Athens,  Greece,  Recipes

My Greek Mama Never Made Pastitsio Like This! But I Do!

As promised, today we discuss Pastitsio, a modern Greek classic consisting of minced meat, eggs, cinnamon, and a lovely bechamel sauce. It is sometimes referred to as “Greek Lasagne”, but loosely translated means “a big, mess”. That translation probably refers to the condition of your kitchen after you have put this dish in the oven. Yes, it does take several pans to make this scrumptious dish, but trust me on this one, it’s well worth it! It was Mallory’s favorite Greek dish and she took great pride in preparing it for friends and family. Honestly, her rendition was better than mine, a fact she loved to hold over my head.

Mallory’s Secret:

adding extra cinnamon and extra cheese in the bechamel sauce.

Pastitsio originated in Italy, probably as Lasagna, but Nikólaos Tselementés (1878 – 1958) is the Greek chef who created the modern version of Pastitsio. He was born on the island of Sifnos, about 80 kilometers from Athens.

Grab an apron, put on some music, and let’s get cooking!

Pastitsio

Ingredients:

Meat Sauce
  • 2 tbsp  extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  •  2 lb ground beef or a combo with ground pork or lamb
  • 3/4 cup red wine, actually any red wine will work perfectly
  •  28 oz canned crushed or diced tomato, undrained
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1  to 2 tsp finely granulated white sugar
  • 1  whole, dried, or fresh bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder 
  • (Mallory’s secret was to use 3 Tablespoons)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 3/4 tsp  fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp  fine ground black pepper
GREEK BECHAMEL:
  •  8 tbsp butter, salted and clarified
  • 3/4 cup white all-purpose flour, plain Do NOT use Self Rising
  •  4 cups milk, whole ( you want the fatty content of the whole milk)
  • 1/8 tsp  ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 oz Parmesan or Romano), grated
  • (Mallory’s secret was to use 8 ounces of  grated cheese)
  • 2 egg yolks (egg whites are used in the pasta)
PASTA:
  • 14 oz Macaroni No. 2 or 3 pasta (or small ziti, penne, or elbow macaroni)
  • 2 egg whites (yolks used in Béchamel)
TOPPING:
  •  3 oz Parmesan or Romano, finely grated 

Instructions:

Meat Sauce
  • In a large pot over high heat add garlic and onion, and cook for 2 – 3 minutes until onion is softened. Add minced meat and cook, breaking it up as you go, until it changes from red to brown.
  • After the minced meat had browned, add wine and cook until the wine has mostly evaporated, cooking off the alcohol – about 3 minutes.
  • Once the liquid is reduced, add the remaining Meat Sauce ingredients. Stir well, bring to simmer, then reduce heat to low just so it’s simmering gently. Cook for 45 min to 1 hour until liquid is mostly gone, stirring now and then. The meat sauce should be thick and not saucy like Spaghetti Bolognese.
  • Remove from stove and cool. Preferably to room temperature, otherwise for at least 30 minutes before assembling  keeping the lid off while cooling,
Bechamel Sauce
  • Starting out with a roux, melt butter in a large saucepan or dutch oven, keeping your burner on medium heat. Add flour and stir for 1 minute until pasty.
  • Continue to stir and slowly pour half the milk in. It should turn into a wet paste. Then again, while stirring, pour in the remaining milk – the paste should easily dissolve so it’s lump-free. If not, just whisk vigorously until smooth.
  • Cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until thick enough so it coats the back of a wooden spoon thickly and you can draw a path across it with a spoon.
  • Remove from stove. Stir in nutmeg, cheese, and salt.
  • Leave to cool for 5 minutes. Then whisk in egg yolks very quickly. Place lid on and set aside. If the sauce cools and gets too thick to pour, just reheat on a low stove until pourable. If this doesn’t work, add a few drops of milk until it thins a bit.
Pasta
  • When you’re ready to assemble, cook the pasta per package instructions, minus 1 minute.
  • Drain, then return to the pot. Stir in egg whites after the pasta has cooled for about three minutes. Gently stir through crumbled feta.
Assemble and Bake
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F
  • Place pasta in a baking dish 9 x 13 x 2.75″, arranging them so they are all going in the same direction as best you can. Depending on the type of pasta you are using, level out the pasta best you can.
  • Top with Meat Sauce and then smooth the surface.
  • Pour the Béchamel Sauce as the next layer over the top of the meat, then sprinkle over the cheese.
  • Bake 30 min or until the crust turns golden.
  • Cool for at least 30 minutes, This will allow the dish to be set and the slices will cut neatly
Pasta and Meat sauce layered before the Bechamel
Pastitsio
Ready to Bake

Serve with a Greek or Green Salad and some nice, buttered crusty bread! Enjoy this fabulous meal! I think it is the ultimate in “comfort food”! It’s one of my favorite Greek main dishes and was definitely Mallory’s!

Pastitsio
Pastitsio with Greek Village Salad

Here’s a video to guide you through

Pastitsio is an easy, but somewhat time-consuming dish to make. It lives up to its translated name ” Big Mess” when it comes to the state of your kitchen after the pan is in the oven. The taste is absolutely worth the time and mess! Your leftovers can be refrigerated for up to three days and reheated in the microwave. I, personally, have had very good luck freezing leftovers in an airtight container for 3 months.

 

Until next time, friends, remember: “To Travel is to Live”!


 

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