It's grape season
Brace yourselves for grape season and lots of treats!
In my opinion, September is one of the most beautiful months at Casale. As the temperature drops slightly, there's more of a breeze in the air, but sunshine is still plentiful and summer lingers on. I always know the seasons are on the verge of changing when I see my Godmother busy in the kitchen making "Palouzes" - a sweet jelly made from grapes - ripe and freshly picked that morning. That's when I know that autumn is just around the corner.
At Casale, believe it or not, we pick roughly 8,000 kilos of grapes. Mostly Xinisteri, Shiraz and Maratheytiko varieties. Some bunches go straight to the winery for local wine-making and the Verikon grapes (a local redgrape variety) are brought direct to the restaurant and our chef Nicos, who - like my Godmother - is busy preparing to make Palouzes for the guests at this time of year. Myth has it, that when Richard the Lionheart was visiting Cyprus, near his castle at Kolossi, the villagers offered him this variety of grapes. He tasted it and said "very good", so the villages paraphrased it as "Verikon".
I won't lie to you. Making Palouzes is not that easy. But when you manage to make the finished product there's something satisfying about enjoying the same tasty dessert as the grandmothers and great grandmothers in the village would have spent afternoons making, all those years ago.
These days, at Casale, it's Nicos who has to get to grips with the recipe. Luckily for him, the villagers help him out with the initial steps - the making of the "moustos" or "must". In the old days locals would have made huge quantities and used their feet to stomp on the grapes and extract the juice. Now we use special machines.
Once all of the juice is extracted it's poured into a big pot and boiled with a special white soil to remove any impurities. After a while, it’s taken off the heat and we add basil and pelargonium. When that’s cooled and filtered, we mix it with flour and put it back onto the boil with some orange blossom water.
Once the mixture starts to get thick and creamy, it's ready and then all that's left to do is pour it into small pots and decorate with some chopped nuts.
At Casale, Nicos uses the mixture to make a Palouzes style crème Brulee, which you can try at the Loutraki restaurant. Or even have a go yourself. The recipe is below. It's delicious.
If you like it, I'd recommend buying some traditional Soutzoukos (as pictured above) – a sausage-shaped sweet treat made from Palouzes. You will find some in Cafe Oinos. If you're lucky, Mrs Koulla may show you around her small factory where she makes them. It's quite a sight to see the long rolls of sweets hanging from the ceiling - all different flavours, such as rose and vanilla.
Just make sure you leave some room in your suitcase to bring some back home with you. That's if you don't eat the stuff before you leave Casale. There's a lot of grape picking to be done in the orchard remember - and all that work can leave you with quite an appetite!
Recipe for “Palouzes” Crème brûlée
1/2 cup moustos
2 1/2 cups water
3 tblsps sugar
3 tblspns flour
1 ltr fresh cream
8 egg yolks
120 gr sugar
- Mix the ingredients of Palouzes together on a medium heat until it starts to thicken. While it’s still warm, start on the crème brûlée. Mix the egg yolks with the sugar and pour in the boiled fresh cream.
- Finally combine the Palouzes mixture together with the egg mixture and fill individual cups or bowls. Bake in a bain-marie for 20 minutes at 120 degrees.
- Decorate with thin slices of souztoukos, sprinkle with brown sugar and burn the sugar with a cook’s torch until crunchy.