Cookery school review: Oliveology, The Cookhouse
The course: Greek Vegetarian Workshop, £65 (half day); includes lunch, goodie bag and 10 per cent off future purchases and workshops
Where: Oliveology, The Cookhouse, Borough Market, London SE1
Tester: Abigail Dodd
What it’s like
Marianna Kolokotroni began Oliveology, which specialises in quality organic food straight from Greece, as a stall in London’s Borough Market in 2009. Her family farm in Sparta, in the Peloponnese, is a main supplier, providing herbs, citrus fruit, nuts and olives. In 2016 Marianna was offered a permanent shop space and the business has since grown steadily, branching out to occasional cooking and wine workshops in Borough Market’s well-equipped demonstration kitchen, high above the main gate.
Marianna introduced us to Despina Siahuli, an Athenian chef who’s worked in London kitchens as diverse as St John and E5 Bakehouse. There were 10 of us on the course. Most had travelled to Greece and loved the food and its emphasis on freshness and seasonality. My 18-year-old vegetarian daughter was with me, hoping to take away some useful recipes for when she starts university next month.
What I learned
We made four dishes: fava; butternut squash, feta and trahana pie; wild mushroom fricassée; and hazelnut, apple and tahini filo pastries. The Greek dish fava (not to be confused with fresh broad beans or dried fava beans) is a simple, sustaining dish made from yellow split peas, which I’d enjoyed in Crete and Cefalonia. We chopped and sautéed onions and garlic, added carrots and the split peas, then left them to simmer before whizzing to a luscious dip.
Trahana, used in the second dish, is a fermented mixture of grains (semolina, bulgur or cracked wheat) combined with milk, yogurt or buttermilk and dried in the sun. Its sour tang and granular texture work well with the soft sweetness of butternut squash. After making the filling, we moved on to the tricky bit. Filo has always daunted me but Despina dispelled my nerves. The secret is to keep your stash covered with a damp cloth and make generous use of olive oil on a pastry brush.
We sat at the communal table chopping, rolling up filo and sharing our Greek travel experiences, picking up tips on islands to visit next; it felt like a holiday reunion. A catherine wheel pie laced with feta and mint and encrusted with sesame seeds made a golden centrepiece to our lunch.
The wild mushroom fricassée was so deliciously savoury it converted my fungiphobe daughter into a mushroom lover. It was a quick, easy, full-flavoured dish, with complexity from dill, fennel, nutmeg, mint and the addition of a piece of cheese rind (whipped out at the end).
The filling for our final dish was a mouthwatering mix of fruit and nuts spiked with marinated currants, orange, cinnamon, honey and the unmistakable flavour of tahini. The smell was heavenly as we stirred. We were shown how to roll the filling into filo cigars or fold it into triangles like mini samosas. The results were crisp, delicate parcels of rich fruitiness with the warmth of sesame and hazelnut.
We learned a great deal about Greece and its culture, as well as its food. My only criticism was that the feta and trahana pie and the apple pastries were rather similar to make. Both were really tasty but I would like to have tried another technique from the Greek kitchen. The dishes we cooked and ate embodied the country I have such fond memories of: warm, relaxed and exciting, full of textural contrasts and fulsome flavours.