As we traveled through Northern Greece heading to a tasting of the wines made in and around Drama I noticed, as I looked longingly for comedy and tragedy masks in the countryside, that instead I found road signs noting that we were about 10 miles from the Bulgarian boarder in the heart of the region of Thrace. You don’t really think about Eastern European and Turkish influences when you think of traveling to Greece, and then you realize once you are there how close you are to these other, incredible and historic destinations. We didn’t make it up to Bulgaria, instead traveling through Thrace to the beautiful Ktima Pavlidis winery in Drama to taste through about 150 selections of wine from throughout the region with simple cheese and spinach pies available to help cleanse the palate….the one thing I learned quickly in Greece is that you will never be hungry. This dish was inspired by the flavors we had during our time there, which immediately became much heavier and heartier than the dishes we had while in the south. With the style of cooking I like I made it somewhat vegetarian, adding feta and eggs, but you could easily add cured meat or even a layer of ground beef or lamb under the layer of cheese.
We enjoyed this with a bottle of Kitma Pavlidis Thema, a blend of Agiorgitico ( Ah yor yee’ ti ko) and Syrah. Many Greecian wineries grow International varieties, which was rather surprising to me and my fellow travelers, thinking that the wineries should really capitalize on what makes them special, their indigenous varieties like Agiorgitico; however then I learned that 20% of all wine consumed in Greece is made by home winemakers, drinking wine they made from vines they grow on their property, so the international varieties have been the element that has set some winemakers apart from the rest in the past. As their focus on international sales increases we see many wineries going back to their roots and focusing on their indigenous varietal. This wine does well combining both an indigenous and international varietal; fruit forward and tannic Agiorgitico marries nicely with the spice, dark fruit and slightly smokey and herbal notes of the Syrah.
Thracian Clay Pot
1/2 cup Greek Tomato Sauce (see recipe here)
2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, cut in diagonal slices about 1/3 inch thick
1 roasted red pepper, skin, tops and seeds removed (jarred are fine, just rinse them well)
1 roasted yellow pepper, skin, tops and seeds removed (jarred are fine, just rinse them well)
1/2 leek, sliced thin and rinsed well to remove any grit
2 tablespoons olive tapenade (see recipe here)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon hot paprika
6 oz Bulgarian Feta (we can find this pretty easily at our local Central Market; if you can’t find Bulgarian, use any kind of super creamy and yet still salty feta)
2 jalapeno or serrano peppers, sliced in half, with or without the seeds (we left these in)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a clay pot or any baking dish with a lid spoon a scoop of tomato sauce on the bottom. Then layer in one tomato, season lightly with salt and pepper; layer in the leeks, topping them with a thin layer of tapenade. Then layer in the red pepper, then the yellow pepper and top with crumbles of the cheese. Then layer in all the herbs (toss them together a bit to combine.) Add a bit more tomato sauce and the pine nuts, and then the last tomato as the final layer and season again with salt and black pepper. Place the lid on top of the dish and place in the oven, baking for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes remove from the oven and nestle the peppers into the dish. Then crack four eggs on top of the dish, distributing them evenly across the tomatoes. Bake for another 5-7 minutes (you want the eggs to be slightly runny when you cut into them.) Remove from the oven and garnish with paprika and a few additional sprigs of herbs. Serve with crusty bread for soaking up the juices.