Chef’s Dish: Lesley Draper talks to Alyssum’s Jane Baxter

Jane Baxter, Alyssum
Jane Baxter, Alyssum

The Acropolis is an inspiring backdrop at any time, but for chef Jane Baxter it proved the setting for a dream come true…

Jane left Sheffield as a young woman, to set up home with her husband in Athens.

Keftedes in flaming red pepper sauce with goats milk pasta and courgetti in chilli oil

Keftedes in flaming red pepper sauce with goats milk pasta and courgetti in chilli oil

Together they established wine bar Koneion, in the shadow of the ancient hilltop Acropolis.

And while her husband welcomed guests and served drinks in the bar, Jane honed her skills as chef, serving up a delicious array of Mediterranean foods.

They were halcyon days and the memory stayed with Jane through later years, running cuisine-focused tours in some of Greece’s most atmospheric regions.

“Visiting every corner of Greece exposed me to the myriad Greek cooking practices and delicacies,” she says. “Cooking remained a hobby throughout my life.”

Jane Baxter and daugher Alexa Exarcopoulos at Alyssum, Crookesmoor

Jane Baxter and daugher Alexa Exarcopoulos at Alyssum, Crookesmoor

Now, after three decades in Greece, she has returned to her home town – and to her original profession.

With daughter Alexa Exarcopoulos, Jane has set up Alyssum Café Bistro in Barber Road, Crookesmoor.

It’s a bright, airy space that brings a little Mediterranean charm and a taste of authentic Greek cuisine to the back streets of Sheffield.

The menu offers a whole range of delicious foods: from healthy salads and home made cakes to hearty pies and stews, all freshly made on the premises.

“In the countryside of Greece, there’s a culture among family-owned taverns which dictates that food be home cooked and intimate, precisely as it would be in at the family dinner table. This is what we’ve tried to recreate,” says Jane.

And not only are the recipes authentically Greek, but the ingredients are too – thanks to a happy quirk of fate.

Eva Chatzopoulou and John Papatzikakis came to Sheffield to study, but fell in love with the city – and each other – and decided to stay.

Both keen foodies, they loved local delis and farm shops but missed the Greek foods they left behind. So they set up their own e-shop (www.amaltheadeli.co.uk), sourcing top-of-the-range products from their home land.

When Jane and Alexa realised the products they needed were available right on the doorstep, it was the start of the perfect business friendship.

Now Amalthea Deli supplies a whole range of ingredients for the regular menu – and also collaborates on regular bistro nights at Alyssum.

The next of these is a Greek Meze Night on February 26, featuring a range of tasty authentic treats.

Meanwhile, Jane is sharing a favourite recipe for keftedes (meatballs), which she serves with goats milk pasta and a fiery red pepper sauce – both available from Amalthea Deli.

Recipe by Jane Baxter - Keftedes in red pepper sauce

INGREDIENTS

(serves 6)

Meatballs

500g minced beef

250g minced pork

2 large slices of bread,
 soaked in milk

1 onion, grated

2 tblsp olive oil

1 egg, beaten

Handful of fresh 
parsley & mint

½ tsp dried oregano

1 tsp paprika

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp salt

Black pepper –
10 turns of mill

2 tblsp any flour

Olive oil for frying

TO SERVE

2 courgettes, spiralised (optional)

Cherry tomatoes 
(optional)

500g Amalthea’s goat milk pasta

1 jar Amalthea’s flaming red pepper sauce

3 tblsp Amalthea’s chilli oil

METHOD

Place all meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with your hands for ten minutes. Leave to rest for 1 hour if possible. Form the mixture into small meatballs and dredge in flour. Heat oiive oil in frying pan and fry in batches until cooked through and browned on all sides. Alternatively bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

TO SERVE:

Boil goat milk pasta in water, as per packet instructions and heat flaming red pepper sauce. Meanwhile massage chilli oil into the spiralised courgettes and grill tomatoes. Place pasta on a serving dish, top with the spiralised courgettes, then the meatballs. Spoon over the flaming pepper sauce and garnish with grilled tomatoes.