I’m not quite sure how to put this but I am really not in love with Valentine’s Day. It’s not that I’m hard-hearted or cynical but all the schmaltz surrounding 14th February makes me feel slightly queasy. The hearts, flowers and romance are absolutely fabulous for those of us who are all loved up, but if you’re not…. Well, you probably need to find solace in something else.
How do you mend a broken heart?
That whole experience of unrequited love is a truly miserable experience and remedies for the broken-hearted are not that easy to come by. The web is full of sites giving advice; there are apps that can assist (I’m not quite sure how) and you could even try some herbal remedies – hawthorn and rose petals seem to feature in a few.
Not chucked just ‘Eaten a noodle’
‘Dumped’, ‘jilted’, ‘chucked’, all those words that we use for those who have lost out in the love stakes really don’t give people anywhere to hide. In Greece, things are a little different. If you have been romantically rejected, you are said to have ‘Eaten a noodle’ or ‘Efage hilópita’.
Obviously, a big plate of noodles is a pretty comforting experience for anyone who is feeling sorry for themselves, but the story of how the ‘love noodle’ came about is not entirely obvious.
Hilopítes – the ‘Love Noodles’
In Greece, like everywhere else in the times before modern medicine took over, all sorts of ailments were treated by people who set themselves up as healers. There were those that had ancient knowledge based on herbal remedies and traditional therapies – occasionally they even had real results. Others were a bit more curious, with nothing more than quackery behind them.
About 200 years ago, one of these medicine men, a shaman from Ioannina called Parthenis Nenimos, decided that he needed to have a treatment for his broken-hearted patients. Maybe there were a lot of lovelorn folk in those parts…who knows?
Fortunately, the medicine wasn’t anything gruesome. It was a batter made from wheat flour and spices and baked in the oven, into a sort of pie or pudding. It was called ‘Hilόpita’, which is also the old word for ‘noodle’. The afflicted person had to eat some of the pie first thing in the morning on three consecutive days. On the fourth day, all being well, the magic would have worked and the boy or girl would have forgotten their former lover and be ready for a new romance. Or maybe they had just had found comfort in plenty of fragrant pudding. Anyway, the expression stuck and so, for Greeks whose Valentine message is ‘Returned To Sender’, they are still said to have ‘eaten a noodle’.
The real recipe.
All that aside, proper Greek noodles, hilopítes make a really delicious meal, whether you are lucky in love or not. They come in various shapes – some longer ones like tagliatelle, or curly, or even short, little square ones. The classic dish is with chicken, casseroled in a rich tomato sauce, with plenty of cinnamon and chopped celery leaves. The noodles are usually cooked in the sauce, rather than boiled separately. It is a very comforting meal at any time but if you have been chucked, it might just hit the spot.
'Chucked Chicken' - Chicken with Hilopítes
- 4 chicken thigh filets
- 250 gm hilopítes Tagliatelle make a good substitute
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tbsp finely chopped clery
- 250 ml tomato juice or pasata
- 125 ml white wine
- 1 tbsp finely chopped celery leaves or more if you like
- 1 small stick of cinnamon about 3cm long
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Grated parmesan or mizithra for serving
Cooking the chicken
- Heat the oven to 185 degrees
- On the hob, heat the olive oil in a shallow casserole, add the chicken thighs. Cook for a few minutes on each side until they have browned nicely.
- Remove the chicken thighs to a plate and put to one side.
- Add the chopped onion, garlic and chopped celery to the pan and cook them for a few minutes. Stir it while cooking until its all soft and golden.
- Add the white wine and cook for a minute. Now add the tomato juice or passata and 200ml of water.
- Now add the cinnamon stick, the chopped celery leaves and chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
- When it is all simmering nicely, take it off the hob. Cover with a lid or foil and place in the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes.
Cooking the hilopítes or pasta
- After 45 minutes in the oven, you will have nicely cooked chicken in a really thick sauce. Take it out of the oven and allow to cool for a minute or two.
- Pop the chicken pieces on a plate and then measure the sauce in a heatproof jug. You should have about ½ a litre.
- Now you need to add 1 litre of hot water to the sauce and return it to the pan.
- Put the pan back on the hob and heat until its boiling.
- Now add the hilopítes or pasta, and stir well making sure it's well-covered by the liquid. You may need to add a bit more hot water. Just make sure the pasta has plenty of sauce.
- Return the chicken to the pan, tucking it into the sauce and the pasta.
- Put the pan back in the oven, and bake for about 15 minutes, stirring occaisionally so that the pasta doesn't clump together.
- When the pasta has cooked, take the pan out of the oven and serve with grated parmesan or mizithra.