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, seriously!) and (2) because when I go to the butcher I get weirded out by the whole animals hanging there, just staring at me!!! Okay, so it is mostly because it costs so much and I get nervous when trying to speak Greek, maybe I will bring home goat liver instead of chicken. Anyway, since we don’t eat meat often, I really like to substitute vegetables. Here is my version of a “Vegetarian Pastitsio” a wonderful alternative for my veggie loving friends!
I have also never before eaten such long noodles before, they are like a super long penne pasta, kinda cool actually.
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 of a slightly sweet, yet spicy creamy noodle concoction. My husband grew up eating this and it is still today one of his most favorite Greek meals.
I am sorry that this picture doesn’t do the dish justice either. We have had many rainy and overcast days, and since we only have one window (glass door) it was difficult getting any good photos. Rest assured though, I am sure to make this again, and next time I will be putting my own spin on things.
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!