If you like lasagna, beef bolognese, or even Cincinnati chili, you’ll love this dish hailing from Greece. Pastitsio is a layered casserole of tubular pasta tossed with hard cheese and topped off with meat sauce (spiced with cinnamon, clove, and oregano) and lightly browned bechamel sauce. With so many delicious ingredients, how could it not be good?
I made pastitsio for company (served up with a simple salad), and it was a big hit. Don’t let my lousy photos deter you—you have to try this dish. I opted to shoot leftovers, rather than annoy my guests :-). Because the recipe is involved, it’s easiest to make the sauce the night or several hours before.
Meat sauce (enough for casserole + leftovers):
-1 large onion, chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 lb. lean ground meat (I used half 90/10 beef, half ground pork. Meatloaf mix or all beef would also be fine)
-1 (16 oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice
-1/2 can tomato paste (about 2 Tbsp.)
-1/4 c. chopped pitted kalamata olives
-1 tsp. salt (add more to taste)
-1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (or to taste)
-2 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
-3 bay leaves
-1/2 c. red wine
-1 cinnamon stick, or 1/3 tsp. ground cinnamon
-2 springs fresh thyme, stemmed, or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
-1 anchovy, minced (optional, but good)
-3 whole cloves (in a tea ball/sachet), or 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
-1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
-1 tsp. soy sauce
-2 tsp. brown sugar
-1 lb. rigatoni or penne pasta
-6 Tbsp. melted butter
-2 c. whole milk
-2 eggs, beaten
-1/2 c. grated Parmesan (or Romano) cheese
-6 Tbsp. butter
-1/3 c. flour
-4 c. milk
-1 tsp. salt
-1/8 tsp. pepper (preferably white)
-1/4 tsp. nutmeg
-1/2 lb. grated Parmesan (or Romano) cheese, divided
1. Meat Sauce: In a large pot, saute onion until in olive oil until lightly browned; add garlic and meat and brown. Add remaining meat sauce ingredients and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. (Or, pour sauce into crock pot and cook on low 6-10) hrs. Remove and discard cloves, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves. If sauce looks watery, ladle out a bit of the juice and discard. Puree sauce lightly with a stick blender, if desired.
2. Pasta: Boil until barely al dente in well-salted water. Strain. In the empty pasta pot, melt butter. Remove from heat, add pasta, milk, 1/2 c. cheese, and eggs. Gently stir to coat and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Bechamel sauce: melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking for 2 minutes. Gradually add in 4 c. milk, stirring, until thickened (it will look thin for a while, but keep going). Lower heat, add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat.
4. In a large bowl, beat 3 eggs. VERY slowly add cupfulls of cream sauce to eggs. Stir thoroughly so eggs don’t curdle. A second pair of hands helps a lot at this stage.
5. Butter or oil a 13×9-in. baking pan.
6. Pour 1/2 of the noodle mixture over bottom of pan. Cover evenly with 2-3 c. of meat sauce (you will have leftovers; add only about as much as you would for lasagne—too much and your pastitsio might fall apart).
7. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over meat sauce. Add remaining pasta mixture, spreading evenly. Sprinkle another 1/3 of the cheese over top.
8. Pour bechamel sauce evenly over entire casserole, leaving about 1/4-in. space to the top rim. You could have as much as 1/2 c. bechamel sauce left over.
9. Top casserole with remaining cheese.
10. Bake uncovered @ 350F until bechamel sauce sets and is lightly browned, approx. 1 hr. Cool at least 15 minutes before cutting.