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!
One year ago: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip
Two years ago: Compost Cookies
Five years ago: Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Six years ago: Egg Bagels
For the Meat Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, grated
- 1 pound (453.59 g) ground beef
- 1 pound (453.59 g) ground lamb
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 15 ounce (425.24 g) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ⅓ cup (20 g) minced fresh parsley
- 1½ teaspoons (1.5 teaspoons) salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) granulated sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
For the Pasta:
- 1 pound (453.59 g) ziti pasta
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1 cup (100 g) Parmesan or Romano cheese
For the White Sauce:
- ½ cup (113.5 g) unsalted butter
- ½ cup (62.5 g) all-purpose flour
- 4 cups (976 ml) whole milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon (0.25 teaspoon) ground nutmeg
- 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- ¾ cup (75 g) Parmesan or Romano cheese
To Assemble the Pasta:
- 2 tablespoons + ¼ cup plain breadcrumbs, divided
- ¼ cup (25 g) Parmesan or Romano cheese
- Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish; set aside.
- 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.
Did you make this recipe?
Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!
I am making this tomorrow night for a little dinner party. I noticed you said it could be made
day before. Do you completely make ahead? (Top with Bechamel. Can you bake ahead and reheat day of. If so, recommended directions for reheating.
Thank you SO much!
Delish!! Don’t let the list of ingredients or the multiple steps scare you. Easy peasy and soooo worth it.
I made this recipe for dinner last night. I substituted the lamb with mild Italian sausage and it was fantastic. My step mother is Italian and wanted the recipe! She said it was good enough to be “gourmet Italian”. I will be making this often as everyone loved it!
Loved this recipe. I used 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon rather than stick and increasef sauce by 1 cup we love sauce, I mIade two smaller dishes freezing one to deliver to my son in college.
We made this for dinner tonight and it was very tasty! Will definitely make it again, but will make additional tomato sauce – no meat – to spread on the bottom of the pan and pour over the top. A favorite Greek restaurant serves pastichio with a side of peas and pours extra sauce tomato over the whole serving. Delicious!
This is fabulous! I made it today and the family loved it.
This looks delicious! Awesome recipe!
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Michelle, I have had Pastitsio at a few Greek food festivals around the area, and although I like the major premise of it, I have found the majority of them have been a little too dry for my tastes in comparison with lasagna. However, your recipe both sounds and looks delicious, so I’d like to give this a try, but since I am not a lover of lamb, I would probably substitute either more ground beef or else, ground pork as another poster here said she did.
After reading this recipe yesterday, I went straight to the grocery store and then made it last night. It was amazing! I substituted ground pork for the lamb and used my homemade roasted tomato sauce. I also had to use a lasagna pan. I will be making this one again, but I think I will make 2 pans at once – 1 to freeze and 1 to eat. Thanks for sharing the great recipe!
Oh man, bechamel sauce? Granted I’ve not had many before but never seen it with bechamel! I mst have this
I’ve never had Pastitsio before. I was describing it to him from your post and he said to be sure to print it out. The printer’s off right now, so pinning.
THis dish looks amazing. I have often watned to try making it…I love lamb…but it looked complicated. Your recipe makes it look easier than I imagined. I just have to figure out how to scale it down to a smaller size but I think that looks fairly manageable.
On another note, I happend upon a website earlier today and thought of you. The site …Classy Crochet…had some adorable crochet children’s hats. I am a knitter but a cople of the hats are tempting me to take out my crochet hooks. The link is https://classycrochet.wordpress.com
Hi Nancy, Thanks so much for sharing that site!
I am 100% Greek and just like many nationalities there are so many different ways to the same dish. My YiaYias would freak out over meat sauce or breadcrumbs in pastitsio! We do use meat in it but it sauce. And the Greek cheeses are a must, specifically mizithra and kefalotiri (though it’s understandable these can’t be found everywhere). Pastitsio is actually one of the simplest Greek dishes one can make and doesn’t need all kinds of extra seasonings and such. Still, it just makes me happy to see people enjoying Greek food! :)
This looks fantastic! I live in a very rural area and none of my little county grocery stores have lamb…;) Is there a good substitution or should I just double the beef?
Hi Amy, You can just double the beef!
This recipe is somewhat similar to Ina’s. I make hers all the time, family and friend favorite! There are a few steps but so worth it. Absolutely delicious!
I made this dish during my first year of marriage, 20+ years ago. I was always trying new recipes and decided to give this dish (from a different cookbook) a try. That dish has gone down as the worst thing I have EVER made lol. It’s our little joke that we still bring up from time to time. I’m not really sure if I did something wrong while preparing it, but I do know for me personally, the cinnamon flavor really through me off. Also, if I recall correctly, the recipe I used did not have a bechamel layer, rather it had a layer that seemed more custardy in texture and had egg in it. This recipe sounds good (although I’m still nervous about the cinnamon), do I dare give it a try lol?
