Monday, 14 January 2008

Makaronia tou fournou

Makaronia tou fournou (baked macaroni pie) – as it is known in Cyprus – or Pastitsio – as it is known in the rest of Greece – is the most delicious dish in Greek cuisine.

In her encyclopaedic book, The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking, Susanna Hoffman says that: ‘Pastitsio… is the first word that springs to a Greek’s lips when discussing Greek food. The first dish that springs to mind when talking of home, the first dish that springs to heart when lonely. Pastitsio holds the Greek soul.’

Ms Hoffman is being hyperbolic, but her enthusiasm is admirable and not inappropriate.

Pastitsio obviously comes from the Italian word pasticcio (pastiche), which I always thought referred to the dish’s varied combination of ingredients – long macaroni, meat sauce, béchamel sauce – but Ms Hoffman reveals actually means ‘made from pasta’; adding that the dish probably came to Greece from Italy as Italian influence spread through the Greek islands following the dastardly Fourth Crusade (1204) and the dissolution of Byzantine sovereignty and hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean.

However, regarding the migration of pasta dishes to Greece from Italy, Ms Hoffman makes clear that the Italians in Greece were merely reintroducing food Greeks had passed to them centuries before.

For instance, lasagne – closely related to makaronia tou fourno/pastitsio – Ms Hoffman says, is a dish with Greek origins – mentioned by Homer no less – which Greek colonists (from 700BC onwards) took to southern Italy; while stuffed pasta – now known to us as ravioli – was another Greek invention.

‘By Byzantine times,’ Ms Hoffman says, ‘the Greeks had become great “stuffers”, and stuffing pasta is not something they missed. In particular the Pontians [Greeks from the Black Sea] created many sorts of stuffed pasta, their preferred shape being the crescent moon.’ (The crescent moon – now associated with Islam – was for centuries a state symbol of the Christian Byzantine Empire).

Makaronia tou fournou is simple enough, layers of long macaroni, meat sauce (minced pork or lamb, onion, parsley, cinnamon) and béchamel sauce; although what makes the Cypriot version superior to versions from elsewhere in Greece – the magic ingredient, if you like – is the Cypriot halloumi cheese used to sprinkle on the macaroni, meat sauce and, generously, grated and stirred into the béchamel sauce. Halloumi is unbelievably good with pasta, irresistible when melted, and an aphrodisiac, apparently.


Stavros said...


I'm reading this post and salivating. Thank God there is some leftover pastichio in the fridge, although Anna use kefalograviera. When I was a teenager, my two best friends Niko and Andreas worked part-time in a Cypriot grocery store in Astoria. They would cut some hunks of Halloumi and grab a loaf of bread which we would devour after playing basketball. Who knew it was an aphrodisiac? That was like pouring gasoline on a fire since girls were a close second after food on our list of priorities.

I'm curious, did you make it? If so I am impressed since all I can manage is to slap a slab of lunch meat between two slices of bread.

Kali orexi (good appetite)!

john akritas said...

There are two things I eat everyday of my life: halloumi, elies.
I don't think halloumi's aphrodisiac qualities are scientifically proven. The theory is from a Turkish traveller to the island in the 19th century – perhaps not a very reliable source of information.

I didn't make the makaronia in the picture – this is my mother's – but I have made the dish on several occasions, to good acclaim. My mother actually uses a mixture of halloumi and cheddar – which is also a good melting cheese – but, as far as I'm aware, Kefalotyri is not used much in Cypriot cooking. Halloumi is pretty ubiquitous. Anari is the second most popular Cypriot cheese – which is very similar to Italian ricotta.

Ardent said...

I make this dish all the time, it is my children's favourite. I also make mine with halloumi (Helim) between the layer and into the sauce. Do not use cheddar. I also add tomatoes to the the meat sauce, gives extra flavour and colour. However traditionally they do not add the tomatoes.

We call it Firin Makarnasi.

When my Greek girlfriend's father died, I made the family this dish and took it over for them to cook in the evening. (They are Greek from Lebenon) They all said it was the best they had ever tasted.

john akritas said...

I've had Makaronia with tomato; it's allright, I prefer just pork. I presume Turkish Cypriots don't use pork, which is a shame, because it's the best meat for this dish. Take it from a Greek – whose dish this is – that cheddar is fine, though I wouldn't use more than twenty percent, it thickens the béchamel sauce well. It's interesting that Turkish Cypriot cuisine is so Greek. I can't think of many Turkish influences in Greek Cypriot cooking. I like mahalebi, which I always thought was Turkish but may be Lebanese in fact.

Ardent said...

We use minced lamb for this dish.

My parents were not religious but one thing they never did is eat pork products. I do not eat pork either, I even hate the smell. For me it is probably pychological. I do not cook any pork at home, but I tell me children when you go on school camps and they only serve pork, it is best to eat it rather than go hungry. Do you know what? They do not eat it either, they prefer to go hungry.

