Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Christine Presents: The Monastery at Meteora

Kali mera fill mou,
(good morning my friends, Greek)

Oh my, today I experienced the shortest plane ride ever, Athens to Crete in twenty-four minutes, includes taxiing. I relaxed today by the pool, trying for a tan. Haven't had one of those in so many years I don't care to count and tomorrow I'm going to check one more item off my bucket list--swim in the Mediterranean Sea. But I don't have pictures of Crete (Kreta) so I'm going to go back in time to some of the places I've been that I haven't posted about.

Can you see the face in the rock?

Today I'm going to take you to Meteora, Greece. It lies between Delphi and the Adriatic Sea. Steep rocks climb to the sky and atop those rocks are monasteries. We drove the winding roads to reach the top where the wind howled and the air was icy. I can't imagine how cold this place would be in the winter.

The Meteora is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mt. Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the town of Kalambaka in central Greece.

Meteora meanings: middle of the sky, suspended in the air, and or in the heavens above - related to meteorite. 

The rocks reach to the sky and the monasteries sit at the very top!

These rocks must be a rock climbers dream. There was one place where many flags of various nations dotted a plateau on the way to the top. 

So picturesque, so beautiful but would I want to live here? Well, I was asked that numerous times in Albania by the Koci family. How do you say 'no'? It's beautiful but... we have so many beautiful places in America and we have paved roads in our cities. 


The exact date of the establishment of the monasteries is unknown but by the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries a monastic state had formed in the area. By the end of the twelfth century and ascetic community had flocked to Meteora. Access to the monasteries was originally and deliberately difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people. This required quite a leap of faith. The ropes were replaced, so the story goes, only "when the Lord let them brake." Until the seventeenth century this was the primary means of conveying goods and people to these eyries.

Six of the monasteries remain today.More than twenty monasteries were built originally. Each of the remaining six has fewer than ten inhabitants, four by men and two by women.

Recipe of the day:  Pastitsio - Baked Pasta with Meat and Bechamel Topping

Pastitsio - Baked Pasta with Meat and Bechamel Topping

Three essential components make up this dish - pasta, meat filling, and a creamy bechamel sauce which are layered in a pan and baked to a golden brown. Each stage will require dirtying some pots and pans, but I think you will agree that the end result is well worth the clean up!

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes


1/2 cup olive oil
2 lbs. ground beef (or ground lamb, or a mixture of both)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 14 oz. can tomato puree or sauce
3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (or Kefalotyri if available)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tbsp. breadcrumbs
1 pkg. #2 Macaroni for Pastitsio (500g)- available at Greek or ethnic groceries. You can substitute ziti or penne
4 egg whites (reserve the yolks for bechamel sauce)
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

For the bechamel sauce:
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 quart milk, warmed
8 egg yolks, beaten lightly
a pinch of ground nutmeg

Note: Cut pasta like ziti or penne can flatten more than the long Pastitsio noodles, which tend to get twisted when layered. I suggest cooking 2 lbs. of cut pasta to ensure that you have adequate coverage of the pan. If you prefer, you can scale that back to 1 lb.

This recipe will yield about 24 servings depending upon the size of your pieces. I use a lasagna pan that is roughly 12 x 18 x 3 inches deep.

Begin with the Meat Filling:
Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add ground beef and cook over medium-high heat until pink color disappears, about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes more.

Add wine, tomato sauce, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and allow sauce to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. While sauce is simmering put water on to boil for pasta.

Cook pasta noodles according to package directions and drain well. Rinse noodles in colander under cold water to cool them slightly.

Stir in 3 tbsp. breadcrumbs to meat sauce to absorb excess liquid and remove from heat.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in pasta pot and return cooked noodles to the pot. Stir in beaten egg whites and 1 cup of grated cheese and toss lightly, being careful not to break the noodles.

Brush the bottom and sides of the lasagna pan with olive oil. Layer the bottom with half the pasta noodles and press down so that they are somewhat flat.

Add the meat filling in an even layer to the pasta. Top with remaining pasta noodles and flatten top layer as best you can.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees while you prepare the bechamel sauce.

Bechamel Sauce:
Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste or roux. Allow the flour/butter mixture to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.

Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil.

Remove from heat and stir in beaten egg yolks. Add pinch of nutmeg. If sauce still needs to thicken, return to heat and cook over very low heat while continuing to stir.

Bechamel is thicker than gravy but not quite as thick as pudding. It should be somewhere in between. One way to tell if it is thick enough is to dip your wooden spoon in the sauce and draw your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce holds a visible line then it is thick enough.

Pour the bechamel over the pasta noodles making sure to pour sauce down in to the corners as well. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Bake in 350 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the top is a nice golden color.

1 comment:

Rosemary Indra said...

Seeing the face in the rock is like seeing the pictures in a picture. Half the time I can't see what everyone else does.