Pastitsio

65 Comments

My introduction to Greek cuisine began with the set of cookbooks that introduced me to many International cuisines – the Time-Life series of cookbooks called “Foods of the World.” Included in the set are beautifully photographed hardback books describing the cuisines and cultures, as well as smaller, spiral-bound recipe books.

The set was gifted to me by mother, because she owned and loved hers. They were also my first cookbooks, so as I learned how to cook, I also learned about various cuisines. Had I known better, I might have been intimidated, but I just jumped in and started cooking.

One week I’d make meals from the Ethiopian cookbook, the next week Japan, the next Italy, and so forth. One of the cookbooks was “Middle Eastern Cooking,” which included foods from Greece as well as Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and other countries from that part of the world.

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Over the years I made moussaka, chicken baked in red sauce with cinnamon, grilled pork kabobs smothered in oregano, and many more lovely recipes. But one that I really loved was Pastitsio. To me it was way more fun than moussaka.

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When I first made it, my husband loved it. But over the 30-plus years that I’ve been cooking, he’s somehow decided that he hates lamb. It’s just not the same with beef, so I’m using a 50-50 mixture. Who knows, in a future post, I might be writing from my own apartment…

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Pastitsio

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 pound ziti
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 1/2 pound lean ground lamb
2 cups chopped, drained, canned tomatoes
1 cup canned tomato purée
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon oregano crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Black pepper
1/2 cup soft, fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Kefalotiri or Parmesan

In a large pot bring 6-8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over high heat and drop in the ziti. Stirring occasionally, cook the pasta for 10-15 minutes, or until soft but still somewhat resistant to the bite. Immediately drain the pasta and set aside.
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Meanwhile, prepare the lamb and the cream sauce. In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent but not brown.

Add the lamb and, mashing it frequently with the back of spoon or fork to break up any lumps, cook until all traces of pink disappear.


Stir in the tomatoes, purée, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the beaten egg, and set aside.


Sauce:
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour

To make the cream sauce, combine 3 cups of milk and the butter in a small pan until bubbles appear around the rim of the pan. Remove from the heat. In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, beat the eggs with a whisk until they are frothy.

Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of salt and, beating constantly, add the flour, a tablespoon at a time.


Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the heated milk and butter mixture in a thin stream and, still stirring, bring to a boil over moderate heat. Continue to boil until the sauce is thick and smooth; set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. With a pastry brush coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 15 x 2 1/2″ baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and spread half of the reserved pasta on top.


Cover with the meat, smoothing it into the corners with a spatula.
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Then pour 2 cups of the cream sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese.
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Make another layer with the remaining ziti, pour over it the rest of the cream sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is a delicate golden brown.

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If you love moussaka, you’ll definitely love pastitsio. It’s the love red meat sauce, slightly sweetened with cinnamon, layered on noodles, and topped with a rich, cheesy cream sauce that makes it the ultimate in comfort food, Greek style!
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65 thoughts on “Pastitsio

  1. I was introduced to this series of books decades (oh my!!!) ago – loved them but due to Foreign Office weight restrictions on our luggage when off to a new post, they were given away to friends – I am happy for them, but sad for myself. Oh and by the way, love and still make this dish (my own version) even here in India. :) :)

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    • I was so naive when I started cooking. If I’d known any better I might have been intimidated by these cookbooks. But they are the books that taught me how to cook! Every few days it was a different country! My husband was very patient back then – or he was just blindly in love. Many of the dishes I made then he’d refuse to eat now!

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  2. I’ve been meaning to make a foray into Greek cookery for some time now. And pastitsio, being so Italian in character, seems like a good place to start. And made with lamb, definitely! For me, it’s the tastiest red meat out there!

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  3. This is such a great dish, Mimi, and yours recipe sounds delicious. I make it — not as frequently a I’d like — but use lamb always. Then again, there’s normally no one else seated at my dinner table. :)

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  4. I just LOVE Pastitsio! I learned how to cook it just after college from my 1981 Better Homes and Garden cookbook, which I still treasure and cook from to this day! The comment about the apartment cracked me up. I don’t use lamb due to the cost factor, but I am sure it is much better with it! As always your photos are gorgeous.

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  5. Great comfort food, Mimi. Except for the cinnamon and eggs, this could be an Italian dish. Kees is the other way around: loves lamb but doesn’t care as much for beef (he still eats it though, and still loved it braised or stewed).

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  6. Pastitsio is a wonderful dish! And yes, it needs to be made with lamb. Fortunately we’re a lamb-loving family, so no issues there. Not that easy getting decent lamb these days, alas. Lamb chops, sure. But not lamb that you’d want to grind up. Anyway, your version of this dish looks terrific — thanks.

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  7. Oh my, look at this deliciousness! I have never made pastitsio but you have motivated me to make it, Mimi. Thanks for all the step by step instructions. I know how much time that takes. Beautiful dish!

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  8. When I was growing up, we had neighbors who had (I believe) every possible set of Time-Life books. I loved them so much, especially the nature and history ones. I think I memorized some of them. I have a number of the food volumes, though not the Greek one. Your pastitsio looks delicious. We’re lamb lovers around here.

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