Have you ever heard of dakos?
I had never tasted this simple Cretan dish until very recently. With its blend of dried bread, chopped tomatoes, herbs, olives, and crumbled feta, Dakos reminds me of panzanella. But I prefer dakos even more, which features huge, crunchy lumps of dried barley rusk — way more fibrous and interesting than normal bread. (Though I would love to make dakos with a loaf of my own sourdough!) The rusk is soaked in a mixture of water and olive oil until it becomes tender, and then gets dressed with a mixture of vegetables and cheese. Magically, soaked rusk gets both mushy and crunchy. It’s insanely delicious. (We added fresh basil, dried oregano, and sun-dried tomatoes to our dakos, which is a little less traditional but no less tasty.)
We made a few other traditional Cretan dishes, like an addictive dip of pureed fava beans. Cretans like to pair the dip with finely chopped raw cipollini — so genius. They also tend to douse their pureed favas in a lake of olive oil, but we were a little more cautious. A little goes a long way.
(P.S. That slaw-looking thing at the bottom isn’t cabbage — it’s my new favorite vegetable in the world, white radicchio. It looks like chicory and tastes a little like Belgian endive. I love bitter, so it really, really hit the spot, especially when dressed up with a touch of Grecian honey, sunflower oil, and some Dijon mustard.)
As per Adam’s request, we spent his birthday morning wandering the place he loves the most — Marche Jean-Talon. After a few hours of snacks and shopping (and some disturbingly overpriced tacos at El Rey del Taco), we headed home, backpacks heavy with vegetables, and fixed up a quick birthday luncheon worthy of the bountiful harvest. In Quebec, our time spent enjoying vegetables feels precious, and my need to ingest ridiculous amounts of produce while I still can borders on the obscene.
In that vein, we prepared a skillet of buttery, seared baby fennel and garlic, which was creamy, sweet, and only faintly crunchy. I arranged a platter of stewed French Puy lentils with bacon, parsley, and lemon, and served it with some of this summer’s refrigerator dilly beans, quartered heirloom tomatoes, a single golden beet, and slender curls of carrots. There was a modest heap of roasted cauliflower, a handful of sweet bread-and-butter pickles, and half of a peppery sliced radish. We had some final end of season corn, sauteed and tossed with torn basil, and small spicy peppers stuffed with olives and breadcrumbs that an old Italian grandmother gave Adam as a birthday present. (Her son works here).
The best part of the midday birthday feast? A fresh, heavy tub of ricotta, still warm, purchased out of the back of someone’s van in Little Italy. I smeared mine on the tomatoes and covered everything in fleur de sel.