Handmade, fresh pasta has long since been part of the culinary tradition of Cyprus. There was a time when all the women in the village or the neighbourhood would come together to make it
They have dressed up, the pasta ladies. Nicely coiffed, their aprons freshly ironed, they have gathered in the kitchen of the community centre for a few hours this Saturday to make pasta – by hand of course. Yiota, Louisa and Androula are continuing an old Cypriot tradition with this morning activity.
After all, back when their grandmothers were still alive, making fresh pasta was usually a social, and not a private, affair. All of the women in the village or neighbourhood were involved. Each of them had their own speciality, so they would usually divide up into groups making fides, makaronia, trin or ravioles.
There is a clear division of labour between Yiota, Louisa and Androula, too. The two younger women first take care of the dough. “Salt, oil, flour. Wheat flour. Using semolina flour changes the colour of the pasta.” Mixing it, kneading it, letting it stand.
Then it’s time to make the makaronia. Androula has already carefully placed a few sklinitzi – paper-thin reed tubes – on her worktop. At a rapid rate, she sticks grape-sized lumps of dough around the fine but firm tubes with her deft fingers. One, two, five, ten… She then rolls the small lumps into little spindles with the ball of her hand – so fast that we can hardly follow it with our eyes. “Androula manages a kilo in four hours, ”declares her daughter-in-law Yiota proudly. Later on, the macaroni master carefully pulls the thin dough spindles from the tubes and gently places them into a flat basket lined with a linen cloth. Now they have to dry – “in the air but not in the sun”.
For this process the women used to arrange the fresh macaroni into blossom or ribbon patterns on the braided tsestoi. The labour-intensive, ‘hollow’ pasta was served only on special occasions such as weddings, engagements or sikoses, the holiday at the beginning of spring.
Fides, on the other hand, have always been available all year round. Yet traditionally they were produced only when the women had no other chores to carry out. Together they would then pull and twist the pasta dough into worm-like shapes for hours on end with oil-coated fingers. As do Yiota and Louisa on this Saturday morning. “The dried fides used to be stored in cloth bags or earthenware containers,” Androula says as she keeps working. “And during village festivals they were swapped for other products such as fresh fruit or soutzoukos and kiofterka, our traditional sweets.”
Pastitsio (Macaroni in the oven)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
250g mince meat (pork or beef)
salt and pepper
bunch parsley, chopped
100 dried, salted anari cheese (or ricotta), grated
FOR THE CREAM
1 litre milk
Oven macaroni is a Mediterranean classic and a must at every festive occasion. The traditional Cypriot version is made without tomatoes, which brings out the intensive flavour of the fresh parsley. The final note is given by a generous amount of grated dry anari cheese.
Finely chop the onions. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and mince, and cook on a medium heat until the meat is golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add around 50ml of water and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the chopped parsley and stir.
In a separate pot, cook the macaroni for 7 minutes or until al dente; drain.
For the cream: Beat the eggs, add the flour and gradually add the milk, whisking continuously. Transfer the mixture into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until thick.
Place half of the macaroni in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with grated anari cheese and pour over some of the cream. Evenly distribute the mince meat filling on top of the cream and layer over the remaining macaroni. Sprinkle again with grated anari and top with the remaining cream.
Bake in a fan-assisted oven at 160C (or 180C with upper and lower heat) for around 40 minutes until golden brown.
Taken from: Cyprus – A Culinary Journey by Marianne Salentin-Träger and Rita Henss. Published by: C&C Contact & Creation GmbH. Translated by: Jenny Piening and Lucy Jones. Photos: Anja Jahn and Markus Bassler. Recipes by Marilena Joannides and Franz Keller Available from local bookshops and Amazon