Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

No doubt many people saw the mediocre movie made from this book  Corelli’s Mandolin,  beautifully filmed but as usual, not nearly as compelling as the book, which is written in lively, colorful prose from the viewpoint of several unique characters. These unique individuals include the main female character Pellagia, a traditionally raised Greek daughter who dutifully cooks for her father and becomes engaged to the local stud but then flips convention on its head with her later choices; Dr. Iannis, her father, who has his head in the clouds, who cures wild animals as well as human beings and whose inner monologues kept me vastly amused and entertained; and of course, the titular character himself, Captain Antonio Corelli. It was a wonderful read, but also very depressing and sad…..kind of like life itself.  Set on the gorgeous island of Cephallonia during World War II, the heartbreak of war is brought vividly to life in this place that has remained timeless until now. I suppose it goes to show that the horror of war leaves no place and no one untouched.

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Being set in Greece, of course the food depictions are luscious, with descriptions of wonderful octopus, mezedakia, which are little finger-type foods served like appetizers, dolmades, spinach pies in miniature, and my favorite, the passage below, set during the feast of the local saint, St. Gerasimos.

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“Outside, the pilgrims unloaded animals laden with feta, melons, cooked fowl, and Cephallonian meat pie, shared it with their neighbours and composed epigrammatic couplets at each other’s expense.”

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How can you not love a book that uses the word “epigrammatic” in the same sentence as such a delectable food passage? Anyhoo, kreatopita is the traditional meat pie eaten on Cephallonia, and can contain ground beef, feta cheese, onions, oregano and assorted other ingredients such as potatoes, rice, garlic, or tomatoes. The idea, I gather, is that each Greek cook has their own individual version of this recipe, and that is what true home cooking is all about. Having the skills to cook something and add tweaks or twists that make it truly your own, and which is part of the joy of this blog for me. It’s the ultimate in creativity, and I did it again here with the Cephallonian meat pie, using a base recipe from the marvelous blog site Lemon and Olives, with some added tweaks of my own.

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16-20 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed and covered with damp towel
1 cup melted butter
1 lb. good-quality ground beef, preferably organic
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Fresh oregano, fresh mint and fresh dill – use dried if fresh are not available but use less
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup of good, drinkable red wine.
1 cup of crumbled feta cheese
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 1/2 cups of frozen green peas

Preheat the oven to 365F. In a skillet under a medium burner, add the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic for about 10 minutes, adding a bit of sea salt for flavoring and to keep the onion from burning. Add the ground beef to the onions and garlic in the pan, and brown for about 10-15 minutes, stirring to break up the meat.

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Chop the equivalent of a 1/2 cup each of the fresh oregano, mint and dill. In another bowl, crumble up the feta cheese with your hands, and add the fresh herbs to this mixture. Fresh herbs really allow the flavors to come through, so if you use dried, use 1/2 tablespoon of each. Stir to mix and let the flavors mix together while you attend to the still-cooking meat.

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Add the tomato paste and the wine and the beef and stir again. Lower the heat  to medium low and let the red wine reduce, stirring occasionally. Add in the peas and stir again, so that the heat of the skillet will help them defrost. The scent of the meat, the wine, the peas and the herbs will rise up and hit your nasal passages like a dream. Delicious!

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You want the liquid reduced to nothing, so as not to make the phyllo dough soggy, so once the liquid is all gone, remove the meat mixture from the heat and let it cool for about 10-15 minutes. Once cooled, add the crumbled feta and herb mixture, mix well, and leave while you prepare the phyllo dough pie base.

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In whatever type of baking pan you have – I used a buttered disposable baking pan – lay one sheet of phyllo dough and brush it with melted butter. Lay another sheet of phyllo and brush with butter again. Continue in this vein until you have 8-10 sheets of phyllo layered on top of each other, each layer covered with butter. You need to do this fairly quickly, as the phyllo dough dries out easily. If you cover the dough sheets with a damp towel, this should help, but don’t take too long at this stage.

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On this buttery surface, add your meat-feta-pea mixture and spread everything out so that it evenly covers the dough. Add another sheet of phyllo dough on top of the meat mixture, brush with butter, and repeat until you have a topping of 8 more phyllo sheets to cover the meat.

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Poke a few holes in the top of the dough and pop that bad boy into the oven to bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. You’ll be able to smell everything baking and your mouth will probably water so much that you’ll need a swig of wine to help. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly and eat with joy in your heart! Opa!

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30 thoughts on “Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

  1. Hi Vanessa! I hope your summer is going well. This recipe has my mouth watering soo bad! I admit I am a bit intimidated about working with phyllo dough, but what have I really got to lose? I am not familiar with this book or the film, nor have I trailed to Greece but maybe some cooking and reading with some book club friends might be fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Leslie! it’s a wonder book, and I highly recommend it prior to ever seeing the film, which was mediocre at best and (as most films do) skipped over so much of what made the book so wonderful. I was a bit intimidated by phyllo dough in the beginning too, but really, it’s so easy. Just remember to keep your dough under a damp dishtowel as you are working with it because it dries out quickly. And don’t forget to brush each sheet/layer with melted butter. But really, I promise you it’s easy…..just have to work fairly quickly. If you try making something with it, do let me know how it comes out!

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  2. You have no idea how much I loved this book. I first read it 20 years ago and it’s quirky, bittersweet humour got me through a bad breakup. The movie tried-it had beautiful scenery and Penelope, but it wasn’t able to convey many important parts of the book-for example that Carlo was in love with Corelli and that was why he shielded him during the firing squad. An important detail but lost in the movie. I might have to get the book out again. The pie sounds yummy! Ciao, Cristina

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    1. It’s a lovely book, isn’t it? I agree that the film did little to convey the subtleties of Carlo’s character, who in my humble opinion, is the main character of the novel as his actions are thr pivot point on how much of the novel develops. And thank you for the compliment on the kreatopita! It was so good. We all enjoyed it.

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    1. Thank you so much! I was very pleased with how it came out and those savory flavors melded perfectly. The feta cheese is a really good contrast to the peas, which can be kind of sweet. Overall it was a delicious dish.

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  3. I liked the film. Saw it long time ago. Have yet to read the book. Like the idea of peas here and the
    picture of them looks very vibrant too. I love the spinach version. I can remember the first time I had it. Must try with peas…

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    1. The film was ok, but I always prefer the book over the movie so I’m probably biased. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words about the kreatopita. We truly enjoyed it. Such flavor and the feta is a nice contrast to the sweet peas and savory tomatoes. I’ll have to try this using spinach, too!

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  4. …another good post, great recipe (something I might try as a change of pace) The book… with the three furies riding along on motorino at the end, and those allusions that history and legend are still real, bittersweetness and humor, we are what we are…. alas. Because of the setting and what has transpired over the past couple decades, with war taking different, modern (financial market) forms, conquest becoming risk-less (physically) but only seemingly so over time…. seen that way, prescient. (What the EU, has done to Greece and the ‘war’ pestilence and famine,’ as it were, gratuitously inflicted is… well, we are what we are.)

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    1. I remember thinking something similar when I was reading this. How sad that a country that is the literal seat of our civilization has been so gutted by modern government. It makes me sad, but I think this is the way of the future……quite bleak. Sorry to sound so dark, but history is cyclical and I see so many awful things coming back around in this lifetime. Anyway, my apologies. I appreciate your compliment and I think you’d enjoy this. I know many people would likely use spinach, which i love but makes the phyllo so soggy. The peas and feta and tomato and ground beef were truly wonderful together and of course, at least for me, working with phyllo dough is quite therapeutic. Kind of like caramelizing onions or making risotto………takes me to that zen place. 🙂 If you do make it, please let me know how it turns out for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. …likely this in any case before the wellington (unless I attach a different object, say, not only a new agent but an editor….)


    1. The movie was average at best. I loved the book as well….so much more details and feeling, plus the ending is totally different and better. And I appreciate your compliment on the pie! We enjoyed it and was quite simple to make.

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  5. Looks yum! The peas look really good. And I love feta with anything. Except maybe chocolate. Excellent post. Other than hating Nicholas Cage, it was a good movie. Never read the book but I might now. Summer reading goals.

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  6. You had me at phyllo dough! This looks so amazing. Why do I always come across your blog when I’m starving? LOL! I actually have all the ingredients so I think I’ll try this at home over the weekend, for part of Sunday lunch. The book looks great, though i admit I only saw the movie. Could never figure out why a Spanish actress was tapped to play a Greek heroine, but since no one asked me my opinion…… 🙂 Another great post!

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    1. Thanks, Marianne! This was really fun to make, especially as I got to play around with the original recipe. Feta and mint are such a good pairing. Glad you liked the post!


  7. My favourite part of the book is where the father tells his daughter pelayia what true love is. ” Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then it subsides when it subsides, you have to make a decision…. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away,… ” … The writing is perfect .

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    1. Yes, that line was one of my favorites in the book as well. The entire book was fantastic, though I was not pleased with the movie. So glad you enjoyed the post. And the dish came out really fantastic. I’ve actually made it a few times since then, adding olives and a few other goodies and it is always delicious.

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  8. the pics are great. makes me want to go to greece. but then i want to go everywhere. i read a book set in india a few years ago that i enjoyed. i really wish i could remember it because it had really vivid descriptions of all of the foods.

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  9. I love this book (but hate the film. How could they have changed that amazingly frustrating ending?). I also LOVE greek food. Next time I go to the big city I will buy some phyllo and give this a go. Thanks for sharing another amazing post!

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