I am having an obsession over a very hearty dish that I bring to you today, all the way from Athens, Greece.
“Pastitsio” or “Pastichio” is a greek style baked pasta usually prepared for a big family gathering. I cannot find the proper words to describe this dish so let me put it very simply… It is a lot of meat, a lot of cheese & a lot of pasta put together to create a jovial combination of a dish. I was fortunate to have been invited by a friend, Ionna in Athens – whom I got the pleasure to learn from and to cook with. And I must say the dish is a champion with kids and adults alike. Give it a try!!!!! I insist.
To make it less complicated I have separated the recipe into 3 parts. First we prepare the meat sauce, then the béchamel sauce and then finally the assembly & baking. Let’s begin.
Ingredients:- (serves 6)
For the meat sauce
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 2 white onions (finely chopped)
• 6 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
• 6 large juicy tomatoes (pureed)
• 500gms ground chicken (or beef/lamb/pork)
• 2 tbsp cinnamon powder
• 2 tbsp dried oregano
• ½ tsp sugar
• 1 tbsp salt
• Black pepper (adjust accordingly)
– Pasta (Use any tubular pasta. I used penne)
Recipe for the meat sauce:-
- Heat the oil in a saucepan. Fry the garlic and onion till transparent.
2. Followed by chicken (or other ground meat that you prepared). Let this cook through on high.
3. Add the cinnamon powder, oregano, sugar, salt & black pepper to taste, and stir together.
- Pour in the tomato puree and simmer for 30-40minutes.
5. Meanwhile cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water for about 10 minutes until al dante, i.e. just tender but still firm to bite. (Don’t worry about giving this to younger children as you will be baking it in the oven for almost an hour and it will be a lot softer). Drain pasta and set aside.
For the Béchamel sauce
• 2 cups full fat milk
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 100gms unsalted butter
• ½ cup all-purpose flour (diluted in ½ cup water)
• 3 eggs
• 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• ½ cup mozzarella (optional)
• pinch of salt & black pepper
- In a medium saucepan heat milk & cream together until its warm (do not bring to a boil). Set aside.
- In another pan, on low heat, melt butter and add diluted flour. Whisk continuously to form a thick batter for about 2-3minutes.
- Pour the warm milk & cream a little at a time, whisking vigorously.
- Once the batter is thick & smooth (without lumps) turn off heat and pour in the beaten eggs (also little by little) as you continue to whisk.
- Add salt, pepper and ¾ parmesan that you prepared.
- Preheat the oven to 175°c / 350° F.
- Mix a bit of the sauce with the pasta and spread the pasta in the bottom of a large shallow baking dish.
- Then spread a thick layer of the meat sauce.
- Top it with another thick layer of the béchamel prepared.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheeses evenly on the surface.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown & bubbling. Allow to stand for 10minutes before serving. If you like, garnish each serving with parsley.