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.
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.
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…
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
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.
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.
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
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.
Then pour 2 cups of the cream sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese.
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.
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!
We’ve been eating a version of this with lamb, for years. Family comfort food at it’s best. I have a greek friend who bakes it in a pie, I think that’s a step too far..
I’m sure it’s fabulous, but very carby! Lamb dishes are just so wonderful. Your lamb is probably so inexpensive!
Oh my goodness Mimi, this looks so delicious!
It really is, Debbie!
I love those books! Never made pastitsio as my husband feels about pasta the same way yours does about lamb (I know, what??) but I would happily devour the whole pan.
So dumb. He ate one piece of pastitsio, reluctantly. I couldn’t even taste the lamb, sadly. But I gave the rest away so it didn’t go to waste.
Heartbreaking! Send me a food parcel next time!
I wish we were neighbors!
Oh, so do I!
Just don’t tell him there is lamb in it. If he acts like a child, it makes sense to treat him like one ;-)
I have done that before, with minced kabobs, but then I felt badly! I have been tempted to hide liver in everything just to make a point… But I did learn when catering that everyone’s tastes must be respected. Even if they have bad taste! (Kidding.)
This looks so good! Let me kiss your hands!!
You are so sweet!
Oh wow! this looks delicious. A greek friend ones made something similar for us but it was with potatoes. This looks really yummy
I bet that would be fabulous, too!
I love that series of books, but never cooked out of the Greek one. I wish I still had my mother’s copies.
PS – your Pastitsio looks perfect and so savory!
Oh Thank you!
You might be able to find one on Amazon from used booksellers.
You can find them randomly on Amazon.
I will have to look! Thanks!
I will have ot look for them – thanks!
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. :) :)
We must be of similar age! They are fabulous cookbooks, and you can still find them occasionally on Amazon!
What a wonderful collection of cookbooks. We do not eat lamb-I wonder if bison would be a good substitute instead of ground beef. :) Nice pics.
I think any meat can be substituted if you don’t want to use lamb. It’s just what gives Pastitsio the unique flavor. But it would still be a nice dish with beef.
Delicious Mimi. I love the books.
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!
I like this dish. Pity he could only eat one piece. I would happily have that for lunch and a few more meals. Good stuff.
I know. Fortunately I have good friends who are happy for blog leftovers!
That’s lucky! Or should I say, they are lucky. 😊
Lovely pastitsio- such comfort food. I don’t eat meat so I use a layer of cooked lentils in that part and it works well.
That’s smart. I used to mix spaghetti sauce with lentils because it made it so much healthier. And the kids didn’t seem to mind…
I have never heard of this series of cookbooks Mimi, thank you for letting us know and that Pastichio? Gorgeous!! ♥
Well it’s probably because you’re too young!
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!
It is really wonderful, grilled or ground. Greek food is interesting. If you ever go to a Greek restaurant you’ll notice that nothing on the menu is “lite.” It all extremely comforting!
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. :)
Oh, I’m sorry. I know it’s hard just cooking for 2. I kept cooking too much food for a couple of years after my kids left home.
What a wonderful recipe Mimi, I just love it. It’s such great comfort food.
It really is a hearty, comforting dish!
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.
Thanks! Yes, it’s expensive where I live, too. But it’s so worth it!!! Occasionally…
John would just love this recipe. It took me a while to try and admit that I like lamb but I’m glad I saw the light! You are great at trying so many cultural cuisines and I just love reading your creations.
Thank you Julie. That’s so sweet! I am lucky that I had a mother who embraced pretty much all cuisines!
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).
Where you live, what’s more affordable? Lamb or beef?
Prices are quite similar, but beef is in larger supply
Interesting. Lamb here comes from New Zealand and is pretty pricey. Plus, where I live, it’s hard to come by because of low demand. For example, I would never find rabbit at my local store.
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.
I can get ground and chops locally, like you, but anything else I order from D’Artagnan. If there’s someone around who will eat lamb with me!
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!
Thank you. It’s a delicious dish. You could always make the meat sauce a day ahead. It’s much easier than a lasagna !
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.
I enjoyed those books too when I was young. I loved the one on India, I remember, and Africa. I always wanted to go to Capetown and have seafood curry! We must both be geeks!
Wow Mimi – what a gorgeous stack of deliciousness! bravo :) Oh to travel and eat glorious food – that’s the job I want!
Absolutely! And thanks!
Actually real pastitsio is made only with ground beef so now you are closer to authentic! It is a delicious dish every Greek household makes at least twice a month! I love it!
Okay, good to know!
I don’t eat lamb and very rarely beef but I do enjoy pastitsio and, if I make it, it will be 100% beef. My very Greek friend Kimberly tells me it is ok…
Well I trust the Greeks! I don’t eat much meat, but I love lamb probably more than any meat!
Mimi, this dish looks like something my boys would polish off in a nano-second… ! Lovely layers and warm and comforting. Perfect comfort food! I hope you are doing well. Take Care
Thank you Bobbi!
Time life books series were great books. Thanks for sharing .
And I still refer to them after all of these years!
I’ve been using these books since they came out. Pastitsio is one of my go to recipes. Sometimes I use lamb, others times ground bison. Another go to recipe from the Provincial French book is Poulet Sautés a la Bordelaise (Sauted chicken with shallots and artichoke hearts.
I love everything in that French book! So many great books in that series!