Friday, July 12, 2013

Pastitsio , my version of a Greek classic. Meat sauce and pasta and cheese and a thick, yolk kissed, cheesy, bechamel Yeah, you're going to want to come here for dinner now.

This isn't lasagna but I have to tell you, I love lasagna. I love the meat and pasta and cheese and creaminess and everything about it.  Sometimes, I have to confess I don't like the fiddling.  I know, I know, it's really easy and hardly fiddly but sometimes I want to make, mix, dump, make, stir, coat and then bake.  See how much easier that is? 

Enter my passion for Pastitsio, it's a Greek version of the Italian lasagna.  It's a completely different dish with a much different, and deeper, flavor signature.  

This classic dish is not flavored with the Italian "holy trinity" of garlic, basil and oregano but rather it's rich with cinnamon, allspice (just a little bit!) and nutmeg. It's a very very different experience from a classic lasagna but it maintains all the textural joys that lasagna brings.  

I don't know if my version is a nod to the classic or an abomination.  I think mine is delicious, it's easy, it's rich and it makes me happy.  I think that is a pretty decent pedigree, in my humble opinion.  Use mine as a jumping off point.  Add or delete to your own taste...just start making this.  However you make it, prepare, if you haven't had this, to be delighted and to add a new dish to your repertoire.


Meat sauce

1 large onion, chopped
2 lbs ground beef/lamb/pork or any combination thereof
3 cloves garlic
salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice
can of crushed tomatoes
bay leaf
2 carrots, quartered


1 package of small pasta of your choice
boiling water


4 Tblsp butter
4 Tblsp flour
2 egg yolks
cheese -parmesan


Bread crumbs

QUICKIE version: 

Make your favorite meat sauce.  Make your favorite small pasta.  Combine the two.  Place it in a lightly buttered casserole dish.  Make a thick bechemal with cheese and add eggs to help bind.  Spread over pasta/meat mixture.  Sprinkle with buttered bread crumbs.  Bake at 375 for about 45-60 minutes, or until it's brown and set in the middle.  Let rest at least 20 minutes.  Serve in enormous square pieces. 

LONG-winded with pictures and commentary version:

THE Meatsauce

Chop up an onion and fry it in some olive oil, just to soften, not to brown.  Add the ground meat, this is half lamb, half beef.  Fry it until brown then add the sliced garlic.  MMMMM  THEN add the spices, salt, pepper, a few good grates of nutmeg, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp of allspice (just use a little!)
Add the can of tomatoes and a can of water.  Canned tomatoes can be acrid so add a pinch of sugar.  THEN add the quartered carrots.  I like the flavor and sweetness the carrots add but I don't like pieces of carrot in the sauce ... SO ... I add huge chunks to cook in the sauce and when it's all done, I can pull out the carrots and eat them.  It's yet another of the cook's treats that I ensure is in everything I cook, sort of like the bacon on the turkey, the extra cheese hanging off the smash burger and the extra mini meatballs in the pressure cooked meatballs, there's always a little something for me, from me ;)
Add a little more water if you need to make it saucy (don't worry, this is going to cook a while, it'll evaporate down), push the carrots down in the sauce then add a bay leave and shush it around.  Turn it to medium low and let it summer, half covered for a really long time.  I let it go at least a couple of hours. Here we go, it's 3 hours later (I got sewing and forgot it)  but it's not something that needs a timer, the longer the better.  I just turn it off now and wait till I want to assemble for dinner.

THE Pasta

WHILE this is cooking, you can go ahead and make the pasta.  Just cook it according to package directions.  I cook a whole box of mini pasta and leave it aside.  When I am assembling, I add some pasta to the meat sauce until it's the consistency I like.  Any remaining pasta can either be cooks treat (GRIN) or you can toss it in the fridge for a quick lunch another day or in the freezer for a quick lunch way down the road.  

Here is my cooked pasta, just so it doesn't get left out of the photo array.
Cook the pasta 2 minutes less than the time on the box.  It's going to bake in the oven so if you cook it all the way it'll be gross and nasty so be sure to undercook it. 
*ALWAYS scoop some pasta cooking water out of the pot before you drain it, we will use it later.  You can thin any sauce or unglob any pasta that's stuck together with this.
I rinse the pasta at this point, because it's going to wait for me, then pop it back into the cooking pot with a lid.

