A Change of Direction

A Change of Direction

If the last couple of weeks have taught us anything, it’s that you need to be adaptable and always be prepared to change your direction. There’s absolutely no point in just ploughing on, when literally everything is telling you to stop and rethink. We’ve had a summer full of house viewings, one even going so far as contracts of sale being prepared. But, looking back, we realise now that without exception, literally everyone who viewed, was at best, a time-waster. Let’s not consider what they were at worst.

So, as summer comes to an end, it seems the right time to take stock. And finally admit to ourselves that our long held onto dream of The Printworks, may be over. Finished.

With our current, beautifully renovated home still not sold, we can’t go on forever, clinging onto the hope that the next viewers may be the ones. If they are, all fine and dandy, but it’s time to take things back under our control. So, a big change of direction is about to be implemented, which may or not involve our house being sold. Which may or not involve us taking on additional renovation work. Which may or not involve a radical move.

All we know is, we are back in charge again. We’re not dependent on the whims of people who love our house, build up our hopes and then dash them. It’s ALL now down to us. And we cannot wait for what may be about to happen.

 

 

Volta Gin & Wine Bar, Oprtalj

Volta Gin & Wine Bar, Oprtalj

Anyone who’s been to stay with us, will know that, as beautiful as Oprtalj is, it could be described as a “sleepy” little town. We have a restaurant, a gorgeous loggia, numerous festivals throughout the year, a mini-market, a post office, a cash point, a gift/interiors shop, an antique shop, a primary school and a boutique hotel. Plus, views to die for, across to the Adriatic. But, it’s definitely not Party Central. We did have a second restaurant and pre-Covid, a wine bar was just beginning to establish itself. The second restaurant is no longer and the original wine bar closed, as the owners decided to focus on their expanding olive oil business. So, when I spotted on Instagram a new account, describing itself as a Gin & Wine bar – in Oprtalj, no less – they got an immediate follow! Contact was established with the owner, and it was confirmed that this new venture would be opening where the original wine bar used to be located. Countdown was on to summer opening…

The owners, a couple from Zagreb, clearly have a long term plan. They know that everything won’t happen overnight, especially as they have only opened towards the end of the summer season. But with apartments they now run, above the bar, already fully booked for the remainder of the summer, they’ve clearly decided not to put all of their eggs in one basket. We recently visited quite late after eating in the local restaurant, but could see that they had had a steady stream of customers, which was a good sign. Food – probably along the lines of the traditional Istrian charcuterie boards – will be added at a later date, but the drinks menu was extensive, and with some unusual offerings, included a range of beers and ales from an independent craft brewery  – BruMan – in nearby Buzet. Wines ranged from the extremely reasonable to quite expensive, if you wanted to push out the boat, and a good range of cocktails are also available.

By a twist of fate, the bar is called Volta. For those of you familiar with West Didsbury, you’ll know we have a huge fondness for a bar of the very same name, run by our old friends, Luke & Justin, from way back when we were at Manchester Polytechnic and flat sharing. So, Volta in Oprtalj was always going to be a winner for us…

 

 

 

 

Picking Ourselves Up

Picking Ourselves Up

It’s fair to say that the last two and a bit weeks have been one big roller-coaster of emotions. We are selling our renovated stone house in Istria, to enable us to finance the renovation of another building, not too far away. With hindsight – which is obviously a wonderful thing – we put it on the market at the worst time possible. The summer of 2020. Lockdown. Maybe we should have just stopped marketing the house and sat it out until slightly better times arrived. But, we didn’t and so we feel that the house has been on the market forever. Of course it hasn’t and looking at things realistically, whilst we were having no viewings, much, much worse things were happening across the world as a result of Covid. As things started to look a little more optimistic in summer 2021, we took the decision to list with an estate agency. Viewings did happen, but again, with hindsight, we see now that serious buyers were still not really even dipping their toes into the water, as people visiting Istria were still well down on previous years. We took comfort from the many enquiries which came in via our listing on Rightmove Overseas, perhaps deliberately ignoring that most enquiries were never going to go anywhere. Most were quite brusque, even rude. Rarely did we get a reply to the quite extensive information we’d send out. And then when we did, it usually became apparent that the interest wasn’t actually that great – or realistic – at all. We recently took our listing down.

