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Pastitsio

I followed the Pastitsio recipe by Evelyn/athens on RZ almost exactly, so I could compare it to my family’s recipe and my additions to my family’s recipe. Here are my impressions:

Pasta: The original recipe doesn’t have milk in the pasta mixture, just eggs and a lot of cheese. Because of this, the coating of the pasta is a lot thicker. The new recipe’s pasta mixture is really wet, and the milk got absorbed into the pasta while baking. I missed the coating but I did like the new way. Maybe I could use a little more egg and a little less milk sometime. I liked using both parmesan and pecorino romano, but the romano was shredded too finely. I prefer the more coarsely grated stuff or grating it by hand, like I did with the parmesan.

Meat sauce: I hate to admit it, but I prefer my pastitsio without cinnamon. Today’s wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t put cinnamon in it again. I liked the addition of garlic and oregano to the meat mixture. I might even add more next time. The combo of beef and pork was good too, but maybe not necessary. I don’t know if I tasted the bay leaf or not. I liked using canned diced tomatoes, but I think a little bit of tomato paste is needed to round out the flavor. I would use red wine again instead of white, and maybe use  a little more. I wouldn’t add any after I start simmering though. I did that last time I made pastitsio and the wine flavor was just a little too strong.  I let the meat sauce simmer for 45 minutes, cooked it uncovered for a few minutes, then let it cool while making the pasta.

Bechemal: This was a winner! Much less time consuming than the original sauce, and really flavorful. By accident, the melted butter started to brown, but there’s nothing wrong with that! It took maybe ten minutes for the sauce to thicken.

Each layer had a layer of cheese, but I think I would prefer to just mix more cheese in with the pasta. The cheese on top is a must though! I baked my 1/2 of the recipe in a big casserole dish for 55 minutes, then let it sit for 20 before eating. I’m excited to try the leftovers tomorrow.

After 2+ days of leftovers, the cinnamon in the beef started to grow on me. But…I still don’t think I’ll put it in next time. I tried the pastitsio once cold, and once heated in the microwave. Both yummy, but the pasta gets way too soft in the microwave. I still think the meat sauce needs a little more tomato flavor, and the pasta needs a little more cheesiness and chewiness.

Here’s the recipe…finally! I halved it.

Pastitsio (evelyn/athens on RZ)

Ingredients

MEAT SAUCE

  • enough olive oil, to just coat the bottom of a large pot
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 lbs lean ground meat (I often use a combo of beef and pork, lamb would be good too, but go heavier on the beef)
  • 2 (16 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with juice (concasse)
  • 1/3 cup chopped pitted kalamata olive (optional – left out)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in two (I used 1/2 tsp)

PASTA

  • 1 lb penne or rigatoni pasta
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup grated kefalotiri or romano cheese or parmesan cheese (I used a mix of fresh grated parmesan and finely grated romano)

BECHAMEL SAUCE

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 lb grated kefalotiri or romano cheese or parmesan cheese, divided

Directions

  1. For the meat sauce, put some olive oil in a large pot; saute onion until lightly browned; add garlic; add meat and cook until brown, crumbling with a fork; add remaining meat sauce ingredients to skillet; mix well; cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until quite thick; let mixture cool; remove and discard cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
  2. Prepare pasta by boiling until al dente in plenty of boiling, salted water; drain and place pasta in a large bowl; add butter, milk, eggs and 1/2 cup cheese; gently stir to coat; set aside.
  3. To prepare bechamel sauce, melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan; stir in flour until smooth, cook, whisking for 2 minutes; gradually add milk, stirring, until thickened; lower heat; add salt, pepper and nutmeg; remove from heat.
  4. In medium-sized bowl, beat 3 eggs; slowly add hot cream sauce to eggs; stir thoroughly so eggs don’t curdle.
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F and butter or oil (with olive oil) a large baking pan (my pan is about 18″ x 10″).
  6. Empty 1/2 of the penne mixture over bottom of pan; cover evenly with all of meat sauce; sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over meat sauce; add remaining penne mixture, spreading evenly; sprinkle another 1/3 of the cheese over top; pour bechamel sauce evenly over entire casserole; top with remaining cheese.
  7. Bake until bechamel sauce sets and has golden-brown patches across top, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour; cool at least 20 minutes before cutting into pieces for serving.
  8. Freezer Notes: Once the baked pastitsio has completely cooked, cut serving-size pieces, double-wrap in foil and freeze. Defrost in the usual manner and reheat in microwave (or oven) for a delicious, quick meal, when there’s little time to cook and dinner is ready and waiting in the freezer!
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