Pastitsio is my favorite, all time classic family dish. My grand-mother, who came with her parents in Greece as immigrant from Smyrna around 1921-1922 just before the great fire of Smyrna, used to cook Pastitsio as a Sunday lunch for the whole family, or in celebrations.
I admit it is not an easy dish but I can guarantee you that you will gain a lot of respect and enthusiasm from everyone who will taste your recipe. So, be patient and enjoy every step. Good luck !
Ingredients:1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (or simple olive oil, don’t use other kind of oil) 1 kg ground beef (or ground lamb, or a mixture of both, I personally prefer beef) 1 large yellow onion, chopped 3 cloves of garlic, chopped 1 cup dry white wine (it is not necessary, I scarcely use it) 1 14 oz. can tomato puree (in summer, mix 3-4 fresh tomatoes with 3-4 tbsp. of tomato puree) 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley 1 tbsp. ground clove 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon (I prefer ½ cinnamon stick, of 5 cm) 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (or Kefalotyri if available or other salty cheese) salt & freshly ground black pepper according to your taste 3 tbsp. breadcrumbs 1 pkg. Macaroni for Pastitsio (500g)- available at Greek or ethnic groceries. 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) *for a ground beef that reminds the original recipe from Smyrna, the more spices you use, the better.
For the bechamel sauce:1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 quart milk, warmed 3 eggs, beaten lightly a pinch of ground nutmeg
I use a lasagna pan 12X18X3 inches deep.
Begin with the Meat Filling:
Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add onions and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes more. Add the garlic cloves and just when you start to smell them, add the ground beef and cook over medium-high heat until pink colour disappears, about 5 minutes.
Add wine. Then add the tomato sauce, parsley, clove, cinnamon stick, salt, and pepper and allow sauce to simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. While sauce is simmering put water on to boil for pasta.
Cook Macaroni for Pastitsio according to package directions and drain well. I usually drain them a few minutes before because I want the macaroni to be firm before it hits the oven. At this point, many recipes suggest to rinse the macaroni in colander under cold water to cool them slightly. Please, DON’T do that. You will lose all the macaroni flavour and the Pastitsio is all about mixed flavours.
Remove the ground beef from heat.
Take the lasagna pan and layer the bottom with the macaroni
along with a brave handful of grated cheese. Press them down to become flat.
Add the meat filling in an even layer to the pasta.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees (180 C) while you prepare the bechamel sauce.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over LOW heat.
Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour/butter mixture to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.
Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously.
Simmer over low heat until it thickens but does not boil.
Remove from heat and stir in beaten egg yolks. Add pinch of nutmeg and a handful of grated cheese to give it extra taste.
If the sauce still needs to thicken, return to heat and cook over very low heat while continuing to stir.
Bechamel is thicker than gravy but not quite as thick as pudding. It should be somewhere in between. One way to tell if it is thick enough is to dip your wooden spoon in the sauce and draw your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce holds a visible line then it is thick enough.
Pour the bechamel over the pasta noodles making sure to pour sauce down in to the corners as well.
Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. At this point, you can sprinkle
with a handful of breadcrumbs. Melt 3 tbsp of butter and pour it too, on the top.
This will give your Pastitsio a crispy, slightly brown top.
Bake in 350 degree (180 C) oven for approximately 1 hour or until the top is a nice golden colour.
Keep in mind that in order to serve, leave it to cool down for 45 minutes.
And of course, Pastitsio tastes better the next day…