A classic pastitsio recipe – layers of ziti pasta with a beef and lamb sauce, bechamel and loads of cheese!
Since we started hosting Sunday dinners at our house, the menu has been quite varied – some weeks we go the traditional Italian route (i.e. pasta/meat/potatoes/salad), one week I had a taco bar, we’ve had cookouts, BBQ ribs, this past weekend was chili… Some weeks I plan the menu around something I might be particularly hungry for, and other weeks I scour my saved recipes to see if something jumps out at me. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing just that when I saw a saved recipe for pastitsio – a Greek version of baked pasta with layers of ziti, a thick meat sauce, bechamel sauce, and loads of cheese. It jumped out at me so I immediately put it on the menu for Sunday, and it was an enormous hit.
I got my first taste of authentic Greek food when my husband (then-boyfriend) was living outside of DC; there was a fantastic Greek restaurant within walking distance of his apartment. I fell in love with Greek food with my first bite of moussaka, which I loved, and I have always wanted to try pastitsio.
This recipe is a mashup of recipes from Elly Says Opa and Vefa’s Kitchen cookbook; both recipes called for traditional Greek cheeses, but they were not available at my local grocery store, so I used their recommended substitution of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. I assembled this entire dish except for the cheese and breadcrumb topping the day before serving it, then simply topped it and baked it before dinner on Sunday.
To say that everyone loved the pastitsio would be a huge understatement; layers of pasta, meat sauce, bechamel and cheeeeeese! I highly encourage you to make this the first chance you get!
Make the Meat Sauce: In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until softened and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the beef and lamb, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, breaking up the meat, until it is thoroughly browned. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar, cinnamon stick and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the mixture is a thick meat reduction, about 1 hour, then remove from the heat and discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaves.
Make the Pasta: While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the ziti to al dente. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot and immediately toss with the melted butter; set aside to cool slightly.
Make the White Sauce: In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until slightly browned, about 1 minute. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Continue cooking and whisking until the sauce is thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper and nutmeg and set aside to cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Assemble the Pastitsio: Sprinkle the bottom of the greased baking dish with 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs.
Stir the beaten egg and cheese into the pasta and spread half of the pasta mixture onto the bottom of the baking dish. Fold the egg white into the meat sauce and spread the entire mixture on top of the pasta. Top with the remaining pasta. Whisk the egg yolks and cheese into the white sauce and spread on top of the pasta. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining ¼ cup breadcrumbs and cheese and sprinkle on top of the white sauce.
Bake until the surface of the pastitsio is browned and bubbling, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Leftovers should be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.