Pastitsio in four words. Like. Lasagne. But. Better.Pastitsio. What can I say about Pastitsio? I guess I can start by saying it is a traditional Greek dish and one of my favourite foods of all time. Maybe I could tell you that every time my mum and/or yaya have guests, they ALWAYS make Pastitsio as one of the meals. Although the question should be 'what don't they make?' seeing as they always make FIVE times as much food as required for the number of people they're feeding! Guess who has to eat left-overs for a week after? But that's a whole different post. It's interesting that they say you turn into your parents, because I find that Pastitsio is my go-to meal for dinner parties for the simple reason that EVERYBODY LOVES IT! No matter where they're from, everybody thinks this is yummy!
I must point out here that my recipe probably isn't as traditional as say, if you had it in a small family owned restaurant in Greece, as I like my mince slightly spicier and full of flavour but it's pretty damn good all the same (even if I do say so myself).
My lovely friend Anna (I need to refer to her like that or she might stop getting me books ;p) got me a Greek cook book for Christmas which is great as I have a few recipes passed down from my yaya but there are so many more Greek foods that I love and haven't got a clue how to make. It's called My Greek Family Table by Maria Benardis. I got the wonderful tip of mixing egg whites into the pasta so that it doesn't fall apart when served from this wonderful book!
Without further ado, here is my Pastitsio recipe :)
750g penne pasta
2 egg whites
For the mince meat sauce
500g lean minced beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 chicken/beef stock cubes
Herbs and spices (including but not limited to) 1 tsp curry powder, 1 tsp dried chili flakes, 2 tsps oregano, 2 tsps freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp ginger
salt, to taste
For the bechamel sauce
10 tablespoons plain flour
800ml whole milk
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
salt, to taste
1 - Put olive oil, mince, onions and garlic into a non-stick frying pan or wok over a medium/high heat.
Cook until onions have softened and mince has browned. Continue to cook, stirring regularly until mince has produced some of it's own juices and those juices are absorbed.
2 - Pour in the tin of tomatoes and reduce heat till mince is simmering.
Crumble in the stock cubes, add in the herbs and spices and stir.
3 - Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Taste and add more salt or spice according to your taste.
4 - Cook pasta in salted, boiling water according to manufacturer's instructions. I suggest cooking for one minute less than is recommended as it will cook further in the oven.
5 - While pasta is boiling, whisk egg whites until foamy
6 - When pasta is cooked and drained, transfer back to the pot and stir in the egg whites.
7 - Once egg whites are stirred in, drain again in case there is excess liquid from the egg whites.
8 - Transfer half the pasta into your baking dish or tray (approx 35 x 22cm), making sure it is spread in the baking tray in one even layer
9 - Layer the mince meat sauce over the pasta in an even layer covering all of the pasta and right up to the edges of the dish
10 - Layer the rest of the pasta over the mince meat sauce, again in an even layer. Place to one side while you make the bechamel
11 - Melt the butter in a saucepan over a very moderate heat. When melted, take it off the heat, add in the 10 tablespoons of flour and using a whisk, mix in until well combined. The French call this the 'roux'.
12 - Put saucepan back on the burner and start to add the milk a little bit at a time. It's difficult to say exactly how much to add each time but using time, I'd say pour for 2 seconds.
13 - Whisk after each addition of milk till sauce thickens slightly, then add more milk. (Making bechamel can be slightly tedious as it requires you to whisk constantly over a low heat, making sure you're reaching the edges of your saucepan. Dont' panic if you end up with a lumpy bechamel, just stick it in the blender till smooth)
14 - After you've added the last of your milk, continue to whisk over the heat till sauce is thick enough that when you pour it over the pasta, it remains in a layer over the top rather than running through to the bottom of your dish.
17 - Take it off the heat and add the pepper and salt - it should be quite tasty :)
18 - Whisk in your two eggs into your bechamel until thoroughly combined.
Pour over the top layer of pasta making sure you get it right up to the edges and using a spatula to level it out.
19 - Place in a preheated oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 35 - 45 minutes or until the top is browned
Cut into squares and serve with a Greek salad; recipe coming your way next post.