A Greek Gathering: Cooking Spanakoptia and Pastitsio
Last Sunday my friend Xanthippi invited me over to spend the afternoon cooking with some other friends, the perfect introduction to Greek living. Just getting to her house required a long trip to the suburbs which revealed what daily life outside of the city center is like: here, happily, a pedestrian can walk without fear of being hit.
When everyone arrived at her home, Xanthippi revealed that we would be making pastitsio. The others laughed, knowing the dish takes a very long time to prepare, but I just smiled, excited because pastitsio is my favorite Greek dish. We spent the next hours peeling tomatoes with knives (exhilarating for someone used to peelers), stirring cream quickly until our arms tired out (quickly losing morale), and watching over meat while it cooked. Everyone was occupied with something, and those with the most experience took the harder tasks in order to speed the process along.
When there came a moment that two of us had nothing to do, Xanthippi went to the refrigerator and retrieved a block of cheese and a bowl of cooked, seasoned, and cooled spinach. She taught us to make dough out of some flour she had, to cut it with the rim of a glass, and to fill the little centers with spinach and cheese for spanakopita (spinach pies). These cooked in minutes and were delicious snacks as we waited for the pastitsio. And waited for the pastitsio. And waited…
Finally, hours after we started, the pastitsio had developed a nice crispy layer on the rich top layer of cream. (In spite of our pleas, Xanthippi’s best friend would not let us take the pastitsio out before it had this crust – she is a perfectionist). We pulled it out of the oven and put a slice on every plate. If I may say so myself, it was delicious. Of course, we appreciated it all the more because of the hours we spent in anticipation and the friendships we formed during the wait.