In the next small town over from the small town where I live in is a great little store called, The Greek Store.
The Greek Store sells all manner of wonderfully sinful Greek delights (not that Greeks are sinful, just some of their food!).
Down each narrow aisle of the store, food treasure after treasure is offered up to the shopper while the owners yell back and forth in their native tongue.
Salty, briny olives, black, green and pink, glistening in huge vats.
Spanakopita that is oozing with feta and spinach all stuffed into light, buttery filo.
Hummus, made the right way, with lots of garlic and lemon.
Baklava that is so moist, the honey runs down your wrists when you take a bite and nobody cares if you suck your fingers when you're done.
Big jugs of red wine encased in twine, reminiscent of a 60's movie where fat candles ran hot wax down the sides of spent bottles.
First communion veils and rosaries are somehow sandwiched in with cheese, bread, olives, salt, anchovies and wine.
At Easter, there are fat loaves of round bread with hard boiled eggs baked right into the centers.
But the most impressive, beautiful, thing they sell is home made Filo dough.
It is nothing like the dry, cracking frozen dough you buy in the grocer's freezer. You know the stuff I'm talking about.
The stuff that made you cry the first time you tried making anything with it? You brought it to room temperature and covered it with the moist kitchen towel just like the package said to and it still broke and splintered in your very hands. You did your best patching it up with more melted butter than should be legal, only to bake it and end up with tops that burned and a middle that was gooey and undercooked.
Not The Greek Store's Filo. This dough is soft and pliable. It has never seen the inside of a freezer and as long as The Greek Store is in business, it never will.
This salad is easy enough for company and impressive enough for family. No, I didn't get that mixed up. An old Greek saying tells us "To treat company like family and family like company if you wish to be blessed by both"
Arugula with Strawberries on Pecan Crackers (makes 4 salads)
Pecan Crackers: (makes 1 pan, about 12 to 14 crackers each 1"x4")
8 ounces Filo Dough* or 12 pieces + a few for mistake making
2/3 cup pecans, ground fine in a food processor
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
4 cups fresh baby arugula, washed and spun dry
1 cup fresh sliced strawberries
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the crackers, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine the ground pecans and the 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. Set aside
Melt the butter in a small ramekin.
Using a pastry brush, use some of the butter and butter the bottom of a rimmed cookie sheet.
Unroll your filo dough. Have a moist, clean kitchen towel ready and keep it on top of the filo when you are working with a piece. Don't put the towel directly on top of the filo, put a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap between the dough and the towel.
Lay one piece of dough on your cookie sheet and using your pastry brush, butter it well. Repeat until you have 6 pieces of filo dough stacked on top of one another, making sure you butter each piece all the way out to the ends of the dough.
Next, sprinkle the nut and sugar mixture over the dough. Make sure it's even, all the way to the ends.
Stick a teaspoon into a jar of honey, lift it straight up and drizzle the nuts all over with a thin, steady stream of honey. Be scant, we are just giving it some sweet richness and a little moisture.
Do you know how hard this picture was to take? One hand on the spoon, the other on the camera?
Now, place a piece of filo dough on top of the nuts and honey, butter and repeat until you have 6 pieces of dough. Make sure you butter the top piece really well - you don't want it to dry out and crack while baking.
Even the best made dough misbehaves sometimes. Be gone you bad piece of Filo.
You are no help at all and no, you cannot have that piece of dough.
Pop the cookie sheet with your buttered filo cracker into the oven for 8 minutes or until golden brown and slightly puffed on top. The top will fall as the cracker cools.
When completely cool use a pizza cutter and cut the cracker in half horizontally, then into 1 inch "strips".. you will have a rectangular cracker about 1 inch by 4 inches.
Assemble the salad:
Place two crackers on each plate, to the side. Place about a cup of arugula on each plate, allow most of cracker to show. Sprinkle arugula with 1/4 cup fresh sliced strawberries and a few dobs of goat cheese. Drizzle each salad with about a teaspoon of high quality olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Add a pinch of sea salt and a grind of fresh pepper. Serve.
A Cook's Notes: *filo dough - if you only have access to frozen filo dough check the date on the box and buy the absolute freshest box you can find. Filo tends to dry out the older it is, even when kept frozen. Defrost in the refrigerator and use it as soon as you can. With practice, you can master the filo!
A great variation to the strawberries (if they are not in season where you live) are roasted red pears. Peel, core and quarter 2 pears. Sprinkle with honey and thyme. Roast at 375 for 30 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Use blue cheese in place of the feta - everything else remains the same. YUM.
ps. you will have a few leftover crackers. Good, because people will ask for more.