Our palate is not use to it. Some cultures eat dogs, monkeys, etc. I would not eat these items either, but had I been born chinese I probably would.

What is Greek food or Turkish food? It is a creation from our ancestors from this part of the world. Will it taste better when it becomes Greek or Turkish origin?

Does any one care apart from those Nationalist fanatics?

Why is there a need for so much ownership to everything?

Alot of the food we eat is Cypriot. To title it Turkish or Greek does not bother me.

If one was to get precise about things, spaghetti, noodles and macaroni actually originated in China before being introduced into Italy. Then it took a long time to become Firin Makarnasi.

john akritas said...

My aunt once (mistakenly) served a Turkish Cypriot friend of hers keftethes (meatballs) made with pork. Without ever knowing the origins of the meat, the Turkish Cypriot woman said they were the best meatballs she had ever tasted. You don't know until you try. Eating pork is not the same as eating dog or monkey. Is this what Muslims, and presumably Jews, think of people who partake of this succulent meat? How discouraging. But you are right: there are many things in other people's cultures which we find strange and alien; for example, Greek Cypriots were always appalled at the Turkish Cypriot tradition of marrying your cousin. I know Pakistanis in the UK still subscribe to this custom; so maybe this is an Islamic thing.

Spaghetti and macaroni do not originate in China. Pasta is a Greco-Roman food. Read my post on Trahana.

I fail to see how an interest in the origins of cuisine can be represented as nationalist fanaticism. It is simply intellectual curiosity. The fact that Turkish Cypriots eat Greek food is revealing; revealing of the fact that the majority of Turkish Cypriots are not the descendants of Turks from Anatolia or Central Asia, as TC nationalists would have it, but the descendants of Greek, Maronite and Latin Cypriots who converted to Islam during the Ottoman occupation either under duress or to gain material advantage by associating themselves with the rulers of the island. There's no shame in this; in fact it makes TCs more Cypriot and allows them, if they want, to share in the history of Cyprus going back before 1571, when the Ottomans seized the island.

Ardent said...

John, Please let me reply to your comment:
"Greek Cypriots were always appalled at the Turkish Cypriot tradition of marrying your cousin. I know Pakistanis in the UK still subscribe to this custom; so maybe this is an Islamic thing."

Marrying a cousin was also a way of keeping land and property in the family. (endogamy). People marrying their cousins were common in the Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean Basin. The Turks used to do it and so did the GREEKS. So did the poor people and so did the Ruling class.

Ruling dynasties of Spain and Portugal were in the past very inbred. Several Habsburgs, Bourbons and Wittelsbachs married aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. Even in the British royal family, which is very moderate in comparison, there has scarcely been a monarch in 300 years who has not married a (near or distant) relative. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh are second cousins once removed, both being descended from King Christian IX of Denmark. European monarchies did avoid brother-sister marriages, though Jean V of Armagnac was an exception.
• [[Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain and Infanta Isabella of Portugal were first cousins.
• John, Crown Prince of Portugal and Joan of Habsburg were double first cousins.
• Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley were half first cousins, and 3rd cousins once removed.
• King Louis XIV of France and Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain were double first cousins.
• King William III and Queen Mary II of England were first cousins.
• King George I of Great Britain and Princess Sophia Dorothea of Celle were paternal first cousins.
• King Philip V of Spain and Princess Maria Luisa of Savoy were double second cousins.
• King Gustav III of Sweden and Princess Sophia Magdalena of Denmark were second cousins.
• King Christian VII of Denmark and Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain were first cousins
• King George IV of the United Kingdom and Princess Caroline of Brunswick were first cousins.
• William I, German Emperor and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar were second cousins.
• Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha were first cousins.
• Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria were first cousins.
• King George V of the United Kingdom and Princess Mary of Teck were second cousins once removed.
• Prince Gustav Adolf, Duke of Västerbotten and Princess Sibylla of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, parents of the present King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, were second cousins.
Fact: Albert Einstein married his first cousin. And so did Charles Darwin, who had exceptional children.
Fact: Franklin D. Roosevelt, the longest serving US president in history married his cousin (not a first cousin, however they shared the same last name).
Fact: The first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald married his first cousin.

I do not believe people should marry their cousins, but agree that Turks and Greeks and many other nationalities did the same until such time they realized the genetic problems it created.

I know John that you seriously like to antagonize me, but your post was on Macroni Casserole, so why bring Endogamy into the subject?????

Ardent said...

In reply to your comment:
"Turkish Cypriots are not the descendants of Turks from Anatolia or Central Asia, as TC nationalists would have it, but the descendants of Greek, Maronite and Latin Cypriots who converted to Islam during the Ottoman"

I can assure you that we are not related to our Greek neighbours. Turkish Cypriots do not have the same features as Greek Cypriots. Also Greek-Cypriots do not have the same features as Greek Nationals. Greek-Cypriots are in general, much darker than Greeks.