Hi Christy, I haven’t made this recipe, but have made Ina Garten’s which calls for a tablespoon of ground cinnamon. I was hesitant too but it works!
I always stumble with side dishes. Any suggestions? Regular salad seems blah. Thanks!
Hi Kristin, We had it with a simple tossed salad and some garlic bread. It’s a really rich and hearty dish so you don’t need much!
I just made this dish tonight for my neighbor who is moving to another state next week. I served the Pastitsio, a Greek salad (Romaine, Feta, Greek Olives, cucumber with homemade Apple Cider/extra virgin olive oil, s&p and oregeno), dinner rolls and red wine.
Out of curiosity, what percentage of ground beef should I use? Do I need to drain the meat? This sounds so good, I will be making it this weekend!
Hi Nicole, I used 85% and did not drain the meat.
could I ask what the Greek cheeses were they recommended were? I have availability of ethic cheeses. Thanks
If u click the cookbook name, Elly says opa in Michelle’s text, the recipe comes up with cheese names. Unfortunately, the other cookbook doesn’t show recipe.
Haven’t made this in years and don’t know why. I actually love it even more than Lasagna! Is going on the list of very soon items! Thanks for reminding me
My family aren’t fans of lamb — could you sub all ground beef or another ground meat for the lamb? Also, not sure where I read about it but I just recently made your Ho Ho Cake and IT WAS AMAZING. I try not to use packaged mixes so I looked up a recipe online for a homemade chocolate cake mix and used that and was SO happy. I bake for the staff at our office on their birthdays and when I brought this in on Wednesday one of them already said this was going to be their birthday request. Thanks for your great recipes. PS Keep the cute boy and dog photos coming — adorable.
Hi Nicole, Yes, you could definitely use all ground beef. Oh and I’m so glad you loved the Ho Ho Cake… one of my all time favorites!!
Do you know how this freezes? Would love to make this, but it’s just the Hubby and I – as much as I love pasta I don’t think we can eat it all :)
Hi Kat, I haven’t tried freezing it, but I think it should work okay.
This sounds delicious and I know I’ll be making this soon. Does this freeze well? I’m wondering if I make extra can I freeze it for later.
Hi Kathleen, I have not tried freezing this, but I think it should do okay. If you do freeze it, let me know how it goes for you!
Wow Michelle, this looks delicious :) My husband adores Pastitsio – it’s his very favorite Greek dish! He would love it if I surprised him with this recipe! So yum!
We Italians don’t have to stick to just Italian food to appreciate a great dish. We just want it to taste great!! This looks fantastic. When we first came to this country the food we could only purchase ingredients that were basically foreign to use. Our taste adjusted and as time went on we were able to find more of the ingredients that we were familiar with. Mamma and papà would have loved this recipe. I’ll certainly be making it. Thank you for the inspiration. Buona Giornata!!
Hi, just a small note..🇨🇾🇨🇾🇨🇾
In Cyprus a similar dish is called
“macaroni of the oven”Greek: μακαρόνια του φούρνου, makarónia tou foúrnou.
It has been made here for centuries, my grandmother made her own pasta and different types of macaroni by hand, using durum wheat artisan village flour.. no eggs though just a little olive oil.
It is an essential dish during weddings and celebrations such as Easter, also a much loved dish where it is served along with spit roasted lamb
Recipes vary, but usually the 🇨🇾meat sauce in the middle is made of pork, tomatoes are only sometimes used,personally in our family’s tradition ,we don’t add tomatoes, as it is flavored with mint (dried as well as freshly chopped) ,cinnamon and parsley which are the stars, and is totally different from the mainland Greek recipe which uses beef mince and tomatoes..
I think the Cypriot Pastitio is unique , totally different.
The top is sprinkled with grated Cypriot halloumi or anari cheese, ( similar to ricotta salata) which is added also to the white sauce-bechamel.. here also there is a difference to the normal bechamel sauce.. to which we add eggs and a little cinnamon,making a sturdier cream sauce that stands proud when cut.. 👌
This looks delicious. Will definitely give this a try :)
How do you organize all of your recipes? Do you have them in binders, and divided by categories? If so, how do you have them categorized. I need to figure out a way to organize all of my recipes. Thank you so much!! :-)
I personally have a slew of binders that I got on sale at Office Depot, but the bulk I save in folders in my PC
Hi Rach, I have a number of binders – desserts/main dishes/apps/side dishes. I would like to keep a spreadsheet of a list of recipes from cookbooks that I want to try, but I haven’t done that yet!
I looks great. I have to try it out :)
This looks fabulous! Baked pastas are always a family favorite in my house and this one looks like a major crown pleaser! I also love that it can be made ahead. So yum!