Saturday, March 26, 2011


I was in was in the mood for lasagna today and I didn't have any lasagna noodles - my favorite are the Barilla No Boil kind. So I decided to make the next closest thing with a Greek twist - Pastitsio because I did have macaroni. True Lasagna in the Bolognese style is made with a Bechamel Sauce not Ricotta and so is Pastitsio. The biggest difference is in the seasonings used in the sauce - the thyme and bay leaf for Bolognese Sauce is still present, but there is the addition of some cinnamon and allspice for Pastitsio. Very often the meat is different too with the Italians using beef and the Greeks using lamb, but I had ground beef in the freezer. What's great about Pastitsio is that it has that same creamy goodness as lasagna and it is a lot less work. Some restaurants I have been to that serve this dish layer the cooked macaroni (or ziti) in the pan first, then put on the meat sauce and then the Bechamel sauce. I like to mix the sauce in and then top it with the Bechamel. And don't be scared of making a Bechamel Sauce - it is the same base as if you were making gravy or macaroni and cheese - it is simply butter, flour and milk with some salt and a hint of fresh grated nutmeg. I also like to add in some vegetables like carrots and zucchini to enhance the nutritional profile of the sauce. The only cheese is used on top and I used Parmesan although it is more authentic to use the Greek Kefalotryi cheese. In any case, this dish is really easy to make and yet looks very impressive. It can be made ahead and baked when you need to serve it or it can be baked ahead and reheated.


For Meat Sauce:

1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion chopped
1 large carrot chopped fine
1 zucchini, cut in quarters, seeds removed and cut into a small dice
1 garlic clove minced
2 14 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 cup of white wine
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Heat olive oil in a large pot and add in onions and garlic. Cook for a few moments until you smell the garic fragrance and add in carrots and zucchini. Then cook until the onions become translucent. Add in white wine and bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Add in tomatoes and spices and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1/2 hour. Meanwhile, make the Bechamel Sauce.

For Bechamel Sauce:

4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon (or more) salt
1 bay leaf
Sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg - about 1/8 teaspoon

In a large frying pan, heat butter until melted. Add flour and combine until it forms a thick paste. Cook until it becomes a bit golden and then add in the milk, salt and bay leaf. Stir with a whisk until thickened. Remove bay leaf and taste for salt adding more if necessary. Take off the heat and add nutmeg. Put aside while macaroni is being cooked.

To Make Pastitsio Casserole:

500 gram package of macaroni (or ziti)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook macaroni according to directions -usually for about 10-12 minutes in boiling, salted water. Drain and pour back into empty pot. Add in pasta sauce and stir to combine. Pour into a buttered lasagna pan (or you can use a 7x11 inch baking pan with at least 2" sides) and pat down with a spoon. Pour Bechamel sauce carefully over the top and then use the back of a spoon to smooth it over the pasta covering it fully. Sprinkle on Parmesan cheese. Put into a hot 350 degree oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is browned and bubbling. Cool for about 10 - 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Five Element Analysis

Casseroles by their very nature are very Earthy and also tend to be rather balanced as they combine proteins, vegetables and carbohydrates in one dish. Pastitsio is given more Earth Element from the beef, the carrots and the zucchini. The Fire Element is represented by the tomato sauce and wine. The Wood Element is supported by the wheat pasta and the Metal Element shows up with the milk and spices. Only the Water Element needs a presence and that can easily be added by serving it with a glass of water! Otherwise, this is already a fairly balanced one dish meal.

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