I love pastitsio but find it often tastes bland when I make it; at least, it’s bland compared to the flavour explosion that is my friend Marina’s pastitsio. Hers is the true Greek version, full of hearty meat, a thick layer of sauce, and yummy grease that soaks through the pasta, making it impossible to stop at one serving. This recipe from The Food 52 Cookbook: Vol. 2 was my biggest success with pastitsio so far, so now I’m no longer dependent on Marina’s culinary generosity whenever I have a craving!
1 lb dried penne or ziti
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 lbs ground lamb (I used ground beef)
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
One 6-oz can tomato paste
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground sumac (optional)
1 tsp dried mint (optional) — I used a handful of minced fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just al dente, about 3 minutes less than the package directions. Drain, transfer to a bowl, and stir in the butter to prevent sticking. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, cook the lamb or beef in a large sauté pan over medium heat, breaking it into pieces, until no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Transfer to a colander and shake well to drain the fat. Return the lamb and onions to the pan, add the wine, and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for a minute. Add the cinnamon, oregano, sumac, and mint, if using, and 2 cups of water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
4. To make the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the milk in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly so there are no lumps. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture is thick and bubbly and coats the back of a spoon, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the cayenne and Parmesan. Remove from the heat.
5. Heat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
6. Add the pasta to the lamb mixture and stir to combine. Toss in the feta and stir to combine. Spoon the mixture into the greased baking dish. Spread the cheese sauce over the pasta mixture, smoothing the top with the back of a spoon. Bake until browned on top in spots, 35 to 40 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.
Recipe from TheRunawaySpoon via “The Food 52 Cookbook: Vol. 2”