Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Spetzofai

Ideally, I would prefer to use in my cooking fruits and vegetables that are in season and that don't come from thousands of kilometers away or from another continent but from the country I live in. That, I believe, is something every one of us should be doing anyway.

Eating foods that are in season, not only reduces your carbon footprint but it's a way to actively support your local farmers and save money. When produce is in season locally and it's in abundance, it is usually less expensive and you can get more for your money. Let's face it, if you want to buy strawberries in the middle of winter, you're going to have to pay thrice as much for half the amount. Is it really worth it?

Not to mention the health benefits of eating fresh, organic, unprocessed foods, and of course one other factor, the taste; nothing beats the vibrant, highly fragrant and juicy quality of in-season fruits and vegetables that are packed with flavor and nutrients.

Having said all that, I am one of those people who get uncontrollable craves from time to time and do succumb to the allure of the odd aubergine (to make papoutsakia) or asparagus in winter and I have to admit, even though reluctantly, that I eat courgettes all year round.

There are times when I simply can't help myself. When a glistening and perfectly round greenhouse tomato smiles at me in the produce isle of the super market when all I have been craving that day was a Greek horiatiki salad, well, it's too much of a pressure not to put that tomato in my basket. And when relatives from Greece have sent me a boxful of goodies, including horiatika loukanika (Greek, country/peasant sausages) so spicy and aromatic that they beg of me to make spetzofai with them, what can I do? I have to buy peppers, even though they are not in season.

The traditional Greek dish of Spetzofai (or Spetsofai) has always been among my favorite dishes from a very young age. It is a rustic spicy dish of peppers and thick country sausages in a rich tomato sauce, and it is a specialty of the Mount Pelion and Volos regions of Thessaly in Central Greece. These regions produce the most robust-flavored and delicious, fiery sausages made from goat, sheep, beef and pork meat, that are generally used in dishes like the spetzofai.

Even though spetzofai is a classic Greek dish, its name is derived from the Italian word 'spezzatino' (meaning a dish containing small pieces of meat / from the verb spezzare = to break something into pieces). The word spetzofai is a composite word (spetzo- and -fai); the first part, 'spetzo', is derived from spezzatino and the second part 'fai', is the Greek word for food.

This deliciously luscious dish is made in Greece all year round and it is generally eaten as a main dish. It is also offered as a mezes, served in a small plate and accompanying other small savory treats, along with lots of tsipouro or wine.

There are many variations of spetzofai all around Greece; the one from Pelio contains aubergines, while in other areas they prepare it with just green bell peppers and elsewhere, multicolored peppers as well as hot and piquant ones are added to the dish.

Greek kefalotyri cheese, cubed

My spetzofai is made with a variety of peppers, Greek spicy country sausages, fresh tomatoes and red wine, and it has an intensely deep and earthy flavor. It is one of those dishes that once you get a taste of it, you simply can't stop eating it. Paired with feta or kefalotyri cheese, lots of crusty bread* to soak up all that thick red sauce, and some booze, it is guaranteed to warm you up during the dark and snowy days of winter—like the ones we've been having.

* or, you can just combine cheese and bread into one, and pair the spetzofai with another Mount Pelion specialty, the tyropsomo—the Greek feta-filled bread.

Greek Spetzofai (Peppers and Spicy Country Sausages in a Rich Tomato Sauce)

If you use sausages that are very piquant and spicy, you may want to tone it down with the peppers, using only mild-flavored ones like bell peppers. If your sausages are not that spicy, then go all out with the peppers and use the most fiery ones you can handle.

I used long sweet red peppers from Florina and long light-green mild peppers (bull's horn peppers), called 'kerato' in Greece. If you can't find these where you live, you can use what's available in your country.

If you can find them, use Greek country spicy sausages from Pelio or Volos, otherwise any kind of thick spicy sausage will do. The flavor of the sausages is prominent, as the peppers are fried in the rendered sausage fat, so make sure you use good quality sausages.

Read here on how to handle hot chili peppers.

Yield: 4 main servings

4 spicy thick country sausages (pork or beef / I prefer pork), sliced thickly (about 4 cm-thick slices)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large green bell peppers, deseeded and cut into large pieces
4 long sweet red peppers, deseeded and cut into large strips
2 red long chili peppers, deseeded and cut in half lengthwise
1 green long chili pepper, deseeded and cut in half lengthwise
5 long light-green mild peppers, deseeded and cut into large strips
3 medium-sized tomatoes (not skinned), puréed in a processor, or 450-500 g canned puréed tomatoes
1 ½ tsp tomato paste
60 ml (¼ cup) dry red wine, Greek Agiorgitiko or Cabernet Sauvignon
Freshly ground black pepper

Special equipment: food processor (optional), a large, shallow, heavy-bottomed pan or skillet with lid

In a large, shallow, heavy-bottomed pan or skillet, add 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the sausage slices and fry them until they release some of their fat and take on a golden brown color, for about 5 minutes. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and place them in a large bowl.
Add the green bell peppers to the pan and sauté them well on both sides, until they soften a bit. Remove them from the pan and into the large bowl with the sausages.
Add the long red peppers and both green and red chili peppers to the pan. Sauté them well on both sides, until they slightly soften, remove them from the pan and place them in the bowl.
Add the long green peppers, sauté them well on both sides, until they soften, remove them from the pan and place them in the bowl.

Then add the puréed tomatoes and cook over medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan as you do, to get all those burnt up bits that are oh-so-flavorful. Cook the puréed tomatoes until they start to thicken and add the tomato paste. Stir it around to dissolve and add the rest of the olive oil (1 Tbsp) and the wine. Stir everything around and when the alcohol from the wine has evaporated and you can't smell it anymore, allow the sauce to simmer for 3 minutes.
Then, return the sausages and peppers to the pan, stir everything around, mixing all the ingredients well, and allow to come to the boil. Put on the lid, turn heat down to low and allow to simmer gently for about 20 minutes, until the sausages are cooked through and the peppers have softened.
Have a taste and check for seasoning. If the sausages you're using are too spicy or salty, you'll probably won't need to add any salt or pepper.

Serve with lots of crusty bread, with feta or kefalotyri and don't forget the tsipouro or red wine.

The spetzofai is even tastier the following day, as the flavors have had time to develop and deepen.


  1. I think I need to go sausage and pepper shopping. This looks delicious.

    1. I make mine with Cumberland sausage, and it is delicious.

  2. Yum~I totally understand your carvings! I would love that dish too!

  3. I feel the same way, but sometimes I see stunning strawberry and crave it all week. loving this hearty dish!! I need to stop by more often, you have the best plates!!

  4. We try really hard to eat seasonally - but are weak at times, especially when it comes to berries! And eggplant, too. Luckily, our growing season in Arizona is very long so we never have to wait too long for anything! Can't wait to try this, Magda - it looks so comforting and (happily) peppers are readily grown here all year! ~ David

  5. I can see how you wouldn't be able to resist to that dish! I also try to buy seasonal, but here seasons seem to be more of an opinion than in Europe. The supermarket always sells the same things no matter what time of the year it is...

  6. Hi Madga, those sausages look amazing and it reminds of a dish I used make when I was going to university. I am curious about the sausages. We make our own sausage and I am wondering which spices to use. Or if there is a greek name for the sausages I could use to look for a recipe so we could make some.

  7. I too try to only buy fruit and veg in season (who needs fresh strawberries in November?!) but I'm guilty of all year courgette/aubergine consumption. I'd never heard of this dish but it looks and sounds amazing. Anything with peppers gets my vote. One question; as I don't eat meat, do you think it's better just to focus on the vegetables or find a substitute for the sausage?

  8. I adore peasant food you can eat with crusty bread...what vibrant colours, I can almost taste it.

  9. Denise — oh, please do; you won't regret it.

    tasteofbeirut — I knew you would like this dish!

    vianney — hello! Thanks!

    David — I can't live without aubergines, I sneak them in many dishes. If you do try it, I'd love to know what you thought.

    PolaM — in Greece you can mostly find seasonal produce. It's very difficult to find anything that it's out of season.

    yvonne — the name is 'horiatiko loukaniko' which means 'peasant sausage'. They are usually made with pork meat or pork-and-beef meat. The spices generally used are cumin, coriander, allspice and herbs like oregano.

    Emily Vanessa — hmm, it's a tough one. It's like asking if you can substitute the beef in beef bourgignon :) This dish is mostly about the flavor of the sausages as the peppers are actually fried in the sausage fat. BUT, how about a vegatarian sausage? Make sure to add more olive oil to compensate for the sausage fat, and make sure you fry the peppers well. I can't vouch for the taste but I'm sure it will be pretty tasty.

    Nuts about food — anything with lots of sauce it's perfect for me. I can't restrain myself, especially when there's crusty bread around.

  10. we eat seasonally--most of the time. but in the heart of winter, like you, we crave the tastes of summer produce---very now and then. all those colorful peppers paired with your peasant sausage would brighten any dreary winter day.

    1. I always use chorizo thickly sliced and loads of peppers. Served with garlic bread and basmati and wild rice its delicious. Just back from Greece where I tried it there and loved it so it's now part of our weekly menu.

  11. Σε διάλεξα για το Versatile Blogger Award επειδή μ' αρέσει τόσο πολύ το μπλογκ σου! Συγχαρητήρια! :) Λεπτομέρειες στο ποστ μου 10 Φεβ στο δικό μου μπλογκ. :)

  12. I love eating seasonally, not only if it good for the reasons you list above but I really love looking forward to the next fruit or vegetable! :D But yes sometimes cravings are strong! :P

  13. Magda, Ohhh that looks good. I love Greek food especially those rich and belly-warming sauces.

  14. I just discovered your blog! This dish looks delicious- I'm inspired to try it.

  15. Magda, thank you so much for this blog. I'm an expat living in Amsterdam, and your recipes remind me of my mother's/giagia's/theia's (etc) cooking. This dish was always a favourite of mine, however I tried it once and failed miserably. I put the blame on my mother's vague telephone instructions, with references to 'pinches' of this, and 'a little' of that and 'just enough' of something else, with the result being a puddle of red water with some floating, dead looking vegetables and sausages.

    However, your clear instructions have inspired me to try again. Before getting into it though, would you happen to know whether any sausages from your average Dutch butcher would work?


    1. Hi G! Your mother's vague instructions remind me of my grandmother's. Whenever I phone her up to ask for a recipe, she always tells me that she eyeballs everything so she can't actually give me instructions. :)
      I have never made spetzofai with Dutch sausages but I have tried sausages from my Dutch butcher and they are excellent. I'm sure you can find some good pork and veal sausages in yours. Make sure to ask him for a spicy sausage though, as the Greek sausages for the spetzofai are somewhat hot and spicy.
      And please do drop by to let me know how you liked the dish!

    2. Kalispera Magda. Thank you for the suggestion. I ended up buying some raw choizo and some spicy beef sausage from Marqt. It was lovely! I think the only thing missing was a bit more chilli, but that's only due to being scared with the suggested green peppers, so I only added four red peppers. I will definitely be making this again shortly!

    3. Καλησπέρα! Πολύ ωραία ιδέα το chorizo. Όσο για τα τσίλι, βάζεις όσα αντέχεις :)

  16. The Spetzofai in my execution. I must say that we don’t have as good country sausages as in Greece. Ours are paler in color and worse in taste and quality. So this is the best I could find. It was 20 degrees below Zero that day when I prepared this dish in the end of December, 2012. So hot peppers and the sauce warmed me up and I couldn’t stop eating it, you’re so right!

    Thank you so much, Magda!

    1. Greek sausages are indeed unique but if you enjoyed the ones you found then that's all that matters. It is indeed the best type of food for when it's cold!

  17. Dear Magda, I hope you don't misunderstand me) I adopted three of your recipes, but I mentioned your blog in my posts. So all rights reserved :)

    This is the biggest (and the best) in Russia site dedicated to Greece.

    1. Dear Xenia, thank you so much for sending me your photos of the dishes you cooked. They look amazing!! I'm so happy you enjoy my recipes and it is always wonderful to see others cook them. Also, thanks for sharing the links to my recipes on your posts on the Russian site. I appreciate it!