavor to the pies and making them more complex. The sesame seeds on top, add a nutty taste and a great contrast of textures with their crunchy quality.
They make a terrific snack for those hungry moments at work and a perfect buffet item for a party. Serve them as starters for a Sunday lunch or a dinner and pair them with a lager beer. Add to the filling of these fun pie rolls a little crumbled feta cheese and you'll have a Greek extravaganza of flavors. Enjoy them!
Pitakia me Elies Kalamon (Greek Individual Pie Rolls with Kalamata Olives)
Adapted from Christoforos Peskias
The original recipe called for Throumpes which is an excellent Greek variety of "wrinkled", black, slightly bitter olives that are salt-cured but I opted for the superior, richer taste of the Kalamata olives instead.
If you really enjoy the taste of fresh mint feel free to double its quantity in the recipe, since it is rather subtle.
Yield: 20-22 pie rolls
500 g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
100 ml olive oil
250 ml orange juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp white wine vinegar
500 g Kalamata olives, pitted, rinsed well and roughly chopped
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 medium-sized onions, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
Freshly ground black pepper
Sesame seeds for sprinkling
Special equipment: rolling pin, stand mixer (optional)
In a large bowl (or in the bowl of the stand mixer), mix the flour with the baking powder and salt and add all the wet ingredients. Mix everything together with your hands (or using the dough-hook attachment) until a dough forms. Then turn the dough out onto a clean and lightly floured work surface and knead it for about 4-5 minutes or until you have a smooth dough. If you prepare the dough in the stand mixer, it will be ready in about 2 minutes.
Don't overwork the dough.
Cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions for about 10 minutes, until they become soft, translucent and ever-so-slightly caramelized. Take skillet off the heat and add the olives, the chopped fresh mint, the orange zest and the pepper. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
Make pie rolls
Divide the dough into 20-22 equal pieces. Lightly dust your work surface, hands and rolling pin with flour. Take one piece of dough, roll it in between your hands to make a ball and then roll it out into a 10 x 17 cm rectangle with a thickness of around 0.5 cm, using the rolling pin. Continue rolling out the rest of the dough pieces.
Note: If your kitchen is too hot or if it's taking you a long time to roll out each piece of dough, you might want to keep the rest of the dough refrigerated so it doesn't get too soft.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Line one or two baking trays with parchment paper or silicone sheets.
Put 1 - 1 1/2 Tbsp of the filling on top of each rectangular piece of dough. The layer of the filling must be thin and make sure you don't put filling near the edges of the dough because it will fall out when you roll it up.
Roll up each piece of dough and place onto the baking tray.
Lightly brush the top of each pie roll with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Place tray on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until pie rolls have taken on a golden brown color. Continue baking the second batch of pie rolls.
They can be eaten straight out of the oven, while they're hot, but they are also magnificently flavorsome the following day, if not better.