I was in a bit of a funk at the start of the year as I came off the frenetic holiday season. My ever-intuitive friend Caroline invited me over for dinner, correctly assessing that I needed a little lift. When you cook for a living, having someone else prepare a meal for you is a gift, a wonderful pleasure to be savored. I don’t care what it is – hot dogs off the grill or fine French cuisine – as long as I don’t have to make it. The mark of a true friend is knowing when you need this.
The evening was just what the doctor ordered: lots of laughter, tossing ideas back and forth, firm encouragement and good, filling comfort food. Though not the kind of comfort food I’d grown up on. More like the kind of food I wished I’d grown up eating on the veranda of a white washed house overlooking the sparkling blue Mediterranean. This was Greek food, dishes from her husbands family and nothing in the world could have made me happier at that moment. A crispy and slightly tart spinach and feta pie, spicy fried peppers and a wonderfully addictive custard pie made with semolina and wrapped effortlessly in layers and layers of buttered phyllo. I walked in weary and defeated. I skipped out energized, laughing and ready to face the world again. Everyone should have a friend like this.
When the time came this month to pick a menu for Sunday Lunch (always good have to have some sort of a theme) I was stuck. I thought about a tapas/paella spread but it wasn’t striking the right note. Easter is on the horizon but it’s a bit too early yet to pull out the kielbasa and lamb cake. I tossed about a zillion ideas – to no one in particular but myself – Vietnamese, Italian, Brazilian, Indian. Nothing was connecting. I needed a connection. Then I remembered that Greek dinner and thought, there you go. I wanted to recreate that moment and I’d been meaning to make Caroline’s custard pie since that night. I didn’t take enough of the leftovers home that night and I regretted it. So Greek it was.
– Bloody Mary’s, a last minute addition from a guest and a great idea
– Homemade Herbed Goat Cheese with Fresh Baked Strecca
– A really good Greek-ish hummus dip made by a guest
The main event:
– Spanokotiropita – Greek Spinach & Cheese Pie
– Pasticcio – Greek Baked Macaroni with Meat Sauce
– Farro Tabbouleh – A fresh bright salad roughly based on this recipe
– Galaktobourkeo – Greek Custard Phyllo Pie
– Purchased Pistachio Baklava, Almond Nougat and Dried Apricots
And throughout … many many glasses of cold rosé. Many.
Another success – I really love these Sunday Lunches. The meal was filled with laughter and raucous conversation and the food was fantastic. There’s just something about Greek food that invokes a festive atmosphere. Mid-meal you’re not sure if you want to get up and dance or hit the couch for a quick rejuvenating nap. It really was that good.
Everything turned out perfectly and that’s because I used Caroline’s recipes. She has a whole section of Greek Favorites on her blog. I won’t repost here but encourage you to check out the links and make a few things. A few notes:
Spanokotiropita: A very traditional spinach and feta pie. The filling is pleasantly tart from lemon juice and utterly delicious. I usually make these as little triangles but followed Caroline’s lead and made one big pie. I liked it – a bigger filling to phyllo ratio – and it was gorgeous. I always brush the phyllo with melted butter but she calls for olive oil which I think I now prefer. It crisps up nicely and stays that way. The leftovers were still pretty crispy the next day, even when I ate a piece cold. That’s the sure sign of a good leftover.
Pasticcio: This one is sort of like a Greek-style lasagne and the key is the pasta, long strands with a hollow center. Caroline insists, and I tend to agree, that this pasta is key in the success of the dish. Seek it out and do not compromise. Layered with a ground lamb/beef sauce and a creamy béchamel, it was roundly enjoyed by the whole group. Again, the leftovers were even better the next day and I wish I had a wedge right now. I made this in my 10”x18” cake pan, which was a bit smaller than recommended, and only used half the béchamel so I might cut that back on the next go.
Galaktobourkeo: My favorite part of this dish at Caroline’s house was listening to her sassy 4-year old pronounce it perfectly over and over and giggle when I tried to say it. I love this pie – all creamy, fragrant with citrus and crunchy at the same time. Honest to god, it was the mitigating factor in creating this menu in the first place. The original recipe makes a huge pie – I cut it in half and used a 10” round shallow baking dish which could easily serve 10-12 people. I also added a bit of orange flower water into the soaking syrup to pump up the flavor. This was gorgeous coming out of the oven, all puffy and golden brown. A real showy dessert – everyone wanted to know what was inside, like a big surprise.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: OPA! Have a dinner party and whip these things up now! This is good, solid honest – and fun! – food that everyone will enjoy. Best part is that all of it – all of it! – is made ahead so you can actually sit at the table and enjoy yourself and many many glasses of cold rosé.