Pastitsio or Pasticchio, is a delicious mash-up of Greek and Italian cuisines. Baked ziti meets cheesy bechamel sauce and the two make beautiful music together.
The sauce for the pasta is made with ground beef, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, onion, oregano, thyme, fresh parsley and cinnamon. That’s one of the things to set it apart from other baked pasta dishes. The cinnamon.
In reality it’s such a small amount you don’t really taste it – you smell it – it’s so aromatic everyone thought I was baking apple pie. So if the thought of putting cinnamon in your meat sauce is off putting just leave it out.
The meat sauce is mixed with cooked penne and gooey mozzarella and then it goes into a baking pan where it’s topped with the creamy, cheesy bechamel.
The bechamel is made stove top then poured over the pasta where it bakes up into a top layer of utter decadence. Along with the butter, flour and milk there’s a little heavy cream, eggs, Parmesan, feta cheese and nutmeg. Another thing that makes it deliciously different.
Do you get scared when you hear the fancy French word bechamel? Don’t. I learned how to make it from my Mom who didn’t even know she was making bechamel. She just considered it to be a thickener, something she used as the base of her mac & cheese and other baked dishes.
It’s made with equal parts butter and flour plus milk and requires tender loving care and constant attention from start to finish. If your ratio of butter or flour is off it won’t work out right. . .Ask me how I know!? Yes, I’ve had many failed sauces. . .Even I can’t get away with not measuring.
Like lasagna, making pastitsio is a labor of love. It takes time but with one single bite you’ll find it’s worth every precious minute spent.
|Greek Pastitsio|| |
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1 + ½ cups)
- 6 fat cloves garlic, minced ( 2 - 3 tablespoons)
- sea or kosher salt and fresh black pepper
- 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 1 + ½ teaspoons dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 12 ounces penne or ziti
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 + ½ cups whole milk
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅔ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ⅔ cup finely crumbled feta cheese (crush it w/ a fork or your fingers into fine crumbles)
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
- In a Dutch oven or large soup pot set over medium heat brown the ground beef breaking it apart as it cooks.
- Once it's browned remove from the heat, drain off the grease and scoop the meat into a bowl. Set aside.
- In the same pot add 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat and cook the onion and garlic with a couple dashes each of salt and pepper, 5 - 7 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the tomato paste and mix it into the onions, cook 2 minutes stirring often.
- Stir the oregano, thyme and cinnamon into the tomato paste, cook 1 minutes.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes, parsley, ½ cup water, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper.
- Bring to a simmer and cook 25 - 30 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat.
- When the sauce is almost done cook the pasta in plenty of salted water to al dente according to the directions on the box. Drain and mix into the sauce.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9x13 baking pan or casserole dish.
- Measure out and line up all the ingredients for the bechamel sauce.
- In a large heavy-duty saucepan over medium-low heat melt the butter, whisk in the flour and cook 2 - 3 minutes, stirring often.
- Slowly whisk in the milk, turn the heat up and bring to a simmer. Simmer 2 - 3 minutes, stirring often.
- Whisk in the heavy cream. Temper the eggs by whisking a spoon of the hot milk into the egg. Repeat with another spoon or two of hot milk then pour the eggs slowly into the milk while continuously whisking. Whisk until well combined. Remove from heat.
- Whisk the nutmeg in. Add the Parmesan, feta and parsley. Stir until well combined. Pour it over the top of the pasta from edge to edge. Smooth it out with the back of the spoon.
- Bake 25 - 30 minutes until the bechamel is lightly golden. Let set five minutes before serving.