Greek Fest: It's all about the food, dancing and music

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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Opa! What would a Greek Fest be without music and dancing?

There will be plenty of both this weekend at St. George Greek Orthodox Church of the Berkshires' annual Greek Fest. Athenian Entertainment will provide music, and dancers from the Greek Orthodox churches in Springfield and Longmeadow, Mass. will perform in native costumes at midday Saturday and Sunday.

Those attending the Greek fest even may find themselves being drawn into the action.

"Master of ceremonies Jim Panos always tries to lead the crowd in dancing," said Nick Parsenios, chairman of the festival. "And, at any given time, someone from the crowd will jump in and lend a hand."

But the highlight of the festival is the wide selection of homemade traditional Greek foods — savory and sweet — moussaka, pastichio, souvlaki, gyros, fresh Greek salad, sweet loukoumades (fried bread dough drizzled with honey) and Greek pastries, including the ever-popular baklava.

All of the food for the festival is made by St. George congregants.

"We gather at the church, which has a large commercial kitchen, or at local restaurants owned by parishioners," Parsnios said. "Somehow every year it gets done; everyone works together. It's one of the few Greek festivals where all the food is made by the parishioners."

He added the number of parishioners varies at each cooking or baking session.

A Greek Cafe will offer traditional Greek coffee, which is made with finely ground coffee beans and boiled in a special pot called a briki. During the process, the grounds fall to the bottom of the pot.

"It has a lot of flavor and a lot of caffeine," Pasenios said. "It's served in small portions, but it has a lot of kick." The coffee is traditionally served black, but sugar can be added.

The cafe also will offer Greek coffee frappes, a Greek-style frothy milkshake and a variety of pastries to complement the coffee drinks, such as vegan moustokouloura.

The Agora (a boutique) will offer shoppers a wide variety of Greek crafts and traditional gifts, including worry beads, soap, icons, music CDs and T-shirts. There also will be several raffles and the Rev. John Maheras, parish priest, will lead tours of the church.

Admission to Greek Fest is free. It will be held under a large tent, rain or shine, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at the church, 73 Bradford St., Pittsfield.

Pasenios shared his mother's recipes for Spanakopita, spinach pies, and pastichio, a meat casserole, which she inherited from his grandmother ("Yia-yia" in Greek) and which she "tweaked" over the years.



Spanakopita

(Greek for "Spinach Pie")

Prep time: First time, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Second time, 1 1/4 to 2 hours. Fifth time and thereafter, 1 hour.

Cook time: 1 hour.



INGREDIENTS:


6 eggs

4 packages of frozen, chopped spinach (Needs to be thawed and as dry as possible while still remaining moist. To accomplish this, I use a combination of techniques, such as letting it sit out in a baking sheet after draining or by wrapping and squeezing it in a dark towel (to avoid staining).

1 pound crumbled feta

1- 8oz pkg. of cream cheese

1 pound of small curd cottage cheese (drain and towel wrap to remove liquid)

cup of Parmesan cheese

2 bunches of chopped green onion after being saut ed in olive oil

1/8 cup of dried dill (NOT SEED) (some people like more, some like less)

Small bunch of fresh parsley or some dry

Salt and pepper to taste



1 pound unsalted butter (melted, but not boiling)

1 pound of large phyllo sheets (thawed under refrigeration from the day before)



DIRECTIONS:

Butter the bottom and sides of a 15- by 11-inch pan and place about 8 layers of phyllo, one sheet at a time after buttering each sheet with a soft brush. Make sure the phyllo covers the sides, too.

Lay in the filling and spread and level within the phyllo bed.

Place about 6 to 8 more layers of phyllo on top, one sheet at a time after buttering each sheet with a soft brush.

Chill in the refrigerator until the top layer of the phyllo hardens a bit.

Cut into desired serving sized pieces without cutting all the way through to the bottom (into squares or triangles)

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 300 degrees and cook for another 30 minutes

Remove when the top is golden brown in color. It's tough to check, but try to make sure the bottom does not darken, which can usually be ascertained by paying attention to the corners.

Remove from oven and let stand for a bit to cool.

Serve hot or cold

This dish can be frozen before and after baking.

Special instructions from Nick Pasenios

- "You will notice that this recipe lacks certain specifics. Unfortunately, that comes with the territory with most Greek cooking, since it is very much experience-based, especially with seasonings like salt, pepper, etc. The good news is that much like my mother and grandmother, it is forgiving and you get second chances!"

- "Working with phyllo can be a challenge. I always buy a little extra so that mistakes don't derail the effort. Also, sometimes phyllo sticks together unexpectedly and since it has to be thawed in advance, a quick trip to the grocery store is not an option."

- This recipe can be modified to make the individual triangles, too. This takes practice, but if I can be taught, so can you. Simply cut several sheets of phyllo into 4- or 5-inch strips with a sharp knife. Cover with a moist towel. Place one small sheet at a time on a large wooden or plastic cutting board, butter brush the top of the sheet, add a spoonful of the filling and fold, corner to corner until you get to the end of the sheet. Place the completed piece with the seam down on a baking sheet and repeat until you have as many as you want. Bake at between 300 and 350 degrees until they are golden. The smaller they are, the faster they cook.

Pastichio

Meat sauce (easier if made the day before):

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds ground meat

2 large onions or 2 bags frozen

INGREDIENTS:

Brown these ingredients and drain off grease. Add 1 small can tomato paste, just a little water (4 tablespoons or none at all), salt and pepper to taste. tiny pinch of cinnamon. Blend all and set aside.

Macaroni:

Cook 1 1/2 pounds macaroni and drain. Add 1/4 pound melted butter. After it cools a bit, add 3 beaten eggs. Add about 1 cup Parmesan and blend all.

Cream sauce:

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 quarts whole milk

4 eggs

9 tablespoons flour

1/2 pound butter

Salt and pepper to taste





DIRECTIONS:

Melt butter in pan and slowly add the flour, blending along the way to prevent lumping. Gradually add the milk, then the eggs (beaten) and heat at medium temperature, stirring constantly, until thickened. Just before you are ready to use it, add some salt and pepper to taste. Blend about 1/3 of the sauce with the macaroni. If not thickening, add very slowly a little more blended flour and milk. Do NOT let come to a full boil as the eggs will curdle.



TO ASSEMBLE:


In a large, buttered pan, (11 by 17 inches), place the macaroni mixture on the bottom. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the cheese over the top. Spread the meat mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese. Spread the remaining macaroni and sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese. Spread the cream sauce over the top and sprinkle about 1/2 cup more cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. This varies. You want it pretty evenly lightly browned. Watch that it doesn't brown too quickly. if it does, you can place a sheet of foil lightly over the top. Cut into squares after it cools a bit. Baking can occur the day before serving and then just warm it in the oven, covered with foil, before serving.

This can be prepared and frozen ahead of time. Thaw in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days before baking so it won't be watery.


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