I’ve always loved Greece and Greek cuisine. I first traveled around Greece as a student when I was 20. I was invited back in 1981 as part of a team of lefty American economists to advise the newly elected Socialist government under Andreas Papandreou, which miraculously won power a few years after the junta of fascist colonels got thrown out and democracy was slowly restored.
But that, as they say, is another story.
I managed to learn maybe a hundred words of Greek, which always gets me in trouble because my accent is better than my comprehension.
New York is famous for basic breakfast and lunch eateries run by Greeks. But it also boasts a few superb, elegant Greek restaurants. My favorite is Molyvos, on 7th Avenue. They were there for 25 years; they closed in December and word is they’re about to re-open on 43rd Street.
My favorite dish there, which was no longer on the menu at my last visit, is called Thalassa me Kritharaki. It is a kind of second cousin to the many dishes that combine starch and seafood, such as jambalaya or paella, but much more delicate.
One day, after ordering the dish at Molyvos and savoring it as always, I put on my best Greek accent and asked the waiter, how would you translate Thalassa me Kritharaki? He looked at me oddly and replied, “Pasta with seafood.”
And so it is. In the same way that Veuve Clicquot is wine with bubbles. Actually, thalassa translates as “spirit of the sea.” That’s more like it. We might say the same of the Outer Cape.
I think I’ve managed to reverse engineer it.
Thalassa me Kritharaki
1½ cups orzo
8 large or 12 medium shrimp
8 sea scallops
A little extra virgin olive oil
Two shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. chili flakes
8 oz. chopped San Marzano tomatoes and their juice
A splash or two of white wine
3 oz. crumbled feta cheese, preferably French or Greek
Handfuls of chopped fresh mint
Quarter the shrimp and scallops and salt and pepper them well. (In their short season, you can use bay scallops — just halve them.)
Sauté shallots until soft. Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes, and continue sautéing for 2 or 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, adding wine and water a bit at a time until you have a nice sauce.
Add the shrimp and scallops, simmering them in the sauce over low-medium heat until done. Add a little water or wine if the sauce threatens to dry out. Ideally, you want about six tablespoons of sauce to coat the orzo.
Meanwhile, cook the orzo — it takes 9 to 10 minutes.
Drain orzo, plate it, pour shrimp and scallops in sauce over it, add feta and mint, serve.