Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pastitsio!

Pastitsio happens to be my oldest sister's favourite meal - with good reason: it's delicious! It's a Greek layered pasta dish made with meat sauce and Bechamel.The spicing of the meat distinguishes it from an Italian-style meat sauce and compliments the Bechamel.


This recipe is from an old Martha Stewart Living magazine - 2001, to be exact. It calls for ground lamb, which is so yummy if you can afford it, but if you can't, ground beef or turkey would do the trick - even veggie ground round might do it!

The recipe is found here, or you can read below; I've modified it only slightly, as I tend to like more spices than recipes tend to call for.


For the meat sauce:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 white onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 pounds ground lamb (or beef/turkey)
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
2 dried bay leaves
2 cups beef stock

For the Bechamel:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups whole milk
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper

To assemble the dish:
butter for the baking dish, or cooking spray
1 pound cooked noodles, like Penne, Cavatappi, Rigatoni, or Ziti.

How to make it all work:
1. Make the meat sauce first. Saute the onions in olive oil over medium eat. Add the meat and the spices and cook until browned. Add the wine and cook until reduced, then add the tomato paste, the bay leaves, and the 2 cups of water. Simmer for 30 minutes and then cover and remove from heat. The smell of the cinnamon and nutmeg mixing with the onions and meat makes your whole house smell amazing! It is very difficult to not eat the sauce without waiting for the dish to be finished.


2. Next make the bechamel. Melt the butter over medium heat until it bubbles, and then add the flour and baking powder. Cook, stirring with a whisk, for about a minute. If it's lumpy at this stage, not to worry. When you whisk in the milk in the next step it'll smooth out nicely.


While still whisking, add the milk slowly. Whisk constantly until the sauce bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat, stir in the cheese and spices, and set aside, covered.



3. Now, preheat your oven to 375ยบ and assemble your dish. Grease your baking dish (9-by-13 works well) with the butter or spray. Cook your pasta, if you haven't already done so - don't cook it as long as you would if you were eating it right away - very al dente is best. Drain the noodles and add them to the meat sauce; stir to combine. Pour the meat and pasta into the baking dish.


Then spread the Bechamel over top. Sprinkle with a bit more parmesan, if you have it, and bake until the top is golden, about 30-40 minutes. Let the dish settle for 10 minutes before you serve it.


Even my very picky nephews asked for seconds!


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