This is a classic Greek recipe, a very warm, hearty and traditional Greek dish, easily one of Greece’s best homemade comfort foods!!!
I would describe pastistio as a rich Greek lasagna. It is a baked pasta dish layered with seasoned meat and topped with a rich béchamel sauce. Pastitsio in Greek comes from the Italian word, pasticcio, which means “mess or hodgepodge”. I will be honest and tell you that it is kind of an undertaking while you are preparing it, so be in the mood to cook and work up a big appetite, it is sure to satisfy the hungriest of people.
In my opinion, it is enough to serve on its own or accompanied by merely a light salad. It is rich, hearty, and will leave you full for hours just from one piece. Since we rarely eat meat, (1) because it is SO expensive here on the island (no joke, for 2 chicken breast it comes to about $9.20!) and (2) because when I go to the butcher I get somewhat nauseous by the whole animals hanging there, just staring at me!!! Okay, so it is mostly because it costs so much, but I also get confused when trying to order in Greek. I worry about maybe bringing home goat liver instead of chicken. Most meals are substituted with vegetables. So, if you are interested in this classic dish but prefer to skip the meat addition, here is my version of a “Vegetarian Pastitsio” - a wonderful alternative for my veggie loving friends!
Also, the meat sauce isn’t your typical American one either, the recipe calls for a dash of cinnamon, a clove berry, and some nutmeg in the béchamel sauce. Fancy smancy, eh?! I highly recommend trying this dish, it is unique and all the flavors combine together to make a lasting memory with a hint of sweet, but mostly creamy noodle concoction.
My husband grew up eating this and it is still today one of his most favorite Greek meals. I would also say that 90% of my students tell me that it is their favorite homemade meal too!
Traditional Pastitsio “Greek Lasagna” Recipe: Serves 12-14, easily could be halved
1 kilo (~2 lbs.) lean ground beef
3 medium white onion, chopped
1/4 cup EVOO
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. Greek oregano
salt and pepper
1 T. tomato paste
1 can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1-2 all spice berry
1/2 -1 tsp. cinnamon
1 pkg. pastitsio or bucantini noodles (substitute just penne would work too)
1/2 – 3/4 cup Kefalotyri (Ramano or another hard cheese)
Saute onions in oil on medium heat for about 10 minutes, add the garlic and bay leaves and cook another 5 minutes. Add the beef and clove(s) and raise the heat to high, continuing to cook until the meat is cooked, about 15-20 minutes. Drain the excess fat and remove the berry(s). Add the wine and tomato paste, turning down the heat back to medium – medium high. Cook until almost all the wine has cooked off, then add the can of tomatoes, salt and pepper, cinnamon, and oregano. Turn off heat and let rest.
Cook your noodles in a large pot of salted water until al dente, with a slight bit or firmness remaining (about 10-12 minutes).
Béchamel Sauce Recipe:
1 stick butter (~100-125g.)
1 cup AP flour
10 cups warm whole milk
8 eggs, room temperature
1 cup grated hard cheese (vlahotyri, romano, parmesan, ect)
salt and pepper
3/4 – 1 tsp. nutmeg
More hard cheese to grate on top
Add butter to a medium large saucepan and melt on medium heat. Add flour and whisk constantly until turns a golden brown, about 5-7 minutes depending on your heat. Continue whisking briskly while you steadily stream in your warm milk making a nice roux. Make sure you do not have any lumps, if you start to see them form simply whisk faster (you can use a mixer if you have a whisking beater). Now, bring to a slight boil while stirring with a wooden spoon. You want your roux to thicken but not turn into a batter. Remove from heat and cool slightly for 5 minutes. Whisk all of your eggs together and slowly stream them into your roux, mixing quickly to avoid scrambling. Now, add your cheese and seasonings.
Once everything is ready, you can preheat your oven to 190°/375° and assemble your dish. Lightly oil your large baking dish and mix 1 ladle of your béchamel sauce into your meat mix and 3 ladles into your drained pasta. Add enough sauce to coat the bottom of your dish and then add 1/2 of your noodles. Follow with 1/2 of your meat and then repeat with remaining noodles and sauce. Top with the remaining béchamel sauce and grated cheese. Bake in a hot oven for 45-60 minutes. You want your edges to be bubbly and the cheese to be golden brown. Rest at least 30 minutes before serving to help set-up and make easier to dish out and hold form!!!
Make for a large gathering, half for a family dinner, or make 2 and freeze one for later!
Greek salad and tzatziki are two sides I recommend having when serving pastitsio. The salad helps to lighten the meal and add more nutrition, while the tzatziki just pairs phenomenally with the spiced meat and creamy béchamel sauce!!!