Pastitsio

Aside from public speaking and swimming in the ocean, there aren’t many things that intimidate me. I will talk to any stranger that will listen to me on a subway in New York City. I will kill a spider for my arachnophobic big brother. I will fall, scrape my knees, and get back up just to fall again a dozen times. But attempting to bake pastitsio, one of the most beloved meals in Greek homes? Forget it about it.

Somehow assembling layers of creamy pasta, juicy minced meat, and a thick béchamel sauce sent shivers down my spine. But after 20 something odd years, it doesn’t anymore. All it took was one step by step lesson from a family friend, Betty Zougras, a few attempts on my own, and eating numerous variations and flavors of pastitsio pieces to get down a recipe I enjoyed. Now I have the confidence to serve pastitsio to the world’s toughest food critic.

DSC_0278Pastitsio can be altered from the type of pasta used on bottom (like long pastitsio noodles or shorter penne pasta) to the amount of béchamel sauce on top. This recipe comes with a lighter béchamel sauce with two different types of cheese making an appearance throughout the entire dish—a tip I learned from Betty. She likes to add ricotta cheese to her cooked pasta, and stirs in grated cheese in both her meat and béchamel sauce. Once baked, the result is a perfect bite each and every time. Go ahead and follow along these easy step by step instructions, and let me help you put an end to any pastitsio intimidation you may have.DSC_0237

Pastitsio
Recipe type: Main Dish
 
Ingredients
For the meat sauce:
  • 2-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon, or more to taste
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped (dried is fine too)
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 gloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz)
  • 1 can of tomato sauce (15 oz)
  • ¼ cup grated cheese (such as Kefalotyri, Romano, or Parmesan cheese)
For the pasta:
  • 1 ½ lb. pasta of choice (I prefer ziti or penne)
  • salt
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • bread crumbs
For the béchamel sauce:
  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup grated cheese (such as Kefalotyri, Romano, or Parmesan cheese)
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
For the meat sauce:
  1. In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté.
  2. Add the ground beef and break it up into small chunks with a wooden spoon. Season well with salt, pepper, cinnamon and brown the beef. Mix in the parsley.
  3. Add tomato sauce and simmer until liquid is mostly absorbed, about 20 minutes. Taste and add more seasoning to your preference. Don’t be afraid to season!
  4. Stir in grated cheese and set aside.
For the pasta:
  1. Boil a pot of water and add a teaspoon of salt and extra virgin olive oil. Cook the pasta about 1-2 minutes less than the package instructions (they will get mushy when being cooked in the oven).
  2. Drain the pasta and rinse well. Stir in ricotta cheese and set aside.
For the béchamel sauce:
  1. Melt butter into a saucepan over medium heat. As soon as it melts, add the flour and whisk well until a white paste forms, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk in batches to avoid lumps, whisking continuously. As you add more milk, you’ll notice the sauce will begin to thicken, so be patient.
  2. Once the sauce is thick and creamy, remove from heat. Stir grated cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the two eggs, whisking quickly so the eggs don’t scramble. Set aside until needed.
Assemble the pastitsio:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sprinkle a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with bread crumbs. Spread half of the pasta, or enough to evenly cover the pan and reserve the rest. Pour the meat mixture over the pasta. Top with the remaining pasta. Pour the béchamel sauce over the top of the pasta and smooth out with a spatula. Sprinkle with grated cheese and a dash of nutmeg.
  3. Bake for about 50 minutes, until top is golden brown. Remove from heat and let stand for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Notes
Pastitsio will taste even better the next day. You can also keep it in the freezer up to 3 weeks.

10 thoughts on “Pastitsio

      • Ereni Stavrou, July 23 says:

        Eleni, I’m amazed you took the time to write every little detail!!! It sounds excellent and I can’t wait to make it! Thank you so very much for sharing the recipe! Υγεία στα χέρια σου και πάντα ο Θεός να σε έχει καλά! Ευχαριστώ και πάλι !!!

      • elenisaltas says:

        Ah of course, I just want to be as helpful as I can with this one because it can get confusing! Once you make it once it’s a breeze. Thank you so much for reading along, Ereni, I do hope you get around to making the dish! xo

  1. Nick @ GreekBoston.com says:

    It’s interesting to see how everyone’s pastisio recipe is always a little different but it always tastes great no matter what! My family doesn’t tend to use ricotta cheese and tomato sauce in the meat, but I’ve had versions where those ingredients are used and it’s always delicious. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

    • elenisaltas says:

      Oh yes, I do love all the different variations to this dish as well that’s what makes pastitsio so amazing! I’ve learned from a friend adding ricotta makes the pasta stick together better (plus gives a creamy bite every time) and I’ve loved it ever since! Thank you for your comment Nick, I appreciate you reading along!

  2. Stella Sampson says:

    Hi Eleni. I’ve only recently started following you and enjoying this all so much! I finally worked out how to find your recipes! Okay … I just wanted to give you another suggestion for the meat filling of your pastitsio. I have changed my own recipe as I just wanted to make it slightly differently after cooking it for decades with cinnamon and parsley . So.. I took those out . I added basil instead, tomato paste and chopped tinned tomatoes some red wine , a little bit of sugar as well as salt and pepper . It’s totally divine . I’ve made it this way for the past 5 years and people seriously go crazy for it. I make it as just a spaghetti sauce too for the family . Please let me know what you think ?

    • elenisaltas says:

      Hi Stella! Thank you so much for your comment and your suggestion. I will have to try It that way for sure especially with the basil that sounds wonderful. I’ve never added sugar to any of my sauces but see that often so will give that a try. Thank you you’re wonderful!

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