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.


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.


Recipe type: Main Dish
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
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.
Pastitsio will taste even better the next day. You can also keep it in the freezer up to 3 weeks.

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