Making Gemista

I knew my Genista was perfect when I saw my chef (after multiple attempts) take bread and use it for the sauce. Something very traditional in Greece cooking and foremost I would say it’s what we consider to be mama’s’ comfort food. This traditional Greek recipe for Gemista falls under the category of Greek dishes called “Ladera”, meaning Greek dishes prepared with olive oil. 

A discussion with my chef about the comparison between Greek cuisine and Italian cuisine possibly comes down to that point even though they are both Mediterranean in their approach, olive oil is used differently.

I think that making this dish is a challenge for any chef and to get it right takes time, check and test your oven. It could be that you start to struggle with it being too moist or too dry and patience is needed. Gemista is very often its smother or lathered in all of oil and I really don’t like that even though I get the Greek point of view.

My approach which is influenced by a friend who is a well known chef in Tinos, and is more about the micro-steps in preparation. I enjoyed to use a brunoise technique, but it’s not going to work. I use carrots, onions and zucchini and cook them separately. I do not mix them together until the very end when I add them to my risotto mixture before stuffing the peppers.

But the question is, how much oil, and do you measure it or “by the eye”. I did not measure it, I would say the oil is not quite as much as you think. The reason is oil should complement the Gemista and not saturate it.

M oil’s participation comes from the sauteing of the vegetables and in my several attempts, I used to toast the vegetables independently of one another, but now I realized there is the importance of melding flavors and never forget how food bonds, those particles bonding to one another creating a “taste-chain”. I consider this key and I say this because the most important bond is in achieving balance. There is no dish that can be considered

All vegetables cook differently and the carrots I can extract carotene and and it colors the olive oil during saute. If that doesn’t work use some pur paprika and that works. Remember the idea that onion will not cook the same as the zucchini, so each one is sauteed separately and the juice from the vegetables (water-oil) gives you enough oil for the “ladera” you expect.

But if you need more *put more but be careful you can end up with a very oily and heavy rice. I do recommend add a drizzle of oil to the top of the peppers or rice but very little and only symbolic amounts. And it is true some add bread crumbs atop the pepper hats for extra color and flavour but industrial bread crumbs are awful.

The key is moisture and you cook the rice as a risotto until it is 75% cooked and at the last minute take it off the stove and check to make sure the mixture is hydrated. Many add water to the tray, an obvious idea to gain steam and cleaver it is. I cook in a professional oven so I have steam and crispy and whatever is needed.

I also used some spicy paprika on my vegetable risotto before I spooned it into the peppers. And the peppers, I roasted them in the oven with steam and heat for 10+ minutes so the shell would be soft because if the shell of the pepper is not cooked enough, you failed. And if it is mush, you failed. The texture of the pepper’s shell should not be crunchy, it should be soft and subtle otherwise you failed. And I ve seen many time in Greece the peppers are destroyed and flimsy to the point where they fall apart and I do not like that but many do. After the peppers are soft and ready you’ll notice some liquid in the bottom and this is from a light salting and a light sprinkle of of oil.

The cooking I made did not have the tops on the peppers and were exposed to the heat in the oven and I toasted the rice at the top thinking of Massimo’s crunchy Lasagne one of his signature dishes and perfectly and emotionally connected to his genius.

No doubts the crispy on top is fantastic and below the rice was cooked to perfection using steam for the last 5 minutes just to hydrate the oven pan as I laid some sauce (tomato) onto the bottom with a little 20ml of water and yes the virgin oil. The temperature is 160-180°C and 20 minutes or more if needed, it is up to you.

The end result was splendid this time, and the mixture I made for the stuffing was not micro cuts of vegetables; I cut it in small 5mm cubes and that was mixed into the risotto mixture in the last minute of cooking.

Now, the cooking requires tomato and water and I used close to 60% water and 40% tomato and adding the tomato to give a nice color and taste at the end of cooking the risotto. Tomato adds color to the rice and it can be added as you go along.

It is all just a matter of trial and error, or what you’re used to but pay careful attention to what happens and observing is as important as any part of cooking.

This is not a typical Gemista so good luck💃💃💃you’ll need a few hours to make it by the time you start until the time you finish.

Categories: Curious About it?