For me it evokes some fantastic memories of two summers, and countless holidays spent in Corfu in my twenties - great times, and the beginning of my love affair with Greek food, one of my favourite cuisines that I think is hugely underrated. What's more, this is a hearty, family classic, a crowd pleaser, and is devoured every time I cook it.
For my pastitsio I use the typically Greek method of thickening the bechamel sauce, adding a beaten egg once the sauce is off the heat, as well as Greek yoghurt, it just helps the sauce hold together more firmly once baked. I have used penne here, as I simply had some in the cupboard, but it also works with the more traditional bucatini or rigatoni - any tubular pasta.
Also I like to reduce the meat sauce right down by cooking for at least an hour and a half as a traditional Pastitsio is easily distinguishable by it's definite layers, rather that an oozing meat sauce moving into the layers below. I use a lot less pasta for a family sized Pastitsio than in a traditional dish too as it lightens it up hugely!
|Pastitsio - Greek Lasagna|
The below comfortably serves six.
- 300g tubular pasta - I use penne
- 500g steak or beef mince
- 1 white onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 large tomatoes
- 250g passata
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 glass of red wine
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Pinch sea salt
- Pinch black pepper
For the topping:
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 200ml milk
- 1 tbsp creme fraiche
- 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt (plain natural yoghurt will also be fine)
- 2 tsp black pepper
- Pinch sea salt
- 3 tsp nutmeg
- 100g Reggiano Parmigiano or other hard cheese
First prepare the meat sauce. Begin by finely dicing and mincing the garlic and adding to a heavy bottomed pan with the olive oil to soften and flavour the oil.
Roughly chop the tomatoes and set aside for the minute.
Once the onion and garlic is softened add the meat to the pan to brown off. You can season with salt and pepper at this point and also add the cinnamon. Use a wooden spatula to break up the meat as it cooks and avoid any clumps.
Once browned, add the chopped tomatoes and cook for several minutes, then add the passata, tomato puree, red wine, oregano and thyme and mix well. Now leave to cook for at least an hour, or more if you have the time.
Add the grated cheese, retaining just enough to scatter over the top, and stir through, until combined. The sauce should slowly thicken. Whilst still on the heat, stir through the creme fraiche until combined then take off the heat. The sauce should be thick and glossy at this stage. Now add the Greek yoghurt and stir through, which will bring the temperature of the sauce down. Finally beat the egg in a separate bowl and then stir this through the sauce, which will thicken it further. Now set aside while you cook the pasta.
Cook the pasta according to packet instructions and then drain and allow to cool for a few moments, until cool enough to handle.
In the dish you'll be baking the Pastitsio, arrange one layer of pasta. It's traditional to have all the tubular shapes facing the same way and be in a pattern, as I have done with the penne here.
|Layer one - pastitsio|
Once that's done, spread over the meat sauce, make sure all the pasta is covered.
|Layer two - the meat sauce - pastitsio|
On top of the meat sauce, add the final layer of pasta, again try to organise neatly, as it will hold together nicer when you serve.
Once the meat topping is completely covered in pasta, pour over the thickened sauce, and use a knife or the back of a spoon to spread over all of the pasta shapes.
Add a final grating of nutmeg, scatter over the cheese and a season again. Leave for at least 30 minutes before baking, again, this just helps to hold the final shape.
Place into a pre-heated oven at 180-200degrees and bake for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve with a salad of your choice and enjoy!
Some other favourite Greek recipes of mine:
Briam (Vegetable Stew)