Tzolia

(or Gogglies – handmade pasta of Albanian origin)

 

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If you haven’t tasted it yet, here is a rare delicacy waiting for you to try it! Just close your eyes and enjoy! Enjoy the smell of hot sheep’s milk butter which melts on the Myzithra and gives it a pale golden tint. Listen to the fresh pasta sizzling and moaning while butter is poured all over it.

 

This is the best dish I have tasted in my whole life.

 

I was lucky to have been raised in a family whose standard Sunday meal always included Tzolia and barbecued pork chops. I remember my grandmother in Eleusis: she used hard wheat flour from Thiva and kneaded the dough by hand in a basin made of clay while, beside her, my mother made preparations for the cutting of the pasta. Flour was spread all over the table and the cheese grater was at hand.

 

When the dough was properly kneaded, they rolled it out onto the table in the form of long rods about one finger thick. My grandmother cut off small pieces of about 1.5cm each and my mom swiftly pressed them with her thumb onto the cheese grater, which was dusted with flour, and laid them on the table. Thus, this small curved pasta was pricked (due to the grater) but it remained solid inside. So, the pasta rods magically disappeared and the table was full of small shell-shaped pieces of pasta (floured in order not to stick to each other) which were left to dry till the water would start boiling.

 

Thereafter, they sieved the pasta to separate the excess flour and the rest was put into the cooking pot in batches. Initially, the pasta went to the bottom but, after a while, it slowly rose to the surface. My grandmother removed it with a skimmer and put it in a round pan sprinkled with grated Myzithra cheese. This procedure was repeated again and again till all the Tzolia shells were cooked.

 

When the last portion of cheese was sprinkled (as a topping), butter was put in a coffee pot in order to boil vigorously: this butter was, in fact, dripping made out of the sheep’s tail, which my grandfather, a good food enthusiast, prepared and kept in a small clay jar placed on the kitchen stand. Its smell is imprinted in my memory, yet, so far, I haven’t found a match for it.

 

It was a ritual: we all sat around the table and –instead of waiting in anticipation for the cutlets– we stood there waiting for the Tzolia to be served so that we could start our meal! My grandpa brought the pan to the table and poured the hot butter on the pasta. What a moment! I feel very lucky to have such tasty memories.

 

Although my two teachers have passed away now, I dare say that I have learned my lesson. My kids are extremely happy when I ‘m about to cook Tzolia. And, after all, it’s not a lot of trouble: from kneading to boiling, it takes an hour’s work. So, I am ready to give you the recipe. Don’t be afraid to try it: buy some hard wheat flour for the dough, find some sweet Myzithra cheese or some dry Cretan Anthotyros and indulge in the tantalizing taste and flavor of the fresh butter (or of some similar delicacy that you may find).

 

In order to prepare a hearty meal for four, you need 500 gr. of wheat flour, a small amount of cooking oil and a small amount of salt. Add water to the mixture and shape it into a ball which does not stick to your fingers. Personally, I prefer to use the blender for this part – this way, I save time and energy for the next steps. So, then, I let the dough rest for about half an hour and, afterwards, I produce the rods, cut them into small pieces and press them against the cheese grater one by one. It takes me 45 minutes in an unhurried pace. The secret is that the pressure applied to the pasta should lead to the formation of a uniformly thin body. When prepared this way, it can be cooked perfectly. Furthermore, you have to ensure that the pasta is properly floured to avoid its sticking on the grater.

 

Now fill a large cooking pot three-quarters full with water and bring it to a boil. Sieve the pasta, drop it in the water (cook them all together at once if possible) and remain attentive because you have to stir every once in a while to prevent the water from bubbling and spilling over the sides. Cook the Tzolia for 25 minutes. Then, you can remove it with a skimmer and put it in a pan sprinkled with grated Myzithra cheese.

 

I have developed my own version of the butter boiling procedure: I melt the butter in a frying pan to which I then add a handful of Myzithra. I let the mixture fry for a short while (till the cheese browns) and then I pour it over the Tzolia. This recipe brings together aroma, sweetness, color and crispy texture – all in the same dish. Perfect!

 

This article was published on tasteful

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