But earlier this year we had a breakthrough. We ditched the initial estate agents and listed instead with a new, vibrant agency, who absolutely understood how to market a property. We have had a lot of exposure via their own website and social media channels and have subsequently had increased viewings by people who seem genuinely motivated to purchase a property in Istria. They are working hard on our behalf – and yes, you could say, “Well they would, wouldn’t they?” because if they sell, they get a fee – but so be it. If a sale comes as a result of their work, then fine. We feel confident that they will find our buyer, and so we are still very happy with them. Their work with us has been a breakthrough and we feel we are in good hands.

So, why the need to pick ourselves up?

Because our world has been turned pretty much upside down, after a series of events the last two weeks. To cut a long story short, we had a walk in viewing a couple of weekends ago. The person viewing was pretty much bowled over by the house and its decor and its surroundings. She had been trying to find a house in Istria for some months, and having just viewed a property close by which was unsuitable, saw our “For Sale” sign and asked to view. We decided that after lots of walk-ins, which have amounted to absolute zilch, we would not just immediately agree to show people around. We wanted to gauge their level of interest, so we advised that there & then was not convenient, and could she and her husband return later. Which, to be fair, they did – and after viewing, made a verbal offer of the asking price. She was keen. Boy, was she keen! She was very concerned that someone else might view and make an offer and she wanted to pay a deposit asap, offering us her official documents – we’re not sure why at this stage and could only assume as some kind of assurance that she was serious. We agreed that once the deposit was paid, we’d cease all marketing of the property.

I contacted our solicitor the next day who advised me he was on holiday but would still begin to draw up the pre-contract (a standard procedure here), the next day, so as to facilitate her request to get things moving. This was communicated to the buyer – a tiny ring of an alarm bell was set off, when rather than acknowledging that our solicitor was prepared to work whilst on holiday, and very quickly, she hoped that there would be “no dragging of feet”. However, this little ring was put right at the back of mind, as we were now getting to a very momentous point in the long journey of our house sale.

Our buyer returned to Germany, and as expected, she had lots of questions. These were all welcomed, as we have absolutely nothing to hide. Our own website is extensive in terms of information. We have an Instagram account which is a truthful record of our journey in the house from Day 1. Our blog details even further all aspects of our move and the full renovation. She requested more photographs, so rather than send images via email, I gave her links to all of our platforms. Possibly, in hindsight, I should have just sent a few photos…

As I would do, she trawled through everything I sent her. I expected her to do this – after all, buying a home (and it would be her new full time home) is not a small purchase and you need to be as fully informed as possible. However, I would also be a little bit circumspect and realise that a photo or a blog post, captures a moment in time. And this is where I started to feel that things weren’t perhaps going as positively as they had been when she viewed.

She had concerns about where the shadows fell in the garden. We had discussed this as we walked around the property, and maybe I hadn’t grasped how she would become fixated by shadows, but I also emailed, in depth, explaining what the garden was like at various times of the year. I also tried to explain, that when you have a property, and there are structures near it – ie our green wall and our stone cottage – shadows will be cast at certain times. Thankfully, she seemed reassured and advised me that she was happy and all was still going ahead. But this didn’t last long – a flurry of emails came in, all based on photographs she’d seen on our Instagram feed or a blog she’d read, some going back two or three years. When she viewed, we explained that we did not have air con – our home is warm and cosy in the winter, and in the summer, we use fans when necessary, and as it was not installed initially, we’ve not wanted the disruption of having it put in. However, she’d found a blog – and believe you me, I’ve tried to find it to ascertain exactly what I wrote, but can’t – where I alluded to the fact that at times, air con could be a “bonus”. I can’t have it both ways, apparently and she intimated that I had not been honest with her. She referred to a photo I had posted of a screenshot of my Iphone weather app. This showed, in February last year, that the lowest point the temperature could reach, in the middle of the night was -7. This apparently was more evidence of me not being truthful, as I had told her that in general, winters here are quite mild but can get chilly, and that every year we have been here, we have had snow, but it is fleeting. I also explained to her how to interpret the “temperatures” on such an app, as I felt that things were now being picked up on and perhaps starting to be used as a get-out. I also explained that had the temperature actually fallen to -7, I would probably have recalled it as it would have been cold!