If I were Greek descendant I would admit it because I do not hold any animosity against Greeks, but we are not. Our ancesters are from the Anatolian region and our Ancestors all wrote the old Turkish script before Ataturk introduced the New Turkish alphabet.

Anyway who cares? Once upon a time the people of the world were all pagans and then jews. They then began converting to Christianity, Islam, Buddism, Sheiks, etc. We all started from the same source.

john akritas said...

A pity you've bought in to the Turkish nationalist crap about the origins of the Turkish Cypriots. The idea that the Turkish Cypriots are pure-blooded Turks from Anatolia – which actually no Turk had set foot in until 1071, so you in fact mean pure-blooded Central Asian – is laughable.

I would read a little more widely if I were you. I've never read a single history of Cyprus which does not recognise that the Turkish Cypriots – like Turks of the mainland – are preponderantly converts – forced or otherwise.

I suggest you find out about the linobambakoi. You may be one yourself. You might also like to know that Greek and Turkish Cypriots are genetically very similar – which tells you what? It tells me that either the Greek Cypriots are from Central Asia or the Turkish Cypriots were on the island – genetically speaking – before the Ottoman occupation. I also neglected to mention that another origin of Turkish Cypriots is African slaves brought to the island during the Ottoman period, so maybe it's just your family which is light-skinned. Many Latins on the island – Franks and Venetians – preferred to convert to Islam and not lose their land when the Turks seized Cyprus from the Venetians in 1571, so many Turkish Cypriots are descendants of these lot; as are many Greek Cypriots, particularly from Karpasia – where many Latins fled to escape conversion and the depredations of the Ottoman conquest. It's also been suggested that the Greeks of Rizokarpaso – where there were an unusually high amount of Greeks with blond and red hair and blue eyes – were descendants of German crusaders returning from the Holy Land.

I'm always disappointed to discover how little Turkish Cypriots know about the island they claim they are from.

Stavros Hadjimihalis said...

This response comes a few years late but I felt compelled to reply to the comments above and hope to maybe hear a response to my own post.

While I firmly agree with you, John, in your dislike for nationalistic myths within the Turkish Cypriot community, I hope you also appreciate the same could - and should - be said about Greek Cypriot nationalists. I come from a Greek-speaking family, but I consider myself solely Cypriot. Many nationalists would feel appauled by this statement but, as you implied with your comment on the genetic similarities between GCs and TC, I would argue that the only major difference between the two communities is linguistic (that and the opposing nationistic points-of-views held by some on either 'side'). Our culture is nearly identical - not only the food, like the amazing Makaronia tou Fourno - but also the finer details such as sitting at the kaveneh drinking Cypriot Coffee, playing tavli/tavla, as well as the interest in evil eyes and other similar customs. I mainly wanted to enforce this point. Cypriots are of mixed heiratage, due to the movement of people from the eastern Mediterranean, the large number of colonists, and the intermarriage and conversions of Cypriots on both 'sides'. I am pround to call myself a Cypriot, and a Middle Easterner for that matter, and I hope others reading this can respect that and, hopefully, agree.

Furthermore, to reply to comments based on the idea that TCs eat Greek or Greek Cypriot food, surely it would be more accurate to suggest that GCs and TCs each the same Cypriot food? Additionally, the cuisine of Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Iran and (most) Arab countries is nearly identical. To label kebab/souvla, hummus, dolma, meatballs, baklava or bourgouri/couscous dishes as being purely Greek, Turkish or Arabic is completely pointless when they are traditionally eaten by such a varitety of peoples. I often, therfore, refer to this general cuisine as Near Eastern or Middle Eastern because it is clear that it can be eaten by anyone from Greece, to Egypt, to Iran.

John Akritas said...

All the similarities you claim are superficial and meaningless. So what if the TCs eat halloumi and makaronia tou fourna? What does this prove? I, occasionally eat and enjoy fish and chips, but this doesn't make me English. Cypriots are Greeks by culture, race and history. Of course, Cypriots have also their own distinctive identity – just like Cretans – which gives a twist to their Greek identity; but to suggest that this is the basis of a non-Greek identity is daft. Those who put forward the idea of a Cypriot identity know very little about Cyprus and even less about Greece and Hellenism. Also, let's be clear: those who drone on about a Cypriot identity do so because they believe that the source of Cyprus' catastrophe was Greek nationalism. This is just AKEL claptrap. The source of Cyprus' catastrophe was/is Turkish nationalism and British and American malice. I also note that those who first tried to strip the Cypriots of their Greek identity were the British, who thought a population not inspired by Hellenism would be easier to rule; so how ironic that leftist Cypriots – mostly brought up in the UK, Australia and America – now back British imperial policy.

Mike Benayoun said...

Just made makaronia tou fournou for the first time this past weekend. I actually added dried mint in the sauce / pasta. Do you guys add mint to yours?