Greek recipes, main courses
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Pastitsio

Aside from public speaking and swimming in the ocean, there aren’t many things that intimidate me. I will talk to any stranger who 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 about it.

Assembling layers of creamy pasta, juicy minced meat, and a thick béchamel sauce sent shivers down my spine just like the movie Jaws. But after watching in the wings for 20 something-odd years, I found my courage. All it took was one step-by-step lesson with a my yiayia. Then a few attempts on my own. And, of course, eating many variations and flavors of pastitsio around the globe to help create a recipe all my own. Now I have the confidence to serve pastitsio to the world’s toughest food critic.

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Pastitsio chefs have their preferences. They may use long pastitsio noodles or shorter penne pasta on the bottom and vary the amount of béchamel sauce on top. My recipe comes with a lighter béchamel sauce enriched with two different types of cheese, and cheese makes an appearance throughout the entire dish. Ricotta cheese is added to cooked pasta, plus stirred in both the meat and béchamel sauce. Once baked, the result offers a perfect bite each and every time. Go ahead and dive in. Your pastitsio intimidation won’t have a chance.

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Pastitsio
Recipe type: Main Dish
 
Ingredients
for the meat sauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon, or more to taste
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped (dried is fine too)
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup grated cheese (such as Kefalotyri, Romano, or Parmesan cheese)
for the pasta
  • 1 ½ pounds pasta of your choice
  • (I prefer ziti or penne)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • Bread crumbs
for the bechamel sauce
  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups milk
  • ¼ cup grated cheese (such as Kefalotyri, Romano, or Parmesan cheese)
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 eggs, beaten
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 oregano, salt, pepper and 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 (or they will get mushy when being cooked in the oven).
  2. Drain the pasta and rinse well. Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in ricotta cheese.
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 become very thick, so be patient.
  2. Once the sauce is thick and creamy, remove from heat. Stir in grated cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the two eggs, whisking quickly so the eggs don’t scramble. Set sauce aside until needed.
Assemble the pastitsio:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sprinkle a 9” x 13” 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 extra 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.

12 Comments

  1. Oh yes, Elini—this one is spectacular! Takes a lot of time like lasagna. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    • elenisaltas says

      Yes It can be a bit time consuming but so worth It! Thanks for reading along.

      • 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. Laurie Chapman says

    Hi I love your posts we just got back fro Greece also!!! I want to move there!!! I made your pastitsio and ended up throwing away half the sauce too much for my 9×13 pan what went wrong??

    • elenisaltas says

      Sounds like you had a great time in Greece! So you made too much sauce, but otherwise the dish turned out? That’s honestly the tricky part with the sauce—some people like a lot some like very little so I went with a happy medium in this sauce so I hope in the future you can adjust to what you like!

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