Last year we visited the beautiful island of Skiathos. We completely fell in love with the place. I’ve been to a few of the Greek islands and this one captured my soul unlike any other. We went in late May when tourists were few and far between, and it welcomed us with such a relaxed vibe. The local folk were so friendly and there was a distinct smell of olives and fresh oregano in the air, with lots of lovely lemon trees scattered about the terrain.

It wasn’t just the amazing scenery and laid back atmosphere that made it a trip to remember, the food certainly made an impact. We stayed next to a quaint little taverna that served up very pleasing traditional Greek fare and the best damn garlic bread stuffed with Gouda that I ever tasted (I don’t even have a photo – it didn’t stay on the plate for long enough). More Greek food tales to follow!

It was in this particular eatery that we stumbled upon ‘Stifado’. Eager to try all of the local delicacies, we gave it a go, and have recreated it several times at home since. I can only describe it as an extremely warming and tasty tomato based stew, brimming with lovely little pearl onions. It’s often served with orzo (rice shaped pasta) in Greece.

This week we cooked it up again as we happened upon a couple of packs of bargain pig cheeks – ideal for this kind of dish as it is gelatinous and holds up
to the cooking time well. The recipe and (very straightforward) cooking method that we followed can be found in Elizabeth Luard’s book ‘European Peasant Cookery – The Rich Tradition’.

We adapted the ingredients slightly to our taste. This is what we used to serve two generously – you will need 1lb stewing meat (beef or pork), olive oil, 500g small onions or shallots, 3 garlic cloves, two tins of plum tomatoes (second tin drained of all juice and frozen for a cheeky pizza sauce in the future), a glass of red wine (we also added a couple of tablespoons of wine vinegar), a glass of water, a bunch of herbs (we used our garden bay and rosemary plus two teaspoons of dried oregano – brought home from Greece) and seasoning.

This was all brought to the boil on the hob and gently simmered with the lid off for half an hour. Then transferred to a slow cooker on high for around two hours. After the two hours it was returned to the hob and reduced by half. The recipe states that this dish should boil dry, but we opted to leave a little liquid as we like a good amount of sauce with our meat. However, it does need to be reduced by at least half to concentrate the flavours.

It really is a cook’s dream to make – the most strenuous part is peeling the onions, the rest literally just goes into the pot. The results were something of a taste sensation considering the lack of effort required in putting it all together. We found that the olive oil really comes through, as its used as an ingredient, as opposed to a cooking medium. We served ours with thinly sliced fried potato sprinkled with oregano, and plain boiled rice.

This is a fantastic meal to tuck into on a cold winter’s evening as it really does ‘warm the cockles of your heart’.