Pastitsio

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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By Published On: October 3rd, 201667 Comments

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

67 Comments

  1. ladyredspecs October 3, 2016 at 7:27 AM - Reply

    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..

    • chef mimi October 3, 2016 at 7:34 AM - Reply

      I’m sure it’s fabulous, but very carby! Lamb dishes are just so wonderful. Your lamb is probably so inexpensive!

  2. Debbie Spivey October 3, 2016 at 8:14 AM - Reply

    Oh my goodness Mimi, this looks so delicious!

  3. Linda Duffin October 3, 2016 at 8:23 AM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi October 3, 2016 at 8:25 AM - Reply

      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.

      • Linda Duffin October 3, 2016 at 8:28 AM

        Heartbreaking! Send me a food parcel next time!

      • chef mimi October 3, 2016 at 8:37 AM

        I wish we were neighbors!

      • Linda Duffin October 3, 2016 at 8:45 AM

        Oh, so do I!

      • StefanGourmet October 5, 2016 at 2:11 AM

        Just don’t tell him there is lamb in it. If he acts like a child, it makes sense to treat him like one ;-)

      • chef mimi October 5, 2016 at 3:39 AM

        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.)

  4. Utkarshini Khanna October 3, 2016 at 8:49 AM - Reply

    This looks so good! Let me kiss your hands!!

  5. Kewrites October 3, 2016 at 8:55 AM - Reply

    Oh wow! this looks delicious. A greek friend ones made something similar for us but it was with potatoes. This looks really yummy

  6. Cocoa & Lavender October 3, 2016 at 9:31 AM - Reply

    I love that series of books, but never cooked out of the Greek one. I wish I still had my mother’s copies.

    • Cocoa & Lavender October 3, 2016 at 9:33 AM - Reply

      PS – your Pastitsio looks perfect and so savory!

      • chef mimi October 3, 2016 at 10:45 AM

        Oh Thank you!

    • chef mimi October 3, 2016 at 10:45 AM - Reply

      You might be able to find one on Amazon from used booksellers.

    • chef mimi October 25, 2016 at 7:29 AM - Reply

      You can find them randomly on Amazon.

      • Cocoa & Lavender November 6, 2016 at 6:30 PM

        I will have to look! Thanks!

      • Cocoa & Lavender November 6, 2016 at 6:30 PM

        I will have ot look for them – thanks!

  7. anyone4curryandotherthings October 3, 2016 at 9:41 AM - Reply

    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. :) :)

    • chef mimi October 3, 2016 at 10:44 AM - Reply

      We must be of similar age! They are fabulous cookbooks, and you can still find them occasionally on Amazon!

  8. gina@mytinytexaslife October 3, 2016 at 10:21 AM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi October 3, 2016 at 10:43 AM - Reply

      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.

  9. Conor Bofin October 3, 2016 at 1:51 PM - Reply

    Delicious Mimi. I love the books.

    • chef mimi October 25, 2016 at 7:31 AM - Reply

      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!

  10. Our Growing Paynes October 3, 2016 at 2:06 PM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi October 3, 2016 at 2:38 PM - Reply

      I know. Fortunately I have good friends who are happy for blog leftovers!

      • Our Growing Paynes October 3, 2016 at 2:58 PM

        That’s lucky! Or should I say, they are lucky. 😊

  11. Francesca October 3, 2016 at 5:12 PM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi October 3, 2016 at 6:32 PM - Reply

      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…

  12. dishinwithdidi October 4, 2016 at 4:16 AM - Reply

    I have never heard of this series of cookbooks Mimi, thank you for letting us know and that Pastichio? Gorgeous!! ♥

    • chef mimi October 4, 2016 at 6:07 AM - Reply

      Well it’s probably because you’re too young!

  13. Frank Fariello October 4, 2016 at 6:12 AM - Reply

    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!

    • chef mimi October 4, 2016 at 6:13 AM - Reply

      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!

  14. ChgoJohn October 4, 2016 at 1:57 PM - Reply

    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. :)

    • chef mimi October 4, 2016 at 3:14 PM - Reply

      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.

  15. Gerlinde @ Sunnycovechef October 4, 2016 at 4:26 PM - Reply

    What a wonderful recipe Mimi, I just love it. It’s such great comfort food.

    • chef mimi October 7, 2016 at 7:19 AM - Reply

      It really is a hearty, comforting dish!

  16. anotherfoodieblogger October 4, 2016 at 5:50 PM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi October 4, 2016 at 9:23 PM - Reply

      Thanks! Yes, it’s expensive where I live, too. But it’s so worth it!!! Occasionally…

  17. Julie is Hostess At Heart October 4, 2016 at 8:33 PM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi October 4, 2016 at 9:22 PM - Reply

      Thank you Julie. That’s so sweet! I am lucky that I had a mother who embraced pretty much all cuisines!

  18. StefanGourmet October 5, 2016 at 2:09 AM - Reply

    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).

    • chef mimi October 5, 2016 at 3:37 AM - Reply

      Where you live, what’s more affordable? Lamb or beef?

      • StefanGourmet October 5, 2016 at 3:39 AM

        Prices are quite similar, but beef is in larger supply

      • chef mimi October 5, 2016 at 3:40 AM

        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.

  19. kitchenriffs October 5, 2016 at 11:46 AM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi October 6, 2016 at 8:02 AM - Reply

      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!

  20. Robyn Gleason October 5, 2016 at 8:56 PM - Reply

    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!

    • chef mimi October 6, 2016 at 8:03 AM - Reply

      Thank you. It’s a delicious dish. You could always make the meat sauce a day ahead. It’s much easier than a lasagna !

  21. Michelle October 6, 2016 at 8:52 PM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi October 7, 2016 at 7:01 AM - Reply

      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!

  22. Tricia Buice October 7, 2016 at 10:55 AM - Reply

    Wow Mimi – what a gorgeous stack of deliciousness! bravo :) Oh to travel and eat glorious food – that’s the job I want!

  23. Culinary Flavors October 9, 2016 at 10:41 AM - Reply

    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!

  24. camparigirl October 10, 2016 at 5:53 PM - Reply

    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…

    • chef mimi October 10, 2016 at 6:21 PM - Reply

      Well I trust the Greeks! I don’t eat much meat, but I love lamb probably more than any meat!

  25. Bam's Kitchen October 12, 2016 at 10:43 PM - Reply

    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

  26. Daniel M. Pliska November 20, 2016 at 7:49 PM - Reply

    Time life books series were great books. Thanks for sharing .

    • chef mimi November 21, 2016 at 7:06 AM - Reply

      And I still refer to them after all of these years!

  27. Joe A. April 22, 2022 at 10:29 AM - Reply

    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.

    • Chef Mimi April 22, 2022 at 10:52 PM - Reply

      I love everything in that French book! So many great books in that series!

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