Classic Greek Pastitsio for anyone who wants a meaty layered casserole with a savory twist. The meat can be ground beef or lamb (with an addition of pork for flavor and juiciness) and it’s cooked with onions, garlic, oregano, and a pinch of cinnamon. Add a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, some red balsamic vinegar, pour it over pasta, top with a fluffy bechamel sauce and cheese and you are in for a treat.
So let’s get started:
Meat Sauce Layer
This is the same prep as Italian Bolognese but with the addition of oregano and cinnamon and with the caveat that it cooks much faster. It should be done in about 20 minutes and there should be enough liquid in the sauce for it to soak down into the noodles that you put it on. What you see below is cooked down too much (my bad) and I ended up adding a little tomato sauce to it.
Everyone Greek will tell you to use Misko #2 noodles with the hole in the middle and everyone is correct! You may use Italian style Bucatini which has the hole, or other pasta, and I’ve tried, but somehow Misko cooks up best and you should be able to find it at a Middle Eastern grocery or online.
The Bechamel Sauce
I like mine puffy and fluffy so I separate the eggs and beat the egg whites which I fold in after the sauce is cooked. If you like it flatter and denser just use the whole egg when making the sauce. Either way is good.
And a word about the cheese. Greeks use Kefalotyri which is a hard salty sheep’s milk cheese. Use it if you can find it but substitute Parmesan or Pecorino Romano if you cannot.
Goes well with a Greek Salad or just some arugula dressed with a little oil.
- For the Meat Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, diced
- ¼ cup bell pepper, diced
- 1 pound ground beef chuck or lamb (or half beef/lamb & half ground pork)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons red balsamic vinegar (or red wine)
- Kosher salt & black pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
- For the Bechamel sauce:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 eggs, separated
- 5 tablespoons butter
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ cup yogurt
- ½ cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, separated (or Kefalotyri cheese)
- ½ pound Misko #2 pasta (half of a package)
- 1 egg, beaten
- Put Drained noodles on the bottom of a lightly greased casserole dish.
- Toss with the raw egg.
- Spoon meat sauce over and even it off with the back of a spoon.
- Pour bechamel over and top with ½ cup of the grated cheese.
- Place in 350 degree oven until brown on top, about 30 minutes.
- For the Meat Sauce:
- In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the onion & bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the meat, breaking up the meat with a spatula or wooden spoon, and cook until the moisture has evaporated and the meat is browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in the oregano, and cinnamon, and season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the diced tomatoes and their juices, the wine vinegar, and the cream, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the flavors meld, 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
- For the Béchamel:
- In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium-low. Whisk the flour into the butter until smooth, golden paste forms, about 2 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks into the milk and gradually add to the roux and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is smooth and thick about 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg and a half cup cheese, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
- Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and fold them into the bechamel.
- For the Noodles and Assembly:
- In a large pot boil and salt the water. Cook the pasta according to package instructions until 2 minutes short of al dente (the pasta will finish cooking in the oven). Drain and transfer it to a lightly greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish or equivalent round dish. Mix thoroughly with the beaten egg. Spread the meat sauce over it.
- Spread the bechamel over the meat sauce and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup cheese.
- Place dish on a sheet pan and bake until the top is golden and begins to bubble, about 25 to 30 minutes. Allow it to stand for 10 minutes before serving.