The Greek island Paros, several hours from Athens by boat, is an unspoiled, undeveloped mini-paradise, and, despite its relative nearness to the mainland, has never really caught on with the tourists. That is precisely the reason I decided to spend a few days there.
After checking into a hotel and exploring for a couple hours, I settled back in an ancient wooden chair in an outdoor cafe and ordered some calamari, and a bottle of ouzo. Paros is beautiful, with narrow dusty, streets and buildings washed white by the sun and salt air. Purple desert flowers bloom everywhere and are a perfect contrast to the all-encompassing white. I was aware of the distinct and aromatic smells of sustenance: fresh hot bread in the bakery to my right and lamb and fish dishes being prepared in the restaurant to my left.
Reality turned when I focused on a young woman atop a mule fully loaded with supplies. As she rode by, I waved and called out "hello" in recently acquired and antrocious Greek. She looked in the direction of my table, nodded her head in what might have been a response, and rode on.
A few days later, I saw the young woman again as I was hiking through the hills. She was sitting on a little stool in the shade of an olive tree, milking a nanny goat outside her house high on a crest beyond the monastery. I waved and called out again, and she responded in Spanish, saying that I spoke terrible Greek. We both laughed and she continued with her task as if I were a friend she had been expecting.
Anita was an artist from Madrid who has lived alone on Paros for three years in an earthern house with a spectacular view of the sea. We talked about painting and travel and food. The afternoon passed so quickly that sunset was upon us before we realized it. She invited me to stay for dinner. The meal Anita prepared that night, Aegean shrimp, was remarkable. AEGEAN SHRIMP ANITA (2 servings) l medium onion, sliced thinly 1/2 cup olive oil 3/4 pound fresh or canned tomatoes, chopped 2 cloves garlic, mashed 1 small bay leaf 1 teaspoon oregano 1/2 teaspoon basil 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley 1/2 teaspoon Chinese hot oil Salt and pepper to taste 3/4 pound large shrimp 1/2 pound feta cheese 1/2 lemon 8 black Greek olives, halved
Saute the sliced onion in olive oil until tender. Add the tomatoes, garlic, bay leaf, oregano, basil, chopped parsley, hot oil and then salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes. (If fresh tomatoes are used, cook for 12 minutes.)
Peel, clean and cut the shrimp in half (across the middle, not down the center).
Drain the tomato/onion mixture and set aside. Return the juice to the saucepan, bring to a boil and add the shrimp, cooking them for just 2 minutes while stirring constantly.
Spread the tomato/onion mixture evenly on the bottom of an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking pan. Arrange the shrimp on top of the mixture. Crumble the feta cheese and sprinkle it on top of the shrimp. Arrange the olive halves on the feta. Squeeze half a lemon over the shrimp and place the pan in a 475-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove and serve with garlic bread, a green vegetable and white wine.