Dennis Chrysanthopoulos, who worked as a bartender at Aquavit for years, was one of the first people to introduce me to Astoria, the Greek enclave in Queens, New York. A first-generation American born to Greek parents, Dennis explained to me how his parents held their heritage close and re-created the life they knew in a small village in Greece as best they could in New York City. "My mom could find specialty Greek ingredients, like yogurt, goat, and lamb, at the local stores in Astoria," he recalls, "and my dad would grow eggplants, tomatoes, and cucumbers in the backyard." At Eastertime, the most important holiday in Greece, Dennis remembers his mom in the kitchen baking the eggs, cookies, and traditional breads that are a part of the Greek Orthodox Easter celebration. "It was three to four days of doing nothing but going to church and baking. I don't think she even took a break to sleep."
One ingredient always on hand at the Chrysanthopoulos house is feta, a salted cured cheese that Dennis says should be aged for at least forty days. I like to meld feta and the other Greek flavors with lobster and orzo, an Italian rice-shaped pasta traditionally used in soups, to create a light and lovely pasta salad.
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Bring 6 cups salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Strain and set aside.
3. Bring another large pot of water to a boil. Add the lobsters and cook until the shells are bright red, about 5 minutes. Strain and let cool. When cool enough to handle, crack open the lobster claws, knuckles, and tail and remove the meat. Slice the meat into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl.
4. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and brush the cut sides with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle the garlic on a baking sheet. Place the eggplants cut side down on the baking sheet and roast until tender, 40 minutes. Remove from the oven. When they are cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the eggplants and chop. Combine with the lobster meat. With a sharp knife, slice the vanilla bean lengthwise, then use the back of the knife to scrape the seeds into the eggplant-lobster meat mixture. Add the vanilla bean.
5. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked orzo and white wine and bring to a simmer. Cook for another 3 minutes. Stir in the lobster mixture and 2 tablespoons water and cook until heated through. Remove from the heat and fold in the feta, egg yolks, and basil. Remove and discard the vanilla bean. Stir well. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, divide the orzo among four bowls.
Because orzo is such a small pasta, it's my favorite choice for pasta salad. I find that it's also a great choice for kids, because it's easy to eat with a spoon.
This page created March 2010
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