Greek Recipes with May Lerios: Pastitsio

Pastitsio is the Greek form of the Italian word pasticcio, which means hodgepodge (among other things). The Greek variant is definitely simpler, and less hodgepodge-y than its Italian counterpart.

For 8 people

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The Meat Sauce

Place in a pot

Mix together, and cook over hi heat, while stirring continuously until none of the meat is red. Keeping the pot on the stove, add

Keep the heat hi while stirring, until the tomato juice starts to boil. Then, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 45 minutes.

The Pasta

In the meantime, fill up a pot with 8 cups water, and bring it to a boil over hi heat. Add

The Misko brand of pasta is not easy to find; you'll have to look at groceries that import Mediterranean food, and you'll still have to be pretty lucky to find this Greek brand. This pasta is long and straight (like spaghetti), but tubular (like macaroni), and fairly thick, which allows excellent absorption of the meat sauce in the final dish. Reasonable alternatives are

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Misko macaroni pastitsio No. 2 pasta.

Stir often to make sure the pasta doesn't stick (to the pot or to itself). The pasta should be ready (al-dente, not fully cooked) in 15 minutes, at which point you should remove the pot from the heat. You may drain the pasta and set it aside, but then it will get sticky. So, instead, replace the hot water with some cold water in the pot and set aside; then drain right before putting together the dish.

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The pasta is ready.

The Cream Sauce

Beat and set aside

Grate and set aside in a bowl

In yet another pot, melt over medium heat

When melted, add

Mix very thoroughly with a spatula (to scrape the bottom of the pot), until the mixture is smooth. Keep mixing until the sauce starts to boil (and thicken): it is very important to keep stirring and scraping the bottom with the spatula, or the sauce at the bottom of the pot will burn. When the sauce boils, turn off the heat, and mix in 1 cup of the cheese mixture until it melts inside the sauce.

Now mix in the beaten eggs as well. Do not dump the eggs into the pot and then mix: if you do so, the eggs will float on top of the thick sauce, and they'll turn into omelette when they contact the hot sides of the pot and the sauce's surface. Instead, pour in the eggs in three equal doses and mix until fully absorbed before the next dosage. That's it! This creamy sauce is called Bechamel (Béchameil), and it's a common element of many recipes as pasta sauce, gravy, etc.

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Bechamel sauce

The dish

Set out a baking pan (I recommend a 14x10x2 in3 pan) greased with

Place into the pan layers of the items you prepared earlier, as follows:

  1. half the drained pasta (spread out evenly),
  2. 1 cup of the grated cheese mixture (sprinkled),
  3. the meat sauce; do not strain the sauce: pour the juice into the pot, because it's that juice that will cook the pasta all the way through while baking;

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    The dish at this stage

  4. the remaining half of the pasta,
  5. the cream sauce,
  6. the last cup of the grated cheese mixture (sprinkled).

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    The dish ready for the oven
Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) for about 1 hour, or until the sprinkled cheese and cream sauce turns golden brown. Set aside for 4 hours. Place in fridge for 12 hours. Reheat in microwave, and serve hot.

It is also possible to eat the dish 1 hour after removing from oven, but it may be somewhat watery and crumbly.

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