- Giorgio Pintzas Monzani
Pasteli: The Ancient Greek Dessert
Very few ingredients, very much history.
A very ancient sweet, a symbol of fertility and love, a traditional recipe but unique in its regionality: these are just some of the characteristics of the traditional Greek and Cypriot sweet παστελι (PASTELI). According to historical sources the name derives from the ancient verb πασσω (paso), which means to spread, inherent to the techniques of preparation. The first information about this sweet date back to the Homeric era, when in the Odyssey and in the Iliad a sweet called ιντριον (idrion) is mentioned, a plate made of honey and sesame, which was used to give energy to Greek warriors engaged in the Trojan Wars. Even after the Homeric events, it is recognized as a common meal among the Spartan military ranks before each clash. A different symbology from the war one began to be given with the arrival of the golden age of Athens, towards the end of the sixth century BC, a period of great cultural growth of the Greek world. Herodotus in fact, considered "the father of history", in the fifth century BC, spoke about a sweet made of honey and sesame, a kind of flat bread to be broken with the hands by young people in parties and dances. This custom later became a real ritual in Greek weddings, where the bride and groom were offered some cakes to eat with their hands: honey symbolized love and passion, whereas sesame recalled the seed, therefore fertility. Even today the custom of eating pasteli in wedding rites remains, especially in the islands of the Aegean Sea. The pasteli today Nowadays it is possible to find versions of the same cake with different flavors and different consistencies. In the northern part of Greece it is likely to find a crispier texture thanks to the use of a part of sugar, in addition to honey, which once crystallized gives this characteristic. In the southern part instead the use of sugar is not included in the tradition, in order to have a softer result. In order to enrich the base of honey and sesame many variants make use of dried fruits such as hazelnuts, almonds and raisins.
Even in terms of taste, however, it can vary according to the region, for example:
● In the island of Rhodes, pasteli, known instead as μελεκουνι (melecùni) is spicier and fruitier with the addition of orange peel.
● In Amorgo the custom says it is to be wrapped in lemon leaves after cooking in order to give it a stronger aroma.
● In Sifanto the difference is in the preparation: differently from other regions and areas, in the southern Aegean Island the honey is not foamed during boiling.
Today we are going to see a recipe without the addition of sugar but with a condiment that will make your diners will surely love.
Παστελι with acacia honey, hazelnuts, pepper, raisins, and yellow peaches Ingredients:
● 500 gr acacia honey
● 500 gr white sesame
● 80 gr
● 1 yellow peach
● 80 gr raisins
● pepper, a pinch
● In a baking dish with baking paper, we lightly toast the sesame at 150 degrees in the oven, being careful not to burn it.
● The peaches we cut into small cubes, about 1cm.
● In a saucepan with a thick bottom, we put the honey to heat, over medium-low heat. Once it begins to boil, we remove the foam with a skimmer, lower the flame slightly and leave it for 6 or 7 minutes.
● Once the time has passed, we add the sesame, raisins, chopped hazelnuts, peaches and pepper.
● We let the mixture run on medium low heat for a few more minutes.
● To make sure it's ready to be rolled out, we take a teaspoon of it and dip it in cold water, if it doesn't melt immediately then the mixture is ready, although we continue the baking process.
● We spread the mixture in a baking dish with baking paper with some white wine on the bottom to prevent it from sticking.
● Roll out to the thickness we prefer and wait for it to cool completely.