The pastitsio heritage comes to us from neighbouring Italy, where it’s normally called pasticcio di carne, a meat pie much like the beloved lasagne. Pastitsio also means a mess and of course Greeks could not adopt a dish without messing with it. So our pastitsio incorporates all the goodness of pasta and meat sauce, with a typically Greek hint of all spice and cinnamon. All topped with an extra thick white sauce and, of course a generous layer of cheese.
Pastitsio is a truly traditional Sunday meal here in Greece. Baked in huge trays, the heart-warming pasta and thick, cheesey topping is a definite sharer. It is also grandma Nia’s speciality! She is the absolute master of pastitsio and receives many a request for her wonderful dish. Whenever someone comes to visit, she always has a tray in the oven slowly baking for them. There’s no need for you to make such a trip for this pastitsio though, you can have your own slice of home-baked goodness wherever you are. Here is what you will need along with some expert tips from grandma:
- 500 gr No.2 pasta (any tube pasta is good though)
- 1 kg of beef mince
- 1 medium carrot
- 2 onions finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, pressed
- 6 – 7 sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
- 500 gr chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- 100 ml white wine
- 1 pinch of sugar
- 5-6 all spice berries
- Half tsp nutmeg
- Half tsp of cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 200 gr of kefalotiri, or any melting cheese (the saltier the better)
What to do
As this dish has 3 different stages, it pays to be organised so that you don’t spend hours in the kitchen. Start with the meat sauce and whilst it’s cooking, boil your pasta. Leave your white sauce until last and remember to grate some cheese.
For the meat sauce
Finely chop and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the finely chopped carrot and pressed garlic and then brown your meat. Once your meat is brown, put off with wine, stir well and start adding your tomatoes and tomato paste, the parsley and seasonings. Add about 100 ml of water, bring to the boil and let it bubble away for 10-15 mins. Then lower the heat and let it simmer for approximately 30 mins. Keep your sauce covered and add a bit of warm water if too much liquid evaporates off.
Tip: The slower you cook this sauce the more tasty it’s going to be.
Well, this is pretty straight-forward, you boil for approximately 10 mins and drain well. If you cannot find the traditional pastitsio pasta (long tubes with a hole in the middle) use any type of rigatoni or penne, it will come out delicious.
For the white sauce
- 120 gr butter
- 120 gr flour
- 1 lt of milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A bit of nutmeg
The ingredients I have given above are for a large tray, so feel free to adjust according to your baking requirements. Also, this recipe makes a medium thick béchamel, which I prefer as it sits a little better on top of my mince sauce without sinking.
So here we go:
Melt your butter on medium heat. Add the flour a little at a time until golden, this should take approximately 2 mins.
Scald the milk and gradually add, 1 tbsp at a time whilst stirring quickly. When half of your milk is in, add the rest and cook on a medium heat until boiling. Boil for 2 mins and season with salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg.
Ready to layer
I normally do a very simple 3 layer bake. First the pasta, then the mince sauce and finally the white sauce topped with grated cheese.
Place in a preheated oven for 45 min to 1 hour, until you get a crispy gold top.