Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pastitsio = Greek Pasticcio

Staying with the Greek theme from last entry, I forged ahead with what Saveur magazine called "Greek Lasagna" or Pastitsio. I've had this dish at my favorite Greek restaurant in NJ, Pithari Taverna, but it must have been from someone else's plate because I always get Ola Mazi, a medley of vegetarian dishes. Pastitsio is less like lasagna and more like what my Italian relatives refer to as pasticcio. In my experience, the difference between lasagna and pasticcio is ricotta vs. bechamel. Personally, I'm not fond of ricotta cheese and never make lasagna this way, so I opt to prepare pasticcio when the mood strikes for a warm, baked pasta dish. This Greek version includes different vegetables and spices such as green pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. It's not sweet, but it is less tangy than a pasticcio that includes garlic and basil or parsley.

Meat Sauce:
1/3 cup evoo
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded & minced
2 medium yellow onions, minced
1 lb ground beef, veal or pork
3 oz dry cured chorizo, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes
2 bay leaves
1 2" cinnamon stick
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Bechamel and Pasta:
8 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup flour
4 cups milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 eggs, separated
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 lb No 2 Greek macaroni, bucatini or elbow
2 Tbsp evoo

  1. Make the meat sauce: Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium high heat. Add peppers and onions and cook, stirring often until soft, 8-10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onion mixture to a plate and set aside. Add ground meat and chorizo to skillet and cook, breaking meat up into tiny pieces, until browned, 6-8 minutes. Add reserved onion mixture along with tomatoes, wine, chili flakes, bay leaves and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat, discard bay leaves and cinnamon, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Let cool.
  2. Make the bechamel: Heat butter in a 4 qt saucepan over medium high heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until slightly toasted, 1-2 minutes. Add milk; cook, whisking often until sauce coats the back of a spoon, 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, add 3/4 cup cheese and egg yolks; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until smooth; set aside.
  3. Heat oven to 350. Bring a large pot of salted water to  boil; add pasta and cook halfway through, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk egg whites in a large bowl until frothy. Stir in remaining cheese; drain pasta in a colander and then toss with egg white-cheese mixture to coat evenly. Set aside
  4. Grease a deep 9"x13" baking dish with olive oil. Place half the pasta mixture on bottom of dish and cover evenly with  meat sauce. Top with remaining pasta mixture. Pour bechamel over pasta, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 1 hour. Transfer to wire rack; cool 20 minutes before serving.
I omitted the chorizo and used elbow macaroni since the grocery store didn't have bucatini. I could have gone next door to Pithari Taverna where they have a little shop of Greek goods and probably picked up No 2 macaroni, but I was hungry! It's a warm tasting dish with the cinnamon and nutmeg--not my husband's favorite combination but we enjoyed it together one night and I had leftovers for lunch the rest of the week. No pictures of the bechamel because it comes together so quickly and requires constant attention. I divided the dish into 3 pans--two went in the freezer after cooling and refrigeration overnight. It'll be a nice for a low-effort evening!

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