However, she once again reassured me, and urged that the pre-contract be delivered as she wanted to press on and transfer the deposit payment. Just over a week after her initial viewing, the pre-contract was indeed drafted by our solicitor, whilst still on holiday. It was at this stage, she decided she wanted it in German. Absolutely fine, but it had been drafted according to Croatian law, with one version in Croatian and a second, in the accepted common language of English. Had she requested a German version sooner, this could have been put into place, but a delay was now created whilst our solicitor – still trying to enjoy his vacation – arranged for a court interpreter to organise a German copy. What a waste of time this was, as she decided later that day, she didn’t need it in German, after all. Much rolling of eyes ensued…

The contract was sent to her and she emailed to say “all going ahead”, and we waited on tenterhooks for her signed copy to be returned. Only, it wasn’t returned. I got an email that afternoon, which ended with the phrase, “I will not buy it!!” Two exclamation marks also included. Gutted doesn’t come into it, but now that we have reflected and calmed down, the reasons she gave have made us realise that this was probably never meant to be, and that we have probably avoided a much more complicated situation. She had decided against it, as in her words, “…there were too many restrictions on the property…” This was refuted immediately and forcefully by our solicitor as we have ALL documentation to prove ownership and boundaries, and there is nothing to suggest any kind of restriction on any part of our home/land. The shadows made a return appearance, making us realise that whatever we said, her mind was made up. And, because we had chosen to have a potted garden, rather than dig up concrete to plant permanently, we had, in her words, “dodged everything”. Make of that what you will.

So, here we are. Back to Square One. House still for sale. Feelings swinging between anger and sadness. But, as the saying goes, everything happens for a reason, and this is the only way we can look at it. We think, being realistic, The Printworks dream is over as the pre-contract we entered into has ended and the seller has intimidated he is now looking for more money. On balance, we think we’ll now walk away and start to look in a different direction. A very different direction. And hopefully, in time, our brush with the ultimate time-waster, will become a very distant memory.

 

Medica Agroturizam, Medici, Istria

Medica Agroturizam, Medici, Istria

Not too far from our house, but a little off the beaten track, along a country road, through beautiful scenery, to the end of the village of Medici, is the last of the closest restaurants to us, which we’re ashamed to say we only investigated recently. We’ve always known about Medica, as it is signposted form the road, and we’ve read fantastic reviews, but we always found a reason to go somewhere else. So, on a very hot, sunny, May weekend afternoon, we decided to put this right and make a visit.

You wouldn’t get here without transport, and as there is no public transport in these parts to speak of, you would need a car. Or a friendly driver who didn’t mind taking a hit on the vino. It’s pretty isolated, being right at the end of the track, but with views like these, across the Mirna Valley, who cares? Motovun can be seen, on top of the hill, on the right of the photo, and just out of view, Oprtalj. Breath-taking.

The car par was full when we arrived and there was only one table available outside on the terrace, so we were lucky we arrived when we did. I think all of the cars, apart from ours, had Italian licence registration plates. Conversations all around us were conducted in Italian and the owners spoke only in Italian. Unsurprising that our part of Istria is often compared to Tuscany or Umbria.

The set-up is as simple as can be. On ordering our drinks, we were given a choice – vino rosso or vino bianco. No wine list. But we knew that the wine would be good – restaurants around here, which produce their own wine, have to make sure it’s good, otherwise people will just go elsewhere. After all, we’re not short of options. Mezzo litro di vino bianco ordered and we were onto the food. Again, a very limited menu, but this time there was a menu…

No fuss. No frills. A sheet of A4 inside a plastic wallet – very handy as menus will change according what is available, although I would be urging that they lose the caps lock! Because we were eating later in the evening, and had only really come to check it out, we opted for sharing portions, rather than main meals.

