Meatballs and moussaka: Greece and Italy on the menu this weekend

Written by on June 9, 2011 in Baltimore Bites, Featured - No comments

Popi Atsalis and Roza Cornias make “almond pears,” cookies filled with ground nuts, sugar and spices.

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Southeast Baltimore is the center of the culinary universe in the second weekend in June. You cannot eat any better—not in New York, not in Paris or Rome, than here.

On the west side, in Little Italy, there is the St. Anthony Festival, with its fantastic street foods—calzone, peppers and sausage, fried dough—and the famous ravioli dinner in the St. Leo’s School Hall.

On the east side, in Greektown, there is the St. Nicholas Greek Folk Festival, with its fantastic street foods—souvlaki, gyros, grilled octopus (a rare treat), and the famous Mediterranean buffet of lamb and roast potatoes, stuffed grape leaves, spanakopita (spinach pie), fresh Greek salads, and mountains of delicious, golden, flaky desserts like baklava, kourambides and loukoumathes.

That’s what we’re talking about!

The proceeds benefit the neighborhood churches, St. Leo (Little Italy) and St. Nicholas (Greektown). So what are you waiting for? Here’s a primer for non-natives on Greek and Italian festival foods.

Gyro: It’s everyone’s favorite mystery meat, spiced lamb, beef or pork sliced thin and served on a pita with onions, tomatoes and tzatziki (a sour cream and dill sauce). Sometimes there are a couple of french fries folded into the pita. Gyro is the Greek hamburger: they’re everywhere.

Souvlaki: Think chicken-on-a-stick or pork-on-a-stick. The meats are marinated in oil and vinegar or lemon, and lots of herbs, skewered, then grilled. Souvlaki is cheap, delicious, and easy to carry and enjoy with a beer.

Grilled octopus: It’s delicious. Honest, it is. Have some.

Spanakopita: It’s spinach and feta, the Greek salty cheese, baked in layers and layers of phyllo, which is wafer-thin sheets of dough. Tyropita is spanakopita’s cheesy counterpart, an all-feta pie.

Dolmathes: They’re grape leaves stuffed with ground meat, rice and vegetables, served with a lemon and butter sauce.

Moussaka: It’s eggplant, potato and spiced ground meat arranged in layers and roasted. It’s not a street food; you will need to sit down to enjoy this classic dish. Moussaka’s carby cousin is pastitsio, which is a little like a Greek version of American slumgullion—ground meat, diced vegetables and pasta baked in tomato sauce and spices.

Calzone: It’s cheese—mozzarella or ricotta or provolone, diced vegetables and ham or salami or pepperoni or what-have-you baked into a pizza dough turnover.

Calzone’s cousin is the stromboli, which is generally rolled rather than folded.

Sausage and peppers: the classic Italian street food. Italian sausage is flavored with fennel seed, and sometimes hot chili flakes, and other herbs and spices. The wonderful scent in the air at Italian festivals is largely sausage and peppers.

Porchetta: deliciously juicy roast pork loin, sliced and served in a sandwich. If you like barbecue, you will love porchetta.

by Jacqueline Watts

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