The hamburger without its roll would hardly have qualified for the billion-dollar-sales club. And if ham and eggs had never met over an English muffin for eggs benedict, brunch would still be called lunch. What is exciting about food -- eating, cooking, discussing -- is more than the ingredients. It is their combination that intrigues. And like the burger and bun, some of the best dishes are combinations that once were served side by side, but then became ingeniously joined.
You'll find one in Tarpon Springs, Fla. -- perhaps an unlikely place, but surely the hamburger sandwich and eggs benedict began nowhere more memorable. Tarpon Springs, on the Gulf Coast north of Tampa, is exactly what you expect when you hear the term "tourist spot." It is touted as the largest natural sponge area in the world, and its Sponge Docks -- complete with Greek divers -- are closely packed rows of souvenir shops, sponge sellers, Greek bakeries and restaurants. Noisy, busy, colorful and solidly commercial.
You'd hardly look to such a schlock strip for a great meal. But among those apparently identical Greek restaurants and bakeries I did indeed find a great dish. Bill's Lighthouse restaurant, at the end of the docks, invented it, and calls it nothing more original than Greek Style Squid. Bill's Lighthouse has been there for nearly 25 years, and is still run by the Rigas family, two brothers and a sister-in-law. The Greek Style Squid has only been there two years.
"Seafood is usually served with a platter of tomatoes, olives, peppers, cheese, onions and cucumbers," in a Greek restaurant, said Stratos Rigas. And so was the pan-fried squid, which was pretty popular as both appetizer and main dish at Bill's Lighthouse. Then one day, plain squid didn't seem to be enough. So they began to combine the garnish with the main dish for a little variety. The whole family got into the game; they invented it together, said Rigas. "We all added our two cents to make it what it is," he said, proudly sharing credit with Theo and Maria Rigas.
That meant squeezing lemon juice and drizzling olive oil over the traditional oregano-scented, floured-coated fried squid, as they usually did when they served it. But they also tossed the tomatoes from the relish tray into the squid, along with the olives, the hot peppers and the feta cheese, rather than serving them alone on the side. And once that was done, the Rigas team decided to bake the dish for 10 minutes to meld the flavors and let the juices ooze together.
At Bill's Lighthouse, squid is pretty popular stuff. But in case it is not so fondly received at your house, the same dish can be made with other fried fish or seafood, perhaps shrimp or scallops. Tabletalk
*Keeping up with the times, one summer camp has renamed its insect show-and-tell. The children are invited to bring whatever bugs they collect as pets and leave them in the "Animal Bed-and-Breakfast."
*A real salesman sells himself, we have long been told. And in that tradition, the state of Florida has found a way to sell the oranges it no longer grows. It is a Florida seal of approval, identifying not just the fruit grown in the state, but fruit grown anywhere and submitted to be certified that it meets the state's standards.
*Overheard in many bookstores this time of year are bushels of requests for "The Planned Parenthood Zucchini Cookbook." Twelve years and three editions old, the cookbook lists more than 60 recipes to turn your garden's overabundance into "every zucchini a wanted zucchini." It sells for $2.75; add 50 cents postage per mail order (Planned Parenthood, 212 Laurel St., Santa Cruz, Calif. 95060), and plan on six weeks for delivery (no jokes here). BILL'S LIGHTHOUSE SQUID (6 main dish servings, 12 appetizer servings)
4 pounds squid, cleaned and halved vertically*
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 teaspoons oregano
Oil for pan-frying
3 tomatoes, cut in wedges
3 pickled hot green peppers (pepperoncini), sliced
3/4 cup Greek-style black olives
1 cup cubed feta cheese, or to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
Clean squid, halve them and pat dry. Combine flour, salt, pepper and oregano in a paper bag and shake squid in it to coat well (coating three times if necessary). Set aside for a few minutes.
In a frying pan, add oil to 1/2- to 1-inch depth and heat until quite hot. Add squid and fry over medium-high flame until golden, turning to brown both sides. If it spatters, cover with a screen as it cooks. Remove squid from pan and drain.
Put the squid in a baking pan just large enough to hold it all in one layer, about 9-by-12 inches. Top with the tomato wedges, the hot pepper slices, the olives and the cubed feta cheese. Drizzle on the olive oil and squeeze the lemon juice over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until the tomatoes are softened and the juices are oozing from the squid.
Serve hot or at room temperature, as an appetizer or main dish.
*Dish can also be made with shrimp, scallops, clams, diced fish or other seafood.