Chylopites, macaroni, couscousaki, barley, trachanas in various variations… Pasta has always been the main choice in the Greek diet for daily or Sunday dinners. Made with pure ingredients (milk, wheat, eggs), covered with red or white sauce, “topped” with plenty of cheese, it blends perfectly with seafood and meat, with legumes, it can be used in delicious and nutritious soups, but also for making wonderful fresh salads.
The first reference to the existence of pasta seems to come from Greece around 1.000 BC where the word “laganon”, which was found in texts of that time, described the wide dough of water and flour which was cut into strips as is done today with the “Matsata” of Folegandros. This dough seems to have been brought to Italy by Greek settlers in the 8th century BC and renamed “laganum”. It is speculated that the word “lasagna” has its roots in this word. This story is attested by Latin writers such as Cicero, Horace and Apicius.
Another reference with evidence related to the existence of pasta in antiquity is found in findings discovered in 4th century BC frescoes in an Etruscan settlement north of Rome, where various vessels for boiling water, a surface for mixing water with flour, a cylindrical rolling pin and a cutting tool are depicted.
In the old days, housewives, especially in the villages, used to make their own homemade pasta. They always made it during the summer months – usually after harvesting and threshing – when they had the necessary ingredients in abundance: cereals, fresh goat’s milk and eggs. The dough was shaped, cut or rubbed by hand and left to dry thoroughly in the sun. Then they stored it in their cellars in canvas bags to have them as supplies for the whole year.
Nowadays, the grandmothers’ tradition is followed by women’s cooperatives and small cottage industries that are active throughout Greece, which prepare with the same passion, top quality pasta made with the purest ingredients.
In the Peloponnese, especially in the region of Laconia and Argolida, the traditional pasta is gonges, a classic carnival dish among everything else. Shaped like seashells, they are water-boiled, first covered with grated local manouri cheese and then with hot oil. The striftades (small rice-like dumplings) and toutoumakia (chilopitakia) complete the local tradition.
In mainland Greece, trachanas is the most popular: sweet or sour, thick or thin, with wheat semolina, flour or crushed wheat, plain, with butter, with milk or tomato, it is the ideal dish for the cold winter nights. Because of its high nutritional value, it is even eaten for breakfast in rural areas. Trachanas is eaten plain, as a thin or thick soup with pieces of feta cheese, it can be cooked with legumes or vegetables, added as an accompaniment to meat, added as a filling to pies, dolmades and vegetables.
In Epirus, mushrooms are added to the basic pasta dough. In Thrace, sesame seeds and chili flakes are added to the basic pasta ingredients. In Macedonia, red pepper pulp. Lenten trachanas is made with flour or semolina and vegetable pulp.
In Crete, trachanas is known as chondros (sour chondros if fermented with sour milk or yoghurt) and is a favourite ingredient of the local cuisine. Married with seasonal vegetables and “round” snails, it makes a delicious local dish. Other special pasta found on the island include siufichta and kalogeristika, avgochylos (like short tagliatelle), chilofta (similar to linguini), triftoudia (shaped like small rice grains) and magiri, small and square pasta. They are simply divine when topped with hot curd butter and plenty of grated cream cheese!
On the islands of the North and East Aegean, the local pasta is makarounes. In Karpathos and Tilos they are shaped like tagliatelle. In Kos they are called pasha makarounes and are large flat sheets of dough (like wide lasagne), which are cooked fresh in layers with plenty of minced meat or cheese in between. In Kasos, they resemble penne and accompanied by shitaka (a soft local cheese prepared in a special way) are the island’s speciality. Chios has aftoudia, simple pasta with flour and water in the shape of… ears, the valanes in the shape of a small spiral, an ideal accompaniment to rooster stew. The traditional pasta of Lemnos, known as flomaria, is made with eggs, milk and local hard wheat flour. They are cut into wide strips like noodles or into thin strings like spaghetti.
Taste the local experience.