The Sauce:

Melt butter in a saucepan and add flour and shush it around for a minute, add a couple of cups of milk and a few grates of nutmeg and of black pepper and cook it until it's thick, add a little more milk if you think it's TOO thick but we do want this thick.  Whoever said you have to add the milk slowly or it has to be hot has never owned a whisk.  Just dump it in and whisk until it boils, I've never had lumps and neither will you.
Stir and add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and a little oregano if you're so inclined.  A little cayenne is nice as is a little paprika if you're feeling chef-y.
Ah, nice a thick, here's the formal back of the spoon line test.  Nice.
Take it off heat and add a handful of good Parmesan cheese and 2 egg yolks.  I beat the yolks with a little warm pasta water so they don't seize or turn into scrambled eggs in the sauce (euwww)  Add the eggs in a slow stream and whisk the whole time.  
Look how beautiful and yellow and rich this looks!  Sometimes it just LOOKS like it's going to be amazing. 

Combine the meat sauce with as much pasta as makes you happy.  It needs to be about even, I think. If you have too much sauce, it won't hold together and we don't want that. 

Here is the meat sauce, it's room temperature, same as the pasta.  Add the pasta to the sauce.  I needed all the pasta this time to make a good ratio that will hold together later.
Pat the pasta/meat mixture into a dish, press pretty hard with your hand to flatten it and get rid of any big air pockets, we want this to be compressed.  Remember, we want a slice of this later, not a spoonful.

NOW add your thick sauce over top, we want it to stay on top, not soak in and certainly not combine with the pasta and meat.
I like breadcrumbs on mine. To make my breadcrumbs, I just dump some on the board and add some butter and rub it in by hand, why dirty a bowl?

NOW we pop it into the oven, 375 for about an hour...  let's go have a glass of wine while we wait.

Here it is, fresh out of the oven...  set the timer for 20 minutes and walk away!  Oh, let's have another glass of wine.

Ok, serve it up, slices, hunks, spoonfuls however you can get it from the plate into your mouth.  If you feel the need to serve a salad, some roasted veggies or some other healthy side, then go for it.  I like it in a large wedge, in the middle of my plate, with a big fork and the television tuned on.

I hope you go and make this, it's delicious, pretty easy and a real show stopper.  It looks like you spent more time than you really did.  Sure, there's a bunch of steps but they're easy and you can do everything ahead and it freezes GREAT so truly, there's no excuse, not even the 104 degree temperature outside today here in Austin.  When I want comfort food, I WANT comfort food ;) 

Here are the requisite beauty shots :D 

ahhh, out of the oven, rested and now, we cut into it!
The moment of truth when you slice in and it stayed together and the topping is a separate thing and it hasn't seeped in... it's a good moment :)  It's tender and soft and rich and crispy from the topping and the best crispy edges.  Yeah, I love this. on the plate, holding up and in the dish, slices beautifully.

Go make one, you'll be so very happy and so very warm and squishy inside ;)


1 comment:

  1. MerryChristmas ClausJanuary 8, 2017 at 5:13 PM

    what makes this interesting is I do not normally like Pastitsio. I am not a fan of cinnamon and allspice in savory foods but way overuse them in sweet dishes. I just made some stuffed grape leaves the other day and told my husband I should make pastitsio to go with it. THEN today I come across this recipe. It has got to be one of only a few I have not read and made (I am still trying to get up the nerve to bake my own bread and use the bread bag I purchased from you months ago but my bread always comes out badly). Anyway, I decided to make this for supper as there are still a few grape leaves left. I followed your recipe to a "T" but left out the cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. I added a bit of each after the sauce was cooked to see if I was ok for me to eat and I ended up adding almost what you suggested. However, as you always say, don't make it your way if I'm not going to eat it! It came out perfect and even Santa loves it. Thanks, Tracy, you are a life saver on a Sunday when I am pressed for time and want something fun. Maybe I will make bread tomorrow....hmmm, maybe..