Homemade bread – warm and fresh – was the perfect accompaniment to a plate of Istrian cheese, which had a parmesan texture and taste, and olives. The frittata con tartufo was perfect – clearly made with the freshest of eggs, and resembling more scrambled eggs than a traditional omelette style frittata – and laced through with truffle cream and topped with truffle shavings. A portion of patate in tecia was ordered as we are on a mission to try this dish whenever it appears on the menu, as it’s gorgeous. It’s a mashed potato dish, cooked in a tecia, a flat cast iron pan, sometimes like hash browns, or sometimes, like the one served in Medica, like bubble & squeak, with its browned top and bottom. I think we can safely that probably everything we ate and drank came from with 50 metres of our table, as the agroturizam is also a small holding, with olive groves, sheep, goats, hens, rabbits, cattle and a couple of pot-bellied pigs, as well as donkeys and ponies and a variety of birds. Which I think were to add to the small zoo feeling, rather than menu items. Although I couldn’t say for absolute certainty…

So, another really delightful restaurant, not too far at all from our house. Although it’s not fine dining by any stretch of the imagination it’s really good, wholesome, homegrown food, definitely served with love by the owners.

Please Do Your Homework…

Please Do Your Homework…

If there’s one thing we do in this whole process of attempting to sell our renovated home in Istria, it’s provide information – LOTS OF IT – so that anyone who is potentially interested in it, can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for them, very early on.

Initially, we didn’t really refer to a swimming pool on our website and in other places, other than to state we don’t have one. Because, you know, we don’t have one. But, it became increasingly clear we were going to have to be a whole lot more blatant, because when viewings commenced after travel restrictions were eased, we found we were often being met with puzzlement. Because, there was no pool. So, we made it clearer on our website etc that although there is the space to install a small pool or a plunge pool, there isn’t one currently. We found we were almost having to justify why we didn’t have one, and this really started to irritate as it should have been so obvious a pool wouldn’t magically appear. Thankfully, we seem to have got this particular message across – and if asked, we do now politely suggest that should the viewers proceed to buying the property, they might want to consider installing one.

But something new has reared its head – something we’d not even considered.

Our house & gardens (front & rear) would be perfect for someone looking for a holiday home, with *manageable* outdoor space. We do not own any additional land/fields – as we are sometimes asked, even though we make it VERY clear on our website what do actually own, externally. We’re really quite surprised by the number of people who enquire – and often subsequently view – our home, who have on their list of requirements either “land” or a “field”. We can only assume they pay scant regard to the images and textual information as there is NO reference to either, and this does make us wonder what goes on in some people’s heads. These people who enquire – and sometimes take it as far as viewing before revealing this nugget – haven’t come from the next village. They’ve often travelled quite a distance, and usually from another European country. I think I’d want to be pretty certain that what I was putting in an awful lot of effort to view, at least ticked my main boxes so that I didn’t waste my time, and potentially build up the hopes of the people selling.

Most viewings are for the house to be used as a holiday home/let or a second home. And, for us, this kind of begs the question – would you really want to buy a holiday home & also take on the responsibility of more land/fields?

Who’d look after it in your absence? Things grow very quickly here, so you might find you’d be starting your holiday tackling an overgrown field ? Or, you’d have to find someone local, who could look after the land on your behalf, especially if you were letting the house out to visitors. I can’t imagine anyone would appreciate rocking up on holiday and finding they had no view as they couldn’t see beyond the overgrown field.

What would you actually do with it? Soil here is rich, thick, red clay – without a lot of additional work, it’s difficult to imagine doing anything other than growing crops. And, as lovely as this idea is, who’d look after your field of crops in your absence? Who’d treat the crops & harvest them? Who’d actually eat all of the produce? Would they be just left to wither and rot, if you weren’t here full time?

And, finally, if your thinking is to buy a house with a field/additional land attached or nearby, to build on or install a pool, we’ll save your time right now. You’ve NO CHANCE. Land here, which is designated as arable, can’t be built on. There may be ways for locals to get around this, but as someone coming in & planning to develop their property, you really would be wasting your time.

But, if you still think you definitely want a field, I think we can say, quite categorically, our home is absolutely not for you.You’d be wasting your time coming to view it. You might be viewing a number of different properties in the area, and decide to view ours too, as it looks nice and a bit unusual, but with no intention of taking things any further. A bit of a filler for you, on a day of viewings, perhaps. Please don’t do this. It’s cruel. With every single viewing, we ensure that our home is in the best state possible and this takes up a lot of our time. We emotionally invest in every single viewing, as it could THE ONE. We care about our home and who it might be owned by next, so it’s always a bit of a blow to find out that someone really hasn’t done their homework.

We know that the next custodians of our home are out there, and they will most probably be people who we’ll really like, because if they go as far as purchasing, we’re pretty sure they’ll have left no stone un-turned. They won’t have unrealistic expectations as they will know we don’t have a pool, but won’t be fazed at the idea of actually rolling up their sleeves and having one installed. They won’t have the pipe-dream of a “field” because they recognise all of the above points if they are purchasing the house as second home or holiday let. And they will probably be super happy that our (very large) front garden is incredibly low maintenance, so they can get on pretty quickly with putting their feet up and relaxing, in their new Istrian holiday home…

 

A Vision : From Beautiful Home to Boutique Hotel

A Vision : From Beautiful Home to Boutique Hotel

Our renovated house, in beautiful northern Istria, is for sale. We have thought since Day One, that it would sell to people like us. People who wanted to either live in it it full time, or use it as a holiday home, for themselves, family and friends. We think this will most likely still happen, as the enquiries which are now translating into serious viewings, are generally from people who want to do one or the other.

However, we’ve started thinking a little bit outside of the box, and have realised that our market – because of where we are located – is actually potentially much wider than we initially thought.

Not Just A Home…

As we drive around Istria, especially in the north, we’re seeing more and more stone houses being renovated. This is wonderful to see, as however beautiful we think they are in their abandoned states, they will just continue to fall into further disrepair. Some of these properties are clearly being renovated to become holiday homes, but some are a lot more interesting to us – they are being, or have been, renovated to become very small, but very beautiful, boutique hotels. Some are one-offs, and some are outposts of other hotels, already established and successful. And this has got us really thinking about the wider possibilities of our renovated house. Presumably, at some point in the past, all of these properties were homes, like ours, and now they have taken on a new character. So, maybe ours could, too…

Constructed of Istrian stone, and built over three floors, our home could potentially be converted into a small hotel. We currently have three double bedrooms, with a further living space (one of three) being perfect for a fourth room, with ample space for an en-suite facility. We have a large living room, a dining room – with a very, very unique exposed and illuminated (although very safe as covered with reinforced glass) well chamber, which guests will love – and a fully renovated kitchen. Although not huge, the kitchen is fitted with everything that a small residence might need initially, but The Well Room could definitely accommodate a larger kitchen if required.

The main bedroom (top photo) is very definitely large enough to accommodate quite a spacious en-suite. The upstairs bathroom is situated in the room behind where the wardrobe stands, so plumbing would be a fairly easy job for someone who knew what they were doing. The other two bedrooms aren’t as large – but for a person with vision, this wouldn’t be a problem. Currently, with a partition wall between them, it would be a fairly easy task to take this down to create a large room, with an en-suite. These en-suites would pinch space from the current bathroom, but as it would be no longer needed, the area left could be the perfect storage space for linens, towels etc etc.

Knocking two rooms together would obviously decrease the number of rooms available for guests, and a boutique offering, however beautiful, but with only two en-suite rooms, would be less appealing as a project than one with three rooms. So, to get that third room – and a large room it is too – we have a very unique room at the bottom of the house, accessed by stairs from the living room. Our Snug…

This room could become perfect private accommodation, with an en-suite bathroom installed under the stairs (behind the curtains), and access either down the stairs from the upper floor – or, with a bit of imagination and investment, the window could be transformed into a doorway, with steps leading up and into the rear garden.

And, talking of which – if a boutique retreat is something which get your imagination going, we also have a small stone cottage included in the sale of the property. This currently in what we like to call a “rustic condition” – it is definitely not habitable, as the roof and walls would need serious attention. But, for the right person, this could be an amazing project. It could become a self-contained annexe, therefore providing additional accommodation space. If demolished, the beautiful stones could be used to create a boundary wall around what would become a very large rear, private garden. Certainly large enough to install a small pool. We think that this additional property, is the icing on the cake of our sale and with someone in charge, who had a clear vision and the finances to allow it, it would become an absolute hidden gem.

Very close by, are a number of properties which have been converted sympathetically and restored, to create beautiful boutique accommodation. Take a look at these and if you feel inspired, why not get in touch with us for a chat? Alternatively, have a look at our website, as a starting point

Casa Ars Natura, Groznjan http://casa-ars-natura.istria-hotel.com/en

Melegran in the Hills, Biloslavi https://melegran.com/melegran-in-the-hills

Fig Tree House, Bale http://fig-tree-house.istria-hotel.com/en

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Our Own

Growing Our Own

2022 is going to be Grow Our Own year. We’ve tinkered around the edges of growing vegetables and herbs before, but it’s always been pretty half-hearted as far too much else has been going on in and around the garden. We’ve had minor success with lettuce and tomatoes and back in Didsbury, we did successfully grow strawberries and potatoes. But this year, the house renovation has finished and we’re focusing on the garden, so being a bit more self-sufficient is the aim.

Along the side of our house and garden, is a long strip of communal land. This was originally the road into the village, but it isn’t any longer. The road is on the other side of house, so this strip of land – owned by the local council and a number of individuals – is largely unused. Somewhere, presumably on hiking maps, it may still be marked as a right of way, because on a couple of occasions, we’ve had people with hiking sticks appearing. And being as startled as us! Maybe once a year, one of our neighbours will bring his tractor along the grassed lane to get to his field, but we can probably can count on one hand, how many times it’s been used by anyone other than us. So, we’ve been working hard to make it good, and frame the house. We have a hammock, in the summer, strung up between two of the trees and patches of wildflower seeds have been sown. This year, we’ve added pots of bulbs and a cluster of potted bamboos. But, it’s the veg we’re working on, more than anything.

If there’s one thing we have an excess of around the house, it’s Istrian stones, so these are being to use and we’ve made a vegetable patch, which sits in front of a small wall, and is in full sunlight. As we also have an excess of logs, we’ve divided the patch up with these and labelled each section. So far, we have sown peas, courgettes, cucumbers, rocket, lambs’ lettuce, carrots and onions – and already, just a week after sowing, the green rocket is pushing up through the soil. The bed was dug down and raked over, before the stone frame was built around it. To save on good soil, we back-filled the whole thing with twigs and branches, then mulch, then our own rich, red soil before adding a layer of top soil. A water butt, which was useless for collecting rainwater as the tap had snapped off, and couldn’t be replaced, was cut in half, and this has made an excellent planter for potatoes.

We have two apples trees and a cherry tree which were planted early last year, but didn’t produce anything very much last year – we did celebrate the one apple! – but already this year, they are heavily budding so we have high hopes for them. Once the much needed rain passes, we’re going to be planting up tomatoes and strawberries, too. It’s fair to say, we are crossing our fingers for a bumper harvest across the board this year.

The Easiest Irish Soda-bread

The Easiest Irish Soda-bread

Like everyone else in lock-down, we tried our hands at bread-making. Not the arduous kind of bread where you have to proove it for days. More the kind that you knock up in a bread maker. We did have success although we did still find even using the machine to be a faff, and so never really got away from the supermarket purchases. Until now…

I think it might have been on an Instagram feed that a recipe came up from Siggi’s, using their Icelandic inspired yogurt which does not contain artificial preservatives, thickeners, sweeteners, flavours or colours. I love this yoghurt and so was immediately interested. And, with so few ingredients, decided to give it a whirl.

The recipe uses cups as a measurement, as it’s an American website, so a bit of conversion had to be done first. For the record, this accurate:

  • 1 cup = 136 grammes
  • 1 cup = 237 millilitres

RECIPE

  • 4 cups (544g) of all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups (473ml) of 0% plain drinkable yoghurt

METHOD

Honestly, this could not be easier. If you have the four ingredients pre-weighed, it’ll take no longer than 5 minutes before it’s in the oven. Especially if you’re an expert kneader!

reheat the oven to 190°C (or 375°F).

Add flour, salt, and baking soda to a mixing bowl and mix together with a fork. Pour in the yoghurt and stir briskly with the fork until the ingredients are combined and it holds together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed for 30 seconds. Pat into an 8-inch and 1 1/2 inch thick round on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a knife to cut an “x” in the top of the bread.

The recipe says to bake for 45 minutes, but we found the bread to be very pale, so did it for 55 minutes and it was perfect for our taste. Let it cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Wrap in a lightly damp towel and let cool completely. And, that is it!

 

Filo Tart

Filo Tart

Winter is the season of comfort food. When the nights draw in very early and it’s dark and cold, we tend to cook comfort food. Hearty stews, thick soups, pasta dishes often loaded with a sauce, Sunday roasts. The kind of food that is often followed by a snooze on the sofa, under a furry blanket, in front of the wood burner. But, you can only eat this kind of food for so long, and as we have noticed spring bulbs beginning to emerge and days seeming to last a little longer before it gets dark, our evening meals are starting to change, too. Marinaded tuna, salmon, chicken fillets, lighter pasta dishes. And this weekend, a very spring-like filo tart, filled with punchy colours and flavours. It was the simplest and quickest tart to make, made up as we went along. The filo pastry was shop-bought – there is no way I’m standing in a kitchen making it, when it can just be unrolled from a packet. Sorry to pastry purists and serious cooks, but I’m not messing around with filo. And, within 10 minutes, everything had been chopped and prepared and it was in the oven.

The pastry was rolled out into rectangular baking tray and smothered in green pesto. Lightly roasted peppers and chopped cherry tomatoes were added, with back olives squished down into the veggie mix. Feta cheese was crumbled across the tart and chilli flakes sprinkled on top, then baked for about 25 minutes. It was served with a fresh spring salad and potato rosti. The pesto made a real difference as it during the cooking, it soaked into the base, giving it a creamy texture. A lovely, light and fresh dinner dish – which reminded us that spring is not too far off…

spanakopita

spanakopita

No visits to Greece is ever complete, without numerous visits to local bakeries for the delicious spanakopita, those gorgeous filo parcels, packed full of spinach and feta and pine nuts. Back home from idyllic Greek islands, I’d never contemplated trying to replicate these, because I felt that if you didn’t make your own filo pastry it was cheating, but making it seemed a complete hassle. I also didn’t think I’d ever be able to replicate that special taste, so never tried.

I’m well over the cheating feeling now. As we don’t have the luxury of a local shop on the doorstep anymore, we need to think ahead a bit more and this means we’re definitely getting a bit more creative in the kitchen. It does help that we do now have a lovely new kitchen, rather than the one we inherited when we bought the house, which was functional but not really a pleasure to spend much time in…

So, this weekend, it was decided to bring a bit of Greek sunshine into the house – and the replication of the spanakopita commenced!

To be honest, I’m not sure why I’ve not done it before. It was quick and easy and the end result, because it’s actually quite difficult to go wrong with this, was delicious. And although this was a pie, rather than a parcel, it did take me right back to those warm summer days on Greek islands.

What you’ll need…

  • 500g spinach (fresh, if possible, rather than frozen)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 200g feta, crumbled
  • 4 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 large free-range eggs, beaten
  • Filo pastry sheets
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Nutmeg

Easy-peasy-how-to-do…

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4.
  2. Wilt the spinach in a large pan over a low heat and season well. Allow to cool, then drain well, squeezing out the excess liquid with your hands. Chop spinach up – scissors come in handy here!
  3. Heat (extra virgin, if possible) olive oil in a shallow frying pan and add the onion and garlic, cooking until soft. Add seasoning.
  4. Remove from the heat and add to a bowl with the spinach, crumbled feta, toasted pine nuts and eggs. Mix together and season well, adding a generous pinch of nutmeg. Spoon into the base of a baking dish.
  5. Lightly scrunch your filo pastry sheets and lay over the spinach mixture. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden.

To accompany this dish I roasted some gorgeous new potatoes – they’re just starting to appear in Istria and are so much nicer than winter potatoes – and coated them in smoky paprika, rock salt and chilli flakes, to give the meal a bit of a kick. And, these certainly had a kick, so the addition of a fresh, zingy cherry tomato, cucumber and lemon salad worked a treat.

A great Greek treat on a cold night in Istria.