As the eldest son in a traditional, first-generation Greek family on Long Island, N.Y., Chef Psilakis was destined to embody the hospitality and appreciation for food so highly valued by his party-loving family. "Fun" in the Psilakis household often meant gatherings of up to 30 or 40 guests, during which the young Michael ran drink orders, refilled trays and helped with the cooking
He was the first member of his family to go to college where, to please his father, he earned a degree in accounting and finance. After college and a short career as a waiter, he bought a trattoria, christened it Ecco, and one day, when the chef didn't show up for work, Psilakis had no choice but to step in. A year later, with Psilakis in the kitchen, Ecco received a two-star rating from the New York Times.
The opening of Onera allowed Michael to return to Greek-inspired cuisine. But he was still busy managing the eatery and he missed simply cooking. That dream came true when his friend, restaurateur Donatella Arpaia, asked him to become executive chef at her new restaurant, Dona. He accepted and began crafting a menu that celebrates the bounty of Southern Europe. Esquire magazine has named Dona one of the best new restaurants in the U.S. for 2006.
Here is Saturday's menu:
Dried Fruit And Nut Salad
Tomato And Feta Baked Shrimp
Greek Yogurt with Quince And Honey
Feta Cheese: A classic Greek cheese traditionally made from sheep's or goat's milk, though today large commercial producers often use cow's milk. White, crumbly and rindless, feta is usually pressed into square cakes.
Quince: This yellow-skinned fruit looks and tastes like a cross between an apple and a pear. The hard flesh is quite dry and has a tart flavor, which makes it better cooked than raw. Quinces are available in supermarkets from October through December. Select those that are large, firm and yellow with little or no sign of green. Wrap in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to two months.
Halva: This was not in the Shoestring budget, but if you want to spend a bit more than $40, you can crumble this over the dessert. Halva is a sweet confection of ground sesame seed and honey, often with the addition of chopped dried fruit and nuts. It's available wrapped in bars.
DRIED FRUIT SALAD
1 cup dried dates
1 cup dried apricots
½ cup yellow raisins
1 cup walnuts
1 bag mixed baby greens
1 and 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
2 shallots peeled
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried thyme
3 tbsp honey
2 cups of canola oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup grated white soft cheese, like ricotta insalata or parmigiano reggiano
- Dice the dates and apricots. Set aside in a bowl with the raisins and walnuts.
- To make the vinaigrette: blend together vinegars, shallots, mustard, thyme and honey in a food processor or blender. Once it's blended, add oil with motor running. Blend until emulisified. Reserve.
- To assemble; put the greens in the bowl with the fruit and nuts, dress with vinaigrette and toss to cover. Distribute evenly among plates and top with cheese.
4 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
20 jumbo shrimp, peeled, de-veined
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
2 cups tomato sauce
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
2 tbsp. white distilled vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup water (or chicken stock)
4 tbsp. toasted bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- In a large sautee pan, add 2 tbs of olive oil, chopped garlic and shallots and sautee until brown. Add shrimp and quickly sear on both sides. Add cherry tomatoes, tomato sauce, stock, herbs, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
- Transfer the shrimp, 5 each, into individual baking crocks. Spoon sauce over the shrimp and crumble feta cheese over that. Transfer crocks to oven and bake for 5 minutes or until they bubble.
- Remove from oven and place on serving plates. Finish with olive oil and top with toasted bread crumbs.
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup honey
3 clove spears
4 tbsp halva, optional
2 cups Greek yogurt
- Peel quince and cut into rectangular batons.
- Add quince to water in a pot with sugar, cinnamon, 1/4 cup honey, orange peels and clove spears. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for an hour and remove cloves and cinnamon sticks.
- Scoop two dollops of yogurt on each plate, spoon quince and juice on top. Add honey and finish with a couple sprinkles of halva if you wish.