Pastitsada is the most emblematic food of Corfu. A casserole dish, the traditional pastitsada recipe features cockerel or soft beef and thick spaghetti, as well as pure virgin olive oil, a lot of minced onions, sliced garlic cloves, salt and ground black pepper, red wine, vinegar and a mixture of many spices.
Preparing this favourite Sunday fare of most Corfiot families is an elaborate ritual and every household has its own recipe. For those who are not familiar with it, this flaming red dish derives its colour from the wine, the vinegar and the good amount of sweet paprika added to the meat even before any tomatoes are introduced. The whole art of mixing the spices –spetseriko– that go into it developed exclusively from the desire to enhance the taste of pastitsada.
The history of Pastitsada
Manos Nathanael, in his article “The Manifesto of Pastitsada” (“Portoni” magazine, Christmas 2018, issue 7) claims that it is inconceivably old, since it was born in 489 AD after a battle between two German Kings.
It was in late September 489 AD when the German-born King of Italy Odoacer encamped in Verona, was pursued by the King of the Ostrogoths and Regent of the Visigoths, Theoderic the Great. Theoderic (also of German descent) had been sent by the cunning Byzantine Emperor Zeno, who was worried about the power that Odoacer had acquired in the area. In fact, Zeno had ordered Theoderic to overthrow him in exchange for the whole of Italy.
On September 30, the deadly battle of Verona took place, in which Odoacer was defeated for the umpteenth time. On the battlefield lay countless innocent victims, soldiers on both sides, as well as many horses. Theoderic, wanting to appease the locals, allowed them to take the killed horses and use them for food. However, so much meat – as they did not intend to invent refrigerators – was difficult to preserve and would certainly spoil. Then they thought of keeping it in barrels with wine – the increased acidity of the wine of the time helped – and plenty of herbs and spices.
That’s it! The new food, Pastissada de Caval, was born. The meat started to be cooked in the marinade and to be really popular. Over the centuries, the recipe spread throughout Venetia and became the favourite of the Doge of Venice, “La Serenissima”. In the Corfu of the Venetians – in the city, of course -, the notion of celebrating the good life and all the worldly pleasures had been widely adopted. So pastissada was welcomed, its name changed over the years into “Pastitsada” and it has been ever since the gastronomic flagship of local recipes.
Of course, one thousand five hundred years is a lot: additions, modifications and replacements were made to the materials, the horse became a calf or a rooster, and the aromatic spices brought by the Venetian galleys from the East were added. An ideal American bride, the tomato, matched the flavours perfectly, blending them together. The pharmacies of the city of Corfu, having the ability to grind the spices into a fine powder, started to sell their own mixtures of the seven spices of the pastitsada, the “spetserika”. At the famous pharmacy of Karmela on Saroko Square the mix contained no less than fifteen seasonings!
Recipe for Corfiot Pastitsada (One of many…)
The recipe is for about 4-5 servings and to be consistent with the tradition we use rooster. Of course in the same recipe you can use the same amount of tender beef or chicken.
- 1 rooster of about 1,5 kg or the same amount of beef or chicken, cut in medium cube pieces
- 3 large onions (pastitsada requires a lot of onions)
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 200-250 grams of thick tomato paste
- 200 grams of red wine
- 80 grams of red vinegar
- 300 grams of high quality virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 kg of thick spaghetti (or thinner or penne depending on what everyone likes).
- Grated cheese (preferrably Greek kefalotyri)
- Salt & Pepper
- Warm water
- Spetsieriko (see below)
Spetsieriko is the famous Corfiot mixture of spices from which we put a level teaspoon for every 4 portions of pastitsada or a little more if we want the food to be very spicy.
- 10 grams of grated Clove
- 50 grams of Cinnamon
- 50 grams of nutmeg
- 70 grams of sweet paprika
- 50 grams of Cumin
- 20 grams of hot chili flakes (Depending on how hot you want it, reduce or increase the quantity)
- 100 grams of sweet chili flakes
- 20 grams of grated allspice
- 30 medium bay leaves grated very well to become a fine powder
- 25 grams of black pepper
The quantities may seem excessive to you, but this makes a mixture for 10 or more cookings. Store it in a closed glass jar so that you can use it for your next cookings as well. Just a touch of it gives a divine taste to any red sauce and we also advise you to taste it on your scrambled eggs (extra tip: with some added scrambled feta cheese on top).
1) Cut the rooster or meat into large pieces
2) Cut the onions into very small pieces.
3) Heat the 250 grams of oil in a large saucepan until it smokes
Immediately put pieces of the rooster or meat and sauté them until they turn slightly golden.
4) Put the grated onions in the pot and sauté them along with the pieces of rooster or meat.
5) When the onions get a little color, i.e. in a minimum of time, add the vinegar and continue sautéing until it evaporates.
6) Add 200 grams of wine and bring to a boil.
7) When the liquids are about to drain, add the 3 spoons of tomato paste and add water that should be already warm, until the rooster or meat is evenly covered.
8) As soon as the mixture starts to boil, add one or one and a half teaspoons of the Spetsieriko, salt and a spoon of sugar and mix.
9) Let it boil on low heat, watching that it does not stick to the saucepan, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
10) When the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened, the food is ready. Put the pot aside and prepare the spaghetti.
All the above process should be done slowly and with a lot of love and care!
11) The spaghetti is prepared at the end and just before serving the dish. After you boil the spaghetti and strain it from water, put the butter in the pot where you cooked it until it melts -be carefull not to let the butter burn-, add back the spaghetti and mix it with the butter.
12) Serve the rooster with the spaghetti, putting enough grated cheese on top.
Enjoy your Pastitsada!