I love a good casserole - layers of tasty goodness coming together to make a meal that fills the stomach and soothes the soul. Now, Pastitsio isn't like any of the quick weeknight meals I enjoyed as a child - it doesn't contain any condensed soups, dip mixes, or canned fried onions (yum), and it's definitely not quick. Pastitsio is a slow, messy labor of love that may leave a little sweat on your brow, but will also leave your family clamoring for more.
500 g Pastitsio noodles
2 lbs ground lamb
1 small onion, small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cinnamon sticks
4 cups crushed tomatoes
Half a bottle of red wine
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
For the cream sauce:
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
2 cups mizithra or Parmesan cheese, finely grated
We start our Greek odyssey with a rich, meaty lamb sauce.
Begin the sauce by browning the lamb in a large skillet.
When cooked through, add onion and sauté until softened and translucent.
Add garlic and cinnamon sticks and sauté for about a minute or until fragrant.
Add crushed tomatoes, red wine and dried oregano. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook until very thick an the sauce holds its shape in the pan, about 30-40 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering, cook the Pastitsio noodles in large pot of salted water until al dente. I use Misko brand noodles from our local produce market, and they can also be found on Amazon. Alternatively, you could use penne or bucatini pasta.
Next, start your creamy bechamel.
Melt the butter in a large sauce pan or saucier. I like a saucier because the rounded corners make for much more even cooking of delicate sauces.
Add flour and cook for about 2 minutes.
Slowly add milk while whisking constantly. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
Remove bechamel from the heat and used a ladle to slowly add it to the eggs while whisking constantly.
Add cheese and whisk to combine.
Time for assembly!
Place half the noodles the bottom of a large casserole dish and add a few ladles of the cream sauce to coat.
Spread the lamb sauce into an even layer on top of the noodles.
Top with the rest of the pasta and the remaining cream sauce.
Finish with a healthy dose of grated cheese.
Cover with foil and bake at 350F for 60-70 minutes, removing foil halfway through to brown the top.
Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving (so hard!) so that the cream sauce will set and allow for nice, tidy pieces to be cut.
This recipes makes a huge amount of food, enough for a big Greek family, but if freezes exceptionally well. Want to plan a full Greek feast? The Choppinig Block offers Greek cooking classes occasionally so keep an eye on our calendar. In the meantime, check out my blog on Spanakopita or Stephanie's on Avgolemono Soup.