My father grew up with several Greek neighbors. He used to say, “I learned all the food words and all the curse words. Turns out that’s all you need!”
I love Greek food. Every year I eagerly anticipate the Greek Food Festival at Holy Mother of God church here in Tallahassee, and I’ve been expanding my repertoire of Greek recipes.
This weekend I made pastitsio, which is a layered pasta/meat/cheese dish similar to lasagna. I scouted a few recipes on Pinterest, and decided to use this one from Chicho’s Kitchen as my starting point. I altered it significantly, based on a few of my personal kitchen rules.
Like Rule 1: I’m not buying a whole bunch of celery to use one stalk. No, ma’am.
And Rule 2: If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. (This rule applies to wine and not, say, clam juice.)
And Rule 3: Authenticity is awesome, but if I can’t find it at Publix in Tallahassee, I’m probably going to use a substitute.
And Rule 4: All metric measurements will be converted and rounded without remorse.
So here we go.
Think of this as a play in three acts: The Meat Sauce, the Pasta, and the White Sauce.
Act 1: Meat Sauce.
Brown a chopped onion and some garlic until they get all sweaty and happy:
Then add two pounds of ground beef and brown it. I used 93/7 lean.
Next, add the rest of the sauce ingredients and let it simmer for 30-40 minutes. That’s your meat sauce.
I didn’t have cloves, so I used allspice. And next time I’ll either use petite diced tomatoes or tomato puree.
All that simmering left me….. thirsty. See Rule #2:
Anyway, here’s my sauce after 40 minutes of simmering:
If I had sufficient rangetop space, I could have proceeded with the pasta and white sauce while the meat sauce was simmering. However, since this recipe used my three largest pots/pans, there was not enough room to do that. The meat sauce pot hung out on a cutting board until time for assembly.
Act 2: Make the Pasta
You can make the pasta while you’re making your meat sauce, or you can make it while you’re making the white sauce. Pasta – it’s flexible.
Boil one pound of pasta, cutting 3 minutes off the recommended cook time. I used Ditalini, because it’s short and tubular and adorable.
Drain, and throw the pasta in a large bowl.
Act 3: White Sauce
While the pasta is boiling, start your bechamel (white) sauce. Have ready: 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup flour, and 4 cups milk. Melt the butter in a large pan, then whisk in the flour. Keep whisking for one minute, until all flour lumps are gone and the mixture is smooth. Don’t stop whisking yet! Whisk in the milk, in a slow stream, until it’s combined with the flour/butter. Turn the heat up a little bit, until the mixture boils, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, whisking slowly but constantly. Season the white sauce with nutmeg, salt and pepper, and turn the heat to low.
Now it’s time to assemble.
Turn your oven on 350 degrees F.
Grab your bowl of pasta. Add about a cup of the white sauce, 2 beaten eggs, and half the Parmesan cheese. Mix mix mix.
You should have in front of you: one big pot of meat sauce, one bowl of saucy pasta, one pan of white sauce.
Go ahead and grease a 9×13 casserole.
Take a deep breath.
Aaaaand here we go. From the bottom:
Layer 1: One third of the pasta
Layer 2: One half the meat sauce
Layer 3: One third of the pasta
Layer 4: One half the meat sauce
Layer 5: One third of the pasta
Layer 6: Bechamel sauce
Layer 7: Breadcrumbs & Parmesan
Step back and admire your work……
…….then put that bad boy in the oven for 30-45 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.
Adapted from Chicho’s Kitchen
2 TB olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. lean ground beef (I used 93/7)
1 cup red wine
14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes, or tomato puree
1 TB tomato paste
1 4-in. piece cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp. ground cloves OR allspice
1 TB + 1 tsp. dried oregano
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup water or chicken broth
1.5 tsp salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add the onion and garlic and saute until just beginning to brown. Add the ground beef and brown, breaking up lumps. Add remaining sauce ingredients and simmer 30-40 minutes. Remove cinnamon and bay leaves.
1 lb. tubular pasta, such as ditalini, rigatoni, or small penne
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, finely grated (or Greek kefalotiri cheese, if you can find it)
Cook pasta in boiling salted water, taking 3 minutes off the recommended cooking time. Drain and cool slightly, adding eggs, cheese, and 1 cup white sauce at assembly time.
1/2 cup (4 oz) butter
1/2 cup flour
4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Melt butter over medium heat in a large pan. Whisk in flour, stirring about 1 minute until all lumps are gone, then slowly whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Mentally divide the pasta into three portions, and the meat sauce into 2 portions. Layer as follows (starting at the bottom): pasta, meat sauce, pasta, meat sauce, pasta, white sauce, breadcrumbs/Parmesan.
Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Let rest 15 minutes, then serve. This would be a good opportunity to use the rest of that wine. Just saying.