I knew before I even got there that I would fall in love Andros, a mountainous, rugged Greek island, the northernmost of the Cyclades archipelago. When Allegra asked me to host part of a creative workshop at her stunning, cliffside B&B, Melisses, that sits between Chora, the capital, and the port, I jumped at the chance!
Mornings began with beautiful breakfasts of summer fruit, copious amounts of thick Greek yoghurt, tahini, and Allegra’s homemade oven-roasted granola, flecked with flower petals and plenty of nuts, plus “freddo espresso”, the Greek version of caffe shakerato, in other words, espresso and ice shaken together. Allegra led us on visits around the island, including an evening saunter through Chora, the charming capital of Andros, and a beautiful lunch on a crystalline beach at a taverna where, plastic chairs and tablecloths and all, I could have sat and ate and drank the entire week! Greek salad with a slab of local cheese, tzatziki with a garlicky bite, grilled sardines, moussaka, stuffed zucchini and tomatoes, the ever-present vlita (boiled amaranth greens) and ice cold slices of watermelon made the perfect meal.
Back at Melisses, we made ravioli with a Greek touch (actually these are inspired by a filling you can find in Cyprus), filled with ricotta, feta and mint that we picked out of the garden (the recipe follows below). We picked green beans and young red onions right out of the vegetable patch for a delicious side dish where the blanched beans are tossed in breadcrumbs, onions, herbs, lemon juice and oil. I also made a version of my favourite chocolate cake, dotted with fresh cherries and slightly under-baked so that the centre remains fudgy and a sponge soaked in fragrant fig leaf syrup and topped with Greek pistachios.
In the afternoon, Kathryn Davey introduced us to vegetable dyeing — something I was easily convinced to get hooked on! We collected plants from around Melisses, fig leaves and rosemary and more, while Kathryn also showed us beautiful pinks from madder, yellow from tumeric and there was nothing more mesmerising than dunking swatches of fabric, silk scarves, linen aprons and cotton bags in the unctuous buckets of indigo dye. Kathryn is a wonderful, patient, sensitive teacher, I wish we could have spent an extra week together making things! For dinner, Marco prepared our favourite pizza dough for woodfired pizza (I even made a ‘dessert’ pizza with homemade mascarpone) and talked us through a Greek wine tasting.
My favourite activity hands down was a visit to a hidden, traditional fisherman’s cottage with no electricity or hot water in a rustic spot unreachable by car. Sea urchins were pulled out of the sea to snack on under the trees after a cooling dip in the water. Here, the water arrives right at grape vines that trail along the dry ground next to eucalyptus trees and wild figs.
The white washed cottage provided our lunch venue, for which we had prepared, picnic style, an array of delicious things. I made some savoury tarts (from a recipe in Acquacotta), and a favourite summery bean salad inspired by Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed (her whole story on Naxos reminded me exactly of this day). Letitia made babaganoush from eggplants out of the vegetable patch that were blackened in the dyeing ashes of the woodfired oven the night before and she picked the sweetest apricots I’ve ever had and hand-staining mulberries right off the trees for dessert and orange wine (made right below the cottage) was passed around. A most memorable summer experience.
Ricotta, feta and mint ravioli
400 g plain (all-purpose) flour, plus more for dusting
2 eggs, plus 5 yolks (set aside 1 egg white for later)
2 tablespoons water
400 grams ricotta
80 g feta cheese
100 grams butter
a large handful of fresh mint leaves
grated parmesan cheese, for serving
Serves 4 generously
Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Place the eggs, 4 of the yolks (save one for the filling) and water in the well. With a fork, begin to whisk the eggs, incorporating the flour little by little until you can no longer whisk with the fork. Use floured hands to combine the rest of the flour until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Wrap in plastic wrap or pop under a bowl on the bench and let it rest at least 30 minutes.
For the filling, mix the ricotta, feta and one yolk, along with a good pinch of salt, until smooth. Set aside (if necessary, in the fridge) until needed.
Cut the dough into four pieces and dust with plenty of flour. Roll out one portion of the dough using a pasta machine or rolling pin at a time, keeping the rest covered. The dough should be thin enough so that you can see your hand through it.
Working on strips of pasta at least 10 cm (4 in) wide and as long as you like, place 1 teaspoon of filling onto the pasta sheet about 5 cm (2 in) apart. Beat the leftover egg white from earlier and brush it all around the filling. Then place a sheet of pasta of the same width and length over the top and, working quickly, press the pasta sheet down carefully around each spoonful of filling, being careful not to trap too much air. Work from one side to the other and, if needed (and if you have two extra hands helping you), work one raviolo at a time. With a fluted pastry wheel cutter or a sharp knife, trim the ravioli so that you have a 1 cm (1/2 in) border around the filling. Continue until you finish the pasta and filling.
Cook the ravioli immediately in a saucepan of salted, boiling water over a medium heat until al dente, about 5 minutes.
In the meantime, make the sauce by melting the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and swirl the pan to create a slightly emulsified sauce.
When the ravioli are ready, drain them with a slotted spoon, add to the butter sauce, along with the fresh mint leaves and toss gently to coat. Serve with some grated parmesan cheese